Government’s near $200 million debt to the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies has now reached crippling proportions, according to Principal Professor Eudine Barriteau.
In an impassioned plea Tuesday during the launch of a Caribbean Sports Conference held at the Usain Bolt Complex, Barriteau said Government’s debt was seriously hindering her administration’s ability to perform operational and expansion programmes.
“On assuming office last year I recognized I inherited a beautiful campus, significant infrastructural and programmatic platform, a committed staff and a growing governmental debt. This debt is affecting the campus’ ability to meet basic operational requirements such as refurbishment of classrooms, laboratories and dormitories. It is also constraining the campus’ capacity to expand in ways that benefit the campus and country,” she told those gathered for the function.
The educator presented a laundry list of projects undertaken by the campus with limited resources, while speculating on how much more could have been accomplished if the university had been able to collect even a fraction of the substantial debt.
“Our ability to expand and meet growing demand is hampered by the serious debt owed to the campus by the Government. We urge the Government to assist the campus by meeting at least some portion of the considerable arrears that are outstanding. We cannot afford to ignore this obligation as if it will disappear,” the UWI head cautioned.
The outspoken principal noted that the programmes to be undertaken were not provincial in their design and would symbiotically benefit the country as the Cave Hill Campus continued to be a vital contributor to the Barbados economy. She said academic and sports tourism continued to be facets of the island’s tourism product and were bolstered significantly by the university.
“That is why we look forward with anticipation to the Barbados Government honouring its promise of paying the more than $190 million owed to the University of West Indies to enable us to proceed with programmes and plans that would help us to overcome our present difficulties and pave the way for a more lucrative sustainable future,” she said.
The financial difficulties at UWI have been exacerbated by a dramatic fall-off in enrolment, which university officials have blamed on Government’s decision to impose tuition fees on Barbadian students.
Speaking in March at a meeting of the Campus Council, Barriteau said then student enrolment had fallen sharply at the end of the 2014/2015 academic year, after Government introduced tuition fees for Barbadians attending the university.
The principal reported that the student population dropped dramatically from close to 9,000 prior to the introduction of tuition fees to 6,065 at the time.
Dean of Social Sciences Dr Justin Robinson also said then a drastic fall in numbers tested the department’s resilience during the 2014/2015 academic year.
“The Faculty, and the campus as a whole, faced a major reduction in student numbers as Barbadian students, who make up over eight per cent of the students in the faculty, had to find their own tuition fees for the first time,” Dr Robinson explained.
The financial problems at the university have also led to a few occasions where staff had not been paid in a timely manner. Last year as a result of cash flow problems the university’s hierarchy held talks with the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) and the West Indies Group of University Teachers (WIGUT) with a view of withholding increments. Communications officer at UWI Chelston Lovell said then the initiative was proposed to the unions as a means of maintaining the solvency of the 53-year-old institution.
The Barbados Government’s debt to the Cave Hill Campus has increased exponentially since 2011. Former principal Professor Sir Hilary Beckles said five years ago that UWI was owed $90 million by Government, which was the most indebted of the 17 participating countries in the Cave Hill Campus.
Three years ago Sir Hilary said UWI’s budget was $146 million, compared to the near $200 million Government debt. He described the debt as the equivalent of 5,000 students.