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UWI growth a shared process

For Release Upon Receipt - Tuesday, September 3, 2013

PRINCIPAL of The University of The West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill Campus, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, has sought to clarify and correct issues that have found their way into the public debate about the University.

He told last Friday’s matriculation ceremony: “… all operational budgets at Cave Hill, all significant expenditures, and all strategic plans, are discussed and approved by the Government of Barbados.”

He added: “No one should therefore express the view that Cave Hill’s budgetary expenditures, strategic plans and projected financial needs, are somehow akin to a runaway train not traveling on tracks firmly laid down and approved by the Government of Barbados. This is simply not true. The fine campus that is the UWI at Cave Hill is the joint product of intimate financial discussions and annual budget expenditure approvals of campus and Government.”

The principal stressed that he welcomed the public debate, especially within the context of the campus’ dependence on public funding.

“I especially welcome the frank and candid views of our Honourable Prime Minister, and take great comfort from his assurances that his fond regard for his alma mater remains unshaken.

I also welcome the clear, precise and honest public disclosures of our Honourable Minister of Education, Ronald Jones, who has been a strong and trusted strategic contributor and ally to the development of this campus, also his alma mater, these past five years.

Indeed, I also welcome the views of all other ministers and members of Parliament.” 

However, he said from reading and hearing some views in public spaces, he shared “to some degree the anguish of those who believe that this fine campus is at risk on account of circling traditional anti-intellectual forces”.

Sir Hilary remarked: “These forces, for some time, have been on the defensive, but are now feeling empowered by the universal perception of the rightness of a monetarist ‘fiscality’.

 “Here at home its disciples see Armageddon descending upon the nation in the morning, unless the UWI is placed in the docks, enchained, and sentenced to a reduced un-academic ambience from which it has long taken flight.

“I am confident that with the Prime Minister’s public call for deeper reflection, the Education Minister’s discursive openness, and the reasonable leadership of our Guild President, Mr Damani Parris, that we will all rise in the morning and find that there is no Armageddon, but a brightly lit dawn waiting to be grasped by creative minds open to what is in the best interest of our youth, who undoubtedly, are the rising sun within that imagined dawn.”

Two issues

He acknowledged that while celebrating its golden anniversary and planning strategically for the next 50 years, the campus has found itself under intense public debate triggered by two public issues:

(1)  The difficulty its host government is experiencing in meeting its financial obligations to the university.

(2)  The declared intention of the host government to change its traditional funding framework with respect to Barbadian students at the four campuses of the University.  This proposal will see the transfer of 20% of the economic cost of degree programmes (the tuition fee) from the state to the student as from the 2014/2015 academic year.

Stating that he owed it to other contributing governments, colleagues, students and other campus stakeholders to address these issues, Professor Beckles focused his response in three sections: (1) his philosophical position, (2) his administrative concerns and (3) his views on the future of the university.

Arguing his philosophical position, he said: “Fine universities are built upon the premise that discursive intensity is a reliable pathway to social and human progress. The UWI here at Cave Hill, in this regard, is as fine a university as our abundant collective imagination and scarce resources have managed to manufacture.

“My request of participants, however, is that they somehow dig deeper into their sense of compassion, tone down the rhetoric, and simultaneously raise the intellectual rigour of their reasoning.  We are, after all, dealing with the collective future of a nation that may be horrendously, and tragically fragile.”

Outlining his administrative concerns, Sir Hilary noted that over decades, successive Chancellors have dedicated their time, working with governments, in perfecting the governance systems of the university.

“The purpose has always been to ensure that no space should exist, or can persist, between campus strategies and public policy in terms of budgetary expenditures, strategic planning approvals, and the mechanics of resource allocations.

Shared responsibility

This governance system and its management culture are a treasured asset of our university.” In the same manner that the campus and its host government shared responsibility for its past expenditures, he felt “the challenges that Cave Hill will encounter in the years ahead can only be overcome by the continued intimacy of this financial dialogue, within which expenditures are proposed, discussed, and approved.”

Sir Hilary stressed: “Cave Hill, then, is not a standalone institution; it has always, and will continue to benefit from the keen financial eye and parental voice of the Government of Barbados.  This, I repeat, is a treasured governance asset.

My request, then, is this; let only truth and fairness inform the public discussion; let’s remove the rancour and create instead an architecture of factual order.

Looking towards the future, Sir Hilary said administrators at Cave Hill have worked hard and smart in order to create the first class university environment that will be needed in order for citizens to achieve personal, national and regional development goals.

