Weighing In On The UWI Economic Impact

In the midst of all the talk these days about solid waste, it is easy to sidestep the controversy that has developed over a University of West Indies sponsored study.

At a time when the market has been crying out for research on all kinds of burning national issues, the Sir Hilary Beckles-led campus has made it an institutional priority to both order and pay for research, by at least three of its own experts, entitled The Impact of the University of the West Indies – Cave Hill Campus on the Economy of Barbados.

Not to say that this subject is not worthy of study, but it is the timing and outcome of the research that gives our tastebuds a bit of a rub.

The study, which comes against the backdrop of appeals from the campus hierarchy for the Government not to cut its support to the University, found that Cave Hill generated almost $87 million in foreign exchange last year, down from the estimated $89 million for 2012.

Chairman of the team and senior lecturer in the department of economics Dr Winston Moore told a media conference at the 3Ws Oval last week that when this contribution is compared to foreign exchange income from sugar and rum exports for last year, Cave Hill outstrips both of them – sugar, which earned about $16 million, and rum, which brought in approximately $86 million.

Moore went as far as to suggest that the campus was not as dependent as it would seem on the Government’s contribution since Cave Hill’s project income alone actually accounts for almost 22 per cent of the campus’ overall earnings, added to which, there is “commercial and investment income as well”.

It begs the question. So what is all the recent fuss about? Why are officials at the campus creating such a ruckus?

We are not prepared to go as far as Minister Donville Inniss to suggest that it is all a mere public relations exercise, but for once we have to agree with Minister of Education Ronald Jones that the current financing discussions need to move beyond the idea of subsidy to greater generation of genuine commercial opportunity.

This may well mean a more concentrated focus on achieving internal efficiency and stripping the campus itself of some of its administrative layers, including, but not limited to, those programmes and departments that have neither been able to generate the level of student interest or revenue opportunity to guarantee their continuation.

It is in this regard that we also support the announced plan by Sir Hilary earlier this year to “open” the doors of the Campus to local enterprises, not of the likes of what currently exists in terms of gourmet canteens, but those with a greater mass market appeal to justify their inclusion.

But getting back to the study. It does seem more than a bit self-serving for a campus of Cave Hill’s standing and stature to hire some of its own experts to do a study of itself. Could it have come to different conclusions?

And would the findings have been published had it shown UWI in a different light?

We are not questioning the professionalism of the academics involved or the university for that matter but had this research been done, say a year ago and without the dangling threat of government cutbacks, it would not have been met with the current level of skepticism.

And what of the other tertiary level institutions which are unable to pay for this sort of study? What about the economic impact of the Government’s cuts on the Community College for example or the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic? It would seem like the UWI and its experts are the only ones with a voice. Or is it that UWI is the only one with a PR specialist on board?

If the University manages to get more money pumped into its kitty – which seems to be the underlying mission – would the other institutions get less support and be allowed to stagnate?

Are they not as deserving, or indeed just as needy, as their brothers and sisters on the Hill?

We all must be proud of the accomplishments of the Cave Hill Campus. In fact, Sir Hilary ranks foremost among regional academics of our time.

However, with the Government very short on cash and stumbling from crisis to crisis, it is clear that the increase in UWI contributions from about $70 million to $160 million over the last decade is unsustainable.

The time for a more impartial and reasoned discussion on the future of our education sector is now.


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