In the space of six years, the University of the West Indies has more than halved the debt owed to it by several Caribbean governments, the result of an asset for cash swap, Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Hilary Beckles announced Monday
Speaking during a virtual press conference to outline the UWI’s finances, future operations and a 10-point plan developed by the university’s senior executives, Sir Hilary said the overall debt owed to the UWI’s five campuses in Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Antigua in Barbuda had shrunk from $234 million (US$117 million) in 2014 to just over $100 million (US$50 million) last November.
Sir Hilary said this was due in part to governments that did not have available cash providing valuable assets to the 73-year-old regional public university.
He told journalists: “When I became Vice-Chancellor six years ago, the debt owing to the university by the governments was in the area of US$117 million. Through close contact with our governments, meeting with them in CARICOM, working through this campus-by-campus, we have now reduced this public debt down to US$51 million. That is a major achievement for us and we are very pleased that the governments one-by-one have worked with us.
“We told the governments if they did not have the cash let us work through a new methodology and to give us assets if they don’t have the cash and so we have been working through an asset for cash swap which is yielding tremendous benefit.”
Sir Hilary said it was through that process Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley pledged the “brand new state of the art” Couva Hospital which he said would be “placed within the UWI context to be converted into a business so that we can generate some cash going forward”.
He said Barbados had agreed to give the UWI “a significant sum of land and property in lieu of cash” along with $50 million, which wiped out its debt to the Cave Hill Campus.
Sir Hilary revealed the government of Grenada gave 80 acres of beachfront land while also disclosing that the UWI was in talks with Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness on an asset for cash swap.
The Vice-Chancellor explained that while the UWI is not run for profit it needs to operate in a business-like fashion.
Sir Hilary said as part of the UWI’s new funding model, it is recommending that governments foot half of the university’s operating costs.
He said a further one-fifth would be funded by the private sector, including the UWI, while 15 per cent would come each from students and international engagements.
Sir Hilary said with the UWI being among the top one per cent of universities in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as the top one per cent in Golden Age universities – those between 50 to 80 years old – a new strategic plan was necessary.
He revealed that the 10-point plan to cut spending; implement a One-UWI initiative; shift to a global campus in excess of 100,000 students; target Guyana, Suriname and Colombia; take advantage of centres in New York and Canada; secure donor partnerships; anchor multilateral investment in Caribbean development; take the UWI to the private capital market with the issuing of a UWI bond; develop entrepreneurs and set up a Corporate Growth Group.