Former tertiary education minister Fazal Karim is warning of imminent job losses at the beleaguered University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT).
He made the comment yesterday in response to a front-page T&T Guardian exclusive headlined “UTT closes 4 campuses,” which detailed plans by the institution to close campuses in Valsayn, Chaguanas, Arima and Corinth by year’s end.
UTT chairman Prof Clement Imbert admitted the impending closures was a cost-cutting measure as the university battles with a $57 million cash deficit.
Yesterday, however, Karim advised against the move.
“UTT is our national university and this Government is single-handedly destroying it. Since 2015, close to 500 employees of the university have lost their jobs and this latest consolidation at UTT will see more faculty and staff being placed on the breadline,” he said.
Karim also called on UTT’s board of governors “to do the honourable thing and resign.” He said this latest debacle, added to recent cuts in the Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE) programme and National Scholarships Programme, would bring more hardships to the society.
“It amounts to the destruction of access to tertiary education by citizens and a dismantling of the higher education system,” he said.
In the last five years, Karim said UTT had also not been able to point to any achievements.
“The faculty and staff continue to pay the price of the mismanagement and incompetence of the Government. My heart pains for the employees, students and families of UTT,” Karim said.
“After every PNM budget is read, UTT enters into a vicious cycle of crisis and job cuts. This administration has regressed UTT to ground zero and has created a toxic atmosphere of fear, frustration and financial woes.”
Under his tenure, Karim said they expanded access at the university to drive national development.
“What is also of interest is that two of the campuses being closed are historically known as Teacher Training Centres. There is a concerted attack on the education system by this administration and the future of our children is under threat.”
He said almost $2 billion of taxpayers’ funds were mindlessly poured into the Tamana Campus which remains an incomplete and wasted asset, not to mention a financial drain on UTT.
In addition to the closures, Karim said many of UTT’s programmes have also been discontinued.
“The Government must clear the air on whether students at the certificate and diploma levels having received GATE are eligible to access GATE at the associate and bachelor’s degree levels. If the campus closures and job losses at UTT continue, the university will have no choice but to shut its doors next.”
Karim also wondered if Government’s ultimate plan is to close down UTT.
“Will there be a fire sale of UTT’s Agora campus in Chaguanas? Are any friends and family waiting to bid for the property? What will be the future of teacher training with the closure of Valsayn and Corinth? The Government must tell the country if it plans to trample on the legacy of the late Patrick Manning.”