The University of the West Indies (The UWI) has a visionary Ten-Point Strategic Plan for self-sufficiency and globalization that will see enrollment multiply, services offered beyond the Caribbean and its now-globally-branded reputation capitalized for revenue.
But its success will depend on the region’s governments paying outstanding debts and revisiting contributions and investments in education and the university developing brand new relationships with international partners and the region’s private sector.
The Plan was presented in detail to journalists Tuesday (March 2) by UWI Vice Chancellor Professor Sir Hilary Beckles during a virtual press conference ahead of a series of meetings across the region yesterday and today to discuss their commitments to the university’s financial future.
The UWI has over the past three years achieved the launch of a ‘reputation revolution’ that’s given it high ranking among the universities worldwide and the next phase involves ‘Converting the Reputation into Revenue’ to ensure ‘Caribbean people have the first-class university.’
The plan will establish new presence at continental levels and cultivating alliances with new global partners, while enhancing investment in capitalization of its services in the region, starting with creation of a state-of-the-art medical school in Trinidad & Tobago.
The region being overpopulated with offshore medical schools and The UWI best able to provide quality medical care — and backed by its admirable record of establishing its COVID-19 Task Force way ahead of the arrival of the first positive case in the Caribbean — the plan is to invite regional private sector investment in the medical school, to be floated on the stock market to raise the US $60 million needed.
Having digitized teaching between campuses and across non-campus territories through the UWI Open Campus, the new plan also foresees a move ‘From Open Campus to Global Campus’, with the current Open Campus enrollment of 8,000 and the 50,000 enrolled at the three campuses to be multiplied to 100,000 to 200,000 including students and services in Europe, North America, Latin America, as well as Australia.
Collecting only 60 cents on every government dollar and losing an average 40% of related outstanding debts written-off after being rendered uncollectable by auditors, the governments had worked-up a collective debt of approximately $115 million in 2014-2015, which has been reduced in the last five years to $51 million in 2020-2021.
Planning to reduce expenditure by 10% in the next year and increasing it by an equal amount the following year, the plan is to get governments to improve the revenue stream by on-time direct contributions that would amount to half the income and the rest shared between the private sector (20%), student fees (15%) and the remaining 15% from ‘international engagements.’
But the stark reality is also that in the current global economic climate ‘poverty is increasing alongside economic growth’ in some parts of the region and some 75% of The UWI’s students are from working class families.’
The region is also at the bottom of the ladder in terms of university enrollment among young people vis-à-vis 60% in North America and 40% in Latin America.
The VC noted the region’s working class need technical skills that The UWI can also provide.
He was therefore ‘very proud’ that Guyana’s President Irfan Ali – ‘a UWI graduate’ — had invited the university to help train 4,000 Guyanese Public Service officers to prepare for a new development plan for the new oil-rich CARICOM member-state.
The Vice Chancellor has no doubt the $500 million restructuring plan can easily be achieved if the governments in debt pay-up to relieve the university of the burden of overly depending on collection of students’ fees and allow it to concentrate on developing ‘The Entrepreneurial UWI.’
Indeed, the figures he rolled out convinced the journalists.
He said the region’s governments were aware of the value of the human resources and the services The UWI offered.
In addition, the UWI COVID-19 Task Force’s early actions and advice having helped save ‘thousands of lives’ would assure enough regional private sector support for the US $60 million needed to capitalize the proposed medical school on the stock market, which could provide 30% of the university’s revenues in two to three years.
But the figures also suggest that quite a lot will depend on the Jamaica government being able to pay-up on its outstanding debts.
Headquartered in Jamaica, the Mona Campus is the largest campus and attracts the most expense and costs – and responsible for 60% of The UWI’s outstanding debts, making it the lowest contributor and the highest debtor.
The VC said he would like to see Jamaica’s economic growth get to a stage where it can again boast a surplus, which would be in the interest of all sides.
The plan was put together by the university’s best thinkers, researchers and planners and did not necessarily require more cash from governments, as the proposition is to ultimately reduce overall government contributions from as much as 90% to only 50%.
The Vice Chancellor’s presentation left little room for questions, save for clarifications and/or amplifications, as he closed with the observation that The UWI’s role today (and tomorrow) ‘is not only to educate, but also to save lives…’
What was very clear too was that having navigated The UWI over five years and achieving so much in so little time, Sir Hilary’s leadership is absolutely vital to the success of the proposed strategic plan.
It can only be hoped, therefore, that in the wider regional interest, after the governments hosting campuses and non-campus units are presented with this plan (yesterday and today), they will realize that the Vice Chancellor’s leadership will also be absolutely essential to the success of the mission for converting the university’s reputation as a revenue-generating asset, while running the region’s premiere non-profit educational entity as a business, towards the development of ‘a public Caribbean university.’