by Roy R. Morris
Unbridled expansion by its management, and not recalcitrance on the part of the Government is to blame for the current financial woes of the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies.
In a highly animated presentation to the St. James South branch of the Democratic Labour Party last night, Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler warned that if allowed to continue it will destroy Government’s finances.
At the same time he assured that while the Freundel Stuart administration would meet its obligation to the university, there would have to be meaningful discussions about the future operations of the facility.
“Understand what we’re dealing with. When you hear people talking about the government owing the university $150 million in arrears, understand that this [is because of] massive expansion of the universities population. When it should have been slowing down because of the recession, when it ought not to be happening in that way, particularly, but given that it was happening, it was actually going up.
“It was going up to the extent where on average, and this is just the economic cost, when you add the tuition, which is another $30 to $40 million you are talking about $170 million altogether for UWI, every year, ladies and gentlemen,” Sinckler said.
“And I can tell you this, that for the nine years previous to 2007 the Government of Barbados gave the UWI in total $543 million… That’s how much we gave them for nine years under Arthur. Would you believe, ladies and gentlemen — and this is from the university’s annual financial report. Go online and get them. You can do the math yourself — that for the … three-year period, between 2007-8 and 2010-11 when I got the figures for … we gave them $510 million, or we’re supposed to give them $510 million?
“[T]ell me the honest to God truth, in an economic crisis, do you feel that that is sustainable? Can the Government of Barbados continue with that unless some major changes occur in terms of cost, cost containment, in terms of ensuring that the matriculation levels are brought up to a level and that the students get in and get out?”
Warning that the whole system could collapse if changes were not made, Sinckler added:
“In 2010 when I delivered the Budget I gave figures similar to this and I made the point that by university protocol or statue, if a full time degree is three years plus one, be out in three years plus one. If a full-time degree is four years plus one, be out in the five years.
“People beat up on me, they get down at the university and they rinsed me out in cuss — the Arthur crowd… The students does come and tell me. Students come in and tell me, call me and tell me how they go to the class to teach, these part-time lecturers, … they rinse me out, and they say how we ain’t know nothing about economics and all this kind of thing…
And how I climbed up on a ladder and I want to kick it down, but I’m telling you ladies and gentlemen, if this continues unchecked and un-dealt with, no ladder, the whole building coming down. The whole building coming down and I will not be minister of finance in any government or part of any government
[Senator] Maxine McClean ain’t going to do it. Donville [Inniss] ain’t going to do it. They are management experts. They know this business better than I do, and they know that these figures cannot be allowed to continue in this way. And we’ve said to them, we’ve said to the university, we have to sit down and have a conversation about it.
“We ought to know who’s going in and we got to know when they’re coming out what they’re coming out with. Because better quality in is better quality out and people who are going to the university should be able to complete their course of study in a reasonable period of time, barring for illness because these things happen. You make accommodations for those.
“But it cannot be a situation in which the exception becomes the rule, where the people who don’t matriculate at the full thing become the bulk of the students, which they are now.”
And in what appeared to be a direct criticism of Cave Hill principal, Sir Hilary Beckles, Sinckler added: “It’s budget has increased exponentially, with the vast increase in student population and the vast increase in courses; because now you have course in everything.
“You have cricket, you have regional integration, you have a cricket thing down there, you have cricketers going in there and learning cricket because somebody feels they should have a cricket academy. I don’t have a problem with a cricket academy, I believe in cricket too.
“But what can we afford and what we cannot is the question that the people of Barbados have to ask. But there are some people who don’t want nobody to ask them any questions. And I’m saying that that has to change.”