Dr Indira Rampersad –
The West Indies Group of University Teachers (WIGUT) at the UWI, St Augustine campus believes a gradual increase in student fees can ease some of the university’s financial burdens.
The union’s president Dr Indira Rampersad confirmed this stance to Newsday.
On Wednesday, campus principal Prof Rose-Marie Belle Antoine revealed that the university had a 17.5 per cent drop in enrolment for the 2021/2022 academic year, which is a “front-burner issue” for the campus administration.
She also said government contributions dropped from $529,611,000 in 2021 to $485,146,000 in 2022.
The university is also dealing with protests and threats by its staff over wage negotiations for daily and weekly-rated workers, monthly-paid administrative technical and service employees.
Speaking with Newsday on Friday morning, Rampersad said it is always a “cause for concern” when there is a decline in student intake.
“This has to do with the economic times and the covid19 pandemic,” she said.
She believes the government is sending “mixed signals” about the country’s economic state, as it speaks positively about it one day and negatively the next.
But she said UWI can “bounce back.”
On the decrease in government contributions, she said, “The position of the union is that we should have a gradual increase in student fees – not a drastic one…one that is affordable, because we as staff members want to keep our students (as) students, and if your student body continues to decline, we will have no one to teach.”
She said Antoine and her team will need to assess what would be ideal.
She praised teachers for overcoming the challenges of shifts in learning and teaching styles during the height of the covid19 pandemic and ensuring that students graduate.
“Staff members came out in their full glory,” she said, adding that they mostly used their own money and resources to facilitate the changes.
But when it comes to advocating for salary increases, she said protests will continue.
Salary negotiations are ongoing with the government via the Chief Personnel Officer (CPO). These include all staff: daily and weekly rated workers, monthly paid administrative technical and service staff, estate police, and academic, senior administrative and professional staff of the campus.
Asked for feedback on WIGUT’s stance, acting president of the UWI, St Augustine campus Guild of Students Kyle Bisnath said, “If the university chooses to alleviate their financial difficulties with the suggestion purported by Dr Rampersad, the guild maintains our position we have held previously – that is, that we continue to implore that should fee increases be considered, we urge the university to consider a comprehensive impact analysis which would provide the necessary details of how a fee increase would impact our membership.
“We note that in any conversation of fee increases, they must be incremental and they must be sustainable.
“Additionally, it is the responsibility of the university to ensure that it remains able to lend assistance to those most in need as to not eclipse those that would now find themselves unable to afford a tertiary education.”