by Shawn Cumberbatch
Drowning in Barbados government arrears that have now reached a record $150 million, the University of the West Indies’ Cave Hill Campus has been promised a financial lifeline “in the next few weeks”.
Principal Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, welcoming newly enrolled students to the institution during a Matriculation Ceremony at the Roy Marshall Teaching Complex, said meetings “in recent days” with Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler had given campus administrators hope they would not enter the new semester in even more financial trouble.
But even as Pro Vice Chancellor shared this news with an audience that included several of UWI’s staff and senior administrators, former student and immediate past president of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association Colin Jordan joined the debate, and urged policymakers in the region not to climb the ladder and then ignore it or kick it down.
Noting that UWI in Barbados would be celebrating 50 years of educating Barbados’ and the region’s people, Sir Hilary said the organisation he led did have major financial problems.
These challenges were so bad that the debt owed by the Freundel Stuart Administration was more than Cave Hill’s entire operational budget.
“We have had very detailed conversations and dialogue in recent days with the … Prime Minister of Barbados … and with the … Minisiter of Finance…. They have given us assurances and they have made commitments to us that we must enter into this semester with confidence and with courage because arrangements are begin put in place to ensure that this campus and this university are financially alleviated in the next few weeks and in the few months,” the principal said.
“We have therefore entered into the start of things to welcome you all within the spirt of those promises and those assurances and we have no doubt whatsoever that they would be met, they would be honored and all of us will enter into this semester and go through the semester feeling much more secure.”
He said while UWI Cave Hill had been in financial straights before, it had not seen it this bad on any of those occasions.
“Many of you who have read the Press of late would have heard some of the concerns experienced within our community about our financial challenges. There were concerns expressed in terms of doubt and uncertainty among our staff and our students about our viability, about our sustainability,” he told students, faculty and guests.
“As a university we have been along this road before, we are a university in a developing nation and we expect to encounter these situations from time to time. It is true that this particular bump in the road is deeper than many of those than we have had before, we have seen the arrears owed to the campus university from our principle government in Barbados rising from $30 million in 2009 to over $150 in 2012.
“The movement from $30 million to $150 million of course much suggest that we have deep concern, especially within the context of a debt owing to the campus that is now greater than the operational budget of the campus,” he added.
UWI Vice Chancellor Professor E. Nigel Harris said the financial problems were indeed bad, but that he was confident Barbados and other regional governments would eventual meet their commitments to the organisation as they had pledged.
In his matriculation address, Jordan urged the new students to let their voices be heard and tell their governments, whichever country they were from, to pay UWI it’s due. email@example.com