Government announces 10% cut in UWI funding

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Finance Minister Colm Imbert. –

THE Government has agreed to cut the funding to the University of the West Indies (UWI) St Augustine campus by ten per cent while the campus finds other ways to address financial shortfalls.

Addressing the issue on Thursday at the post-Cabinet media briefing held at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, were Finance Minister Colm Imbert and Education Minister Nyan Gadsby-Dolly.

“We have been faced with a challenge with the St Augustine campus continuing to ask us for large sums of money. We spend somewhere in the vicinity of $500 million a year as a direct contribution. And then you have to add Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses Programme (GATE) funding to that. I would say, at least $200 million in addition.”

Imbert said as chairman of the UWI Grants Committee, he was charged with hearing from the university on how it planned to raise funds and meet its financial arrangements.

On May 13, Imbert, Gadsby-Dolly and Keith Scotland, as a prime ministerial-appointed committee, met with the St Augustine Guild on the issue of raising fees, given the government’s reduced subvention. The increased fees would have seen students paying between 25 and 71 per cent more depending on the course of study, Gadsby-Dolly said.

Imbert said while government could not direct the campus on how to run its affairs, it was suggested that some of its 300 courses be cut. He said the decision left strictly up to the campus, which will now have approximately $450 million in subvention as well GATE funding from the State.

Gadsby-Dolly said fees at the St Augustine campus had not increased in 21 years and that was one of the reasons the institution put forward to increase fees earlier this year for the academic year beginning in September.

That decision was scrapped for this academic year after the ministers met with UWI officials and the students’ guild. She added that the increased fees would have raised the contribution by students from 13 to 20 per cent of the costs, while the Government currently contributes 82 per cent of the campus’s annual budget.

“The committee recommended that the St Augustine campus do an in-depth cost analysis and, of course, efficacy analysis looking at all the courses they offer, looking at enrolment, and considering how we could possibly reduce where possible. That information has been requested of the UWI, some hasbeen supplied. So we will be preparing all of that and looking at it as we follow up during this academic year.”

Gadsby-Dolly added that the Government did not support an increase in university fees at this time and would come to a conclusion for next year after receiving the information from the campus officials. No time frame was given for the campus to submit the information, the Education Minister said.

Asked how he found the financial operations of the campus given his position as chairman of the Grants Committee, Imbert said it was a contentious topic.

“We are not talking about UWI, St Augustine; we are talking the UWI. That is the subject of a lot of confusion within the university right now. Because there was a report indicating, more or less, these are my words, that UWI may have sort of overextended itself into growth.

“It has grown to become a huge organisation. But, in doing that, growing at such a rapid pace, it outgrew its ability to finance itself. So that I can see that in that committee, I can see the problems that resulted from that.

“You know, some people will say: very laudable, noble idea to become one of the best universities in the world, or the largest universities in the world etc, which is the path they were on. But what happened is that they didn’t have the capacity to finance it.”

Asked if the country was getting value for money with an annual expense of close to $750 million paid to the campus in GATE and subventions, Imbert said he did not want to comment on that.