The University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) is moving to shut down four of its 11 campuses before year’s end.
The campuses to be closed down are the ones in Valsayn, Chaguanas, Arima and Corinth.
Confirmation came from UTT chairman Prof Clement Imbert during a recent interview with Guardian Media about the operations of the beleaguered university which has been struggling to keep afloat due to financial difficulties.
UTT is currently facing a cash deficit of $57 million for the fiscal year 2021.
In the 16 years UTT has opened its door, Imbert said the university successfully managed 13 campuses.
“We have 11 campuses right now including Tamana. So we have four campuses we think we can readily give up. We don’t need to have all of them particularly as the Tamana campus which has been building, oh lord, for over 16 years.”
He said the university can accommodate 1,500 students at its incomplete flagship building- the Tamana campus, but could not say when they will enrol since they were seeking approval from the Accreditation Council of T&T to teach.
Questioned if the consolidation will lead to job losses and relocation.
“Certainly we will relocate staff,” Imbert replied.
He said merging campuses will save on janitorial services, security and maintenance fees.
It was no secret, Imbert said that the Ministry of Education had been eyeing the Valsayn campus months ago.
“I don’t know for a high school or whatever. And we said that was fine. So Valsayn was essentially gone.”
Imbert said as soon as UTT staff shifted from the Valsayn campus, the Health Ministry had to utilise the building as a step-down facility to treat positive COVID-19 patients.
Imbert said UTT will also give up the Corinth campus.
While Imbert was unable to say how many students will be affected with the closure of Corinth, he said they will be relocated to UTT’s Point Lisas and San Fernando campuses.
Though Valsayn and Corinth belong to the State, Imbert said the university refurbished these buildings and paid its own utilities.
The other two campuses UTT will shut down will be- Agora in Chaguanas and Omeara in Arima which the university owns.
“We are leaving Omeara…we have almost left. What is a good thing, is that other people are looking to use it….other institutions in the Government are looking to use it because we cannot abandon a place and leave it. People will totally vandalise it.”
Imbert said a few people have expressed an interest in utilising Omeara but refused to say who.
Staff at Omeara will be housed at the Tamana campus.
Asked if UTT had given up Omeara’s 30-year lease from Evolving Technologies and Enterprise Development Company Ltd which would have expired in 2035 and entered into a 99-year lease arrangement at a cost of $23.7 million which was a recommendation put forward by then UTT’s president Prof Dyer Narinesingh on December 9, 2015,
Imbert said he was not sure if they had pursued that.
“And it does not matter because we are leaving Omeara in any case. Yes, the land is leased from eTeck. But the buildings including the graduation pavilion that belongs to UTT.”
Questioned if the affected staff members will be absorbed in the other campuses, Imbert replied: “ As far as we could. Remember, right now we don’t know what going on with the money squeeze, you know that. So we don’t know.”
As he prays for financial relief from the Government, Imbert said it is always painful and stressful to tell staff their jobs are on the line.
In 2018, UTT terminated 67 professors while 199 non-academic staff were sent home in 2019.
He said it was unfortunate he has been put in this position, stating one has to take into consideration the financial strain the Government has been experiencing.
Before year’s end, Imbert said Corinth, Omeara and Valsayn campuses will be gone.
Agora will be kept for a little longer.
But will UTT rent Omeara and Agora?
“Agora belongs totally to us …land, building everything. We are a company with one shareholder, the Government of T&T. You cannot as a board do what you want with assets unless the shareholder agree.”
Imbert said they can sell Agora which is valued between $25 to $30 million.
“A lot of people are eyeing it, you know. A beautiful building… prime location for any company that wants to put its head office there or something. If we get approval we will advertise it for rent. I am hoping that those we have can generate income.”
He said the question of renting or allowing another state enterprise to utilise the buildings falls in the Government’s hands.
Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly in a Whatsapp message confirmed to Guardian Media that UTT will be consolidating campuses to cut costs.
“The ministry is presently discussing what can be done to assist the university regarding cash flow issues. The university will be consolidating campuses and striving to make its operations even leaner to reduce operating expenditure.”