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UWI bracing itself for tough times


Call it the perfect storm, but for pro-vice chancellor of the University of the West Indies and principal of the Cave Hill Campus Sir Hilary Beckles, says they will be doing their best to navigate the tumultuous waters.

Speaking during the campus’ Annual Retirees And Long Service Awards Ceremony at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, he noted that over the last few years, the university had had significant cuts in funding by Government, which owed them a significant debt.

In addition, he said, the privilege of the instrument of a Government guarantee in the event that UWI wanted to borrow to do things, which would enable it to make money, was not available.

“[So] you might very well say it is a worst-case scenario; but we understand it, and we are going to do our best to get through all of this. There are many persons in this room who were in the decision-making process in the 1990s when we were faced with a similar circumstance. There are many people here [in this room], who remember what we did, and how we got through this; how we secured everyone’s jobs and made sure that the campus was not cannibalized. We did what we could [then] and we will do it again,” he said.

Sir Hilary explained that, though there had been criticisms of Cave Hill’s growth, especially in light of the current recession, it was a well thought strategy and not a “willy-nilly” exercise.

“When we started our development at a rapid pace, ten or 12 years ago, it’s because we were in a best-case scenario. The country’s economy was growing at about three or four per cent. One year, it even grew more than four per cent and we had very intimate relationships with the Government and the private sector. [They] all agreed that the campus ought to share positively in the benefits of that growth.

“Resources were made available to us to make sure that as the country developed, so would the campus and so we were planning our growth and development in an environment of certainty. The decisions made back in 2002, 2003 and then again in 2005, were made in a context that shaped what we did. We didn’t expand the campus . . . we didn’t develop the infrastructure willy-nilly. We thought about it, we looked at the variables, we looked at growth of the economy, we looked at the structure of it and we did what we thought was right, he noted, as he explained almost seven years ago, in 2007, storm clouds were brewing over the economy and it was evident that the recession was on its way.”

This being the case, he said decisions were consistent with UWI’s survival within a diminishing circumstance.

“I remember very well a retreat we had in 2007, when no one yet was speaking about recession. The management of the campus went into a retreat and the title of the retreat was This Is Not A Fire Drill. And the reason we said that, was because we wanted to inform every one that if you examined the trade patterns, the fiscal patterns, the rising interest rates . . . if you could see what was going on, you could very well see that our economy was on the edge of decline and it was going to be systemic,” Sir Hilary went on to say that they fared reasonably well in making these decisions.

He noted that going forward, further corrective action would have to be made. (RG)

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