Chancellor of the University of the West Indies Robert Bermudez today called on administrators of the regional institution to focus on internal reforms, while warning that state funding was unsustainable and “impractical”.
Bermudez, who took over from Sir George Alleyne last July, made it clear that while regional governments should pay their debts to UWI, it was the responsibility of the university’s management to find ways to reduce cost.
“The challenges [of the university] are many but the most pressing is the need for reform, both [in] our management systems and our funding model. A change in the mindset when it comes to the financing of the university and our approach to cost management is essential,” Bermudez said, adding that he had made progress in understanding the operations of the learning institution since he took up the post last year.
“The traditional model of the state paying the vast majority of the economic cost is unsustainable due to the fiscal challenges in the region. It is impractical and in my mind it is unhealthy, as it does not put sufficient pressure on the management to rethink the delivery systems and the fixed cost of providing education. We spend too much time lobbying the government to pay their bills and not enough time on reducing the operating cost of the university,” Bermudez said.
The university, which has its main campuses in Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago, was owed close to $400 million up to last year, almost half of this by the Barbados Government.
Addressing his first annual council meeting at the Cave Hill campus, Bermudez said in order to resolve the vexing issue, a collaborative approach was needed between the learning institution and the contributing countries, adding that there were “probably no simple solutions and a change will require time”.
Pointing out that the UWI overcame many serious challenges in its seven decades of operation, Bermudez said he was confident “that once we place our trust in our people, empower them and provide leadership, we will solve the problem”.
“Strengthen the university and ensure that it will continue to do its work of being the most important development tool in the English speaking Caribbean,” he told the gathering of government representatives and university officials.
Meantime, presenting his 2016/2017 report to the university council, UWI Vice Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles said the institution had started the process of restructuring through the introduction its Triple A Strategic Plan 2017–2022.
Among its objectives, the new plan is designed to employ greater use of technology to transform all of the university’s services, faculties, administrative processes and tutorial strategies, while helping to revitalize the region’s development through entrepreneurship.
Besides the development of new targeted programmes, the Triple A plan also consists of revenue earning strategies.
While describing the last academic year as an “exciting, turbulent and transformative” one, Sir Hilary reported that a task force was established to achieve the objectives of the Triple A Plan.
He said there was “ongoing conversation” about how outstanding debt could be recovered given that the university was still in need of those funds to help in its quest to become more globally competitive.
Sir Hilary said the university had so far been able to reduce its reliance on governments to fund its operation from 80 per cent to about 45 per cent over the years.
He explained that as part of the strategy, which was being “fearlessly implemented”, management of the university would be made more “accountable for the role they are performing in their job”.
“So we all have a personal score card – I am reviewed, the principals are reviewed, the professors, the deans, and the heads. The balance scorecard is applicable to each and everyone and we have already gone through the first quarter in the assessment of the balance scorecard. We have to ensure that all of us who are given a responsibility deliver on the objectives of our tasks,” he said.
Meanwhile, Principal of the Cave Hill campus Eudine Barriteau said that campus had already implemented a freeze on the hiring of “non-critical” staff and was promoting efficiency as part of its cost-cutting strategies.
“We have insisted that our lecturers and faculties carry the required teaching loads, we have rationalized courses so if there are low enrolment we look to see if that particular course could be offered with others,” she said, adding that Cave Hill was also expanding its enrolment of students from Dutch and French speaking nations to learn English.
“We are looking for more and more ways to become self-sufficient and to earn revenue,” Barriteau said.