VICE-CHANCELLOR of The University of the West Indies Professor Sir Hilary Beckles says, instead of a decline in enrolment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the entity is expecting an increase as individuals retool to cope in the new environment created by the infectious disease.
“There is a clear historic trend that in economic recessions, there is generally an increased demand for education… contrary to what people might believe… the scientific evidence does, in fact, show that the demands and the appetite for higher education actually increases in recessions.
People realise that in recessionary environments you have to make your children and your family more competitive.
“The university, in fact, far from being concerned that there is going to be a decline, is preparing for an increased demand for its services in the next year or two,” Professor Beckles told a virtual media briefing with members of the senior management team of The UWI yesterday.
He said, too, that theglobally ranked university, which is number one in the Caribbean, will “not collapse from awesome to awful” in the wake of the blow dealt to the region’s economy by COVID- 19, which has infected more than 4.4 million people worldwide and claimed the lives of more than 300,000 people.
“What we are going to do now is take a close look at all our expenditure, all of our operations — we had agreed to do so from last year. We decided to cut 10 per cent of our expenditure in two years. What COVID-19 has done is say, ‘You are going to cut 10 per cent in one year instead,’” he said.
“As a starting point, without damaging the core functions of the university [and] without damaging the important quality systems of the university, we are going to look at strategies such as freezing all new appointments, looking very closely at how we manage our human resource strategy.
“Seventy per cent of our expenditure is in the human resource functions of the institution. There are some benefits and privileges that we will discuss with our trade unions within the university; there are some issues around the infrastructure and the plant that we will have to look at,” he said.
The vice-chancellor said the institution is also looking at increasing revenue by 10 per cent.
“So we are looking at developing a more entrepreneurial function, self-financing function, developing bankable projects that will generate revenue — so we are looking at both sides of the balance sheet. We are looking at reorganising many aspects of our expenditure in order to achieve these reductions,” Professor Beckles said.
Principal of The UWI Cave Hill Campus Professor Eudine Barriteau said yesterday that she was unable to say the percentage of students who have deferred studies for this semester due to COVID-19, until after June 12, when exams that are now under way at that campus are scheduled to end.
Professor Barriteau said, usually, students who want to defer would have been given a month cut-off period. However, she said due to the COVID-19 outbreak, which forced the university to continue teaching online, this had not been done.
“We normally have that statistic a month before exams… The reality of what that figure will be like, we will be able to say definitively at the end of the exams on June 12, and we do the analysis and collect the data; we hope it will be few,” she said, while pointing out that there was not a “significant percentage of students at the start who had indicated they would be taking leave of absence”.
In the meantime, Professor Brian Copeland, pro-vice-chancellor and principal for the university’s St Augustine Campus, said just 10 out of 15,000 students have actually deferred there.
“I think students are trying their best to get their study areas advanced in spite of [COVID-19],” he noted. And, according to pro-vice chancellor and principal of the Mona Campus Professor Dale Webber, there have only been 15 deferrals of Mona’s 20,000 students.
“We have had 25 leave of absence, which means they intend to return. So we, too, have a small number. I think, like all campuses, the students see their education as an investment in themselves and they would like to complete as far as possible,” Principal Webber stated.
Yesterday, Dr Luz Longsworth, pro-vice-chancellor and principal of the university’s Open Campus, said the entity is seeing an uptick in registrations.
“We are seeing registration exceeding what it was last year this time… We expected, because of the robust nature of the Open Campus, to see an uptick,” she shared, adding that the leadership is also cognisant that there will be an issue with students where their ability to pay is concerned so the entity has been liaising with funding sources to assist students.
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