Imbert: Govt not supporting increased fees by UWI

Check yourself first.

Government isn’t supporting a proposal for increased tuition fees for this academic year (2022-23) made by the University of the West Indies’ (UWI) St Augustine campus—and has asked UWI to examine its 300 courses and see if it hasn’t overextended itself.

“We feel increases should be a last resort,” Finance Minister Colm Imbert added on the issue at yesterday’s post-Cabinet media briefing at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s.

While the fee hike is out for the current year, Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly said Government will consider all information to be submitted by UWI and then come to a conclusion in collaboration with UWI’s Student Guild with respect to the years following 2022-23.

And the Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE) programme is also under discussion by Government.

Imbert and Gadsby-Dolly noted Government funding UWI to the tune of $500 million annually, plus $200 million for GATE; and $150 million for bursaries and scholarships.

The matter of increased fees was raised by the St Augustine campus principal on March 5.

Gadsby-Dolly said the hike proposed for 2022-23 was for Government to cover 80 per cent of tuition costs through its direct contribution to UWI, and students cover 20 per cent.

Government currently covers 82 per cent of tuition costs and students 13 per cent.

Imbert noted that over the last three years, Barbados and Jamaica have cut back on the amounts they have available to spend on their campuses but T&T’s faced with the challenge of St Augustine continuing to seek large sums.

Due to COVID and financial challenges, St Augustine was limited to a particular sum in the budget, he added.

“What we’ve found is the St Augustine campus has found it difficult to live within the Budget we’ve given them.”

One issue is UWI’s size– over 16,000 students. GATE also contributed to that, he said.

T&T, Imbert noted, reached the GATE target of 60 per cent for enrolment in tertiary education in 2009. But the university kept growing and enrolment is far more than it used to be. However, Imbert said T&T is in different times and had to limit the amount for UWI and the amount T&T can afford to spend on GATE. He said UWI’s reaction to that was to propose increased tuition fees.

He added: “They felt that was the solution. We have a different view. We discovered UWI St Augustine has over 300 different course offerings and 16,000-17,000 students. We’re of the view UWI needs to look at the courses they want the Government and country to pay for.

“We’re not going to tell them what courses to put on but we believe they need to look at all these courses they’re offering and decide what the Government should pay. UWI needs to look within first and see if they haven’t overextended themselves.”

He added, “Because the cost to the state is directly proportional to the number of students and number of courses offered: the more students you have and more courses offered, the higher your costs rise.”

Imbert said a ministerial team, comprising himself, Keith Scotland and Gadsby-Dolly, looked at UWI’s proposal and met UWI’s outgoing principal Brian Copeland and incoming principal Rosemarie Belle Antoine, who made the proposals.

“And our position to them is they need to take a look at the size of their enrolment and number of course offerings to see whether that’s the reason why their costs are so high.”

UWI was asked to examine a ten per cent reduction from Government’s $500 million contribution.

Education Minister Gadsby-Dolly said the main reason UWI requested a fee increase was due to a reduction of government subvention by ten per cent this year and St Augustine fees–lowest regionally– haven’t increased for 21 years.

Following the March 5 meeting, the ministry met on April 28 with St Augustine campus executive and the Students Guild president to discuss the proposal.

The guild had concerns, including insufficient consultation, increases being too sharp and query on whether increased fees could be covered by GATE. The guild also recommended fee increase be contemplated for the next academic year—2023/24—and during the current year, all parties do further consultation with the guild on impact analysis and based on all that information–similar to what Finance suggested – the fee increase be done based on that information for the next academic year.

She said on May 9, the Prime Minister appointed the ministerial team to meet the campus executive and guild. Their May 13 meeting examined if Government would support a fee hike for the 2022-23 year, if that would be covered by GATE and if Government can afford increasing UWI’s subvention. Major consideration was the impact of a fee increase.

“It would have meant come September 2022, students would have been asked to pay more for enrolment and fee increases proposed ranged from 25 per cent to 71 per cent depending on the faculty,” she said.

The team, however, suggested St Augustine do an in-depth cost-benefit analysis and course efficacy analysis, examining all courses, enrolment and how we can reduce where it’s possible.

Imbert said the ball is back in UWI’s court on what programme to possibly cut and Government wasn’t dictating on this or being intrusive.

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