He noted: “It required consistent support from governments, private sectors, international donors, students, alumni, and private benefactors. We have done it. But no institution can rightly say that there isn’t room for greater efficiency and quality enhancement.  We are committed eternally to the search for such improvement, and to this end self-criticism and public criticism are important parts of the journey.

“In recent days the UWI brand at Cave Hill has been tarnished by a small vocal minority whose comments have been unreasonable, unfair and uninformed. As a result, the campus has suffered a measurable loss of prestige, goodwill, and in the process much prospective revenue, on account of stalled and withdrawn negotiations. This diminished status could not have come at a more untimely moment. 

“When the storm has passed, we will have the task of strengthening weakened structures, and refurbishing our bandaged brand.

“The nation and region would have suffered costly self-inflected wounds. My request, then, is this: let us not damage further the foundation while seeking to fix an imagined leak in the roof.”

Revised vision

Professor Beckles pointed to the 2012-2017 Strategic Plan under the vision “Creating Knowledge Households”, stating: “We have long modified and upgraded the prior vision that spoke to ‘At least one graduate per household’. Creating knowledge households, the current vision, speaks precisely to the digital age and the need for a greater penetration of ICTs in our households. Knowledge households are those that embrace a learning culture within the science and technology imperative.  The campus has moved on.  Sadly, the public debate has not.”

He noted, too, that since 2008 the campus has been planning for a contraction of its Barbadian undergraduate enrolment in light of the current recession.

The principal added: “We have been working feverishly towards containing the economic costs of our programmes so that tuition fee levels can also be contained. This is the central challenge facing universities worldwide. It is the elephant in the room in Barbados.

 “Let’s all admit to one basic truth. A good university is a relatively expensive proposition.

The UWI is a very good university.  I have been exposed to hundreds of them all over the world and know of what I speak.

“The reason for the relatively high cost of good universities is the built in tendency for unit cost to rise faster in the tertiary education sector than other productive sectors. This is the real culprit. Notwithstanding this economic fact the benefits of the investment far outweigh the expenditures. The benefits are wide ranging, transforming and developmental.

 “We grew the enrolment during the years of economic growth and we have contracted during the recession. In the last three years we have cut administrative and faculty costs by at least 25%. But with staff cost resting at about 72%, of expenditure, there are obvious rigidities. The campus is one of the largest employers in the country.“

Encouraging achievements

“Two major achievements have given us encouragement. We have drastically reduced our relative dependence on Government’s contribution from 90% to 62% of the operational budgets in this past decade. We plan to reduce this even further to 50% by the end of the strategic plan in 2017. We have contained the per capita costs of the campus which have increased marginally over past ten years at rates lower than that of inflation.[cost of educating a student per year].

“We have modernized the learning, research and teaching space – and administrative support system with no significant costs to Government. The physical capacity growth was driven by the private sector, international donors, campus income generation strategies, commercial loans, and private endowments. We did our best to free Government of the capital obligation, given its policy commitment to student costs.

 These are important achievements that should not be overlooked nor minimized.

“There are two important policy matters I need to mention at this stage.

 [1] Cave Hill has reached a level of development where it can pause for five years in its physical growth; only a modern library remains to be built.

 [2] The campus, with about 8 000 undergraduates, 7 000 or so from Barbados, is also at a stage where it can freeze its Barbadian undergraduate population. Since 2008 we have in fact implemented a no growth policy at the undergraduate level.

“Government then, in the next five years, can expect no further growth in economic costs that are driven by undergraduate enrolment. Outside of the rate of inflation, within the planning cycle, 2012-2017, there will be no further increases in economic costs as a result of undergraduate enrolment.

“We assure the Barbados Government that the strategy to further reduce costs will intensify.

Science and Technology Initiative

The coming years will be critical. We will step up our international agenda, and with the roll out of the Science and Technology Initiative, and the move into Bridgetown with the City Campus, even closer relations with the Government will be required.

“We will deepen our research agenda in order to find sustainable solutions to the energy crisis, and the chronic disease pandemic that are subverting upon on economies. This is a wonderful time to strengthen our resolve as a university committed to the development of our economies and societies. We will continue our efforts to ensure that costs are not only contained, but are further significantly reduced.”

Looking towards the next decade, Sir Hilary said Cave Hill @ 60 will be celebrated as an improved site known for its efficiency, intellectual vibrancy and fearlessness.


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