The University of the West Indies (UWI) plans to make significant budget cuts as it charts the way forward in a COVID-19 world.
Vice-chancellor Prof Sir Hilary Beckles made the comment yesterday as he delivered his report on the university’s future operation in a live broadcast on UWItv.
Beckles said UWI will soon be presenting COVID budgets that will see massive cuts in its expenditure to its University Grants Committee (UGC) for approval.
He said the virus has serious implications for the Caribbean region and there would be no avoiding these ramifications for how Caribbean people conduct their lives going forward.
“There is no doubt that the governments and people of this region must continue to see this pandemic as an existential threat to Caribbean civilisation,” Beckles said.
He said the region is now facing a “triple C” threat—of climate change, chronic disease and COVID-19.
“This region has lost over US$30 billion in the last five years on account of the challenges of hurricanes. We are losing some US$1.5 billion a year in our containment and management of the chronic disease pandemic and COVID-19 is estimated to decimate some 20 per cent of the region’s gross domestic product (GDP) accounting for near US$16 billion,” Beckles said.
He said with all the issues facing the region and its governments struggling to cope, the university is still owed money from different governments and has been operating on a deficit in its consolidated financial accounts.
Beckles said the university intends to keep an intimate relationship with the governments in the region to work out these financial issues.
However, he said at a retreat six months before the COVID-19 pandemic, the university’s management decided to cut its expenditure from critical areas of its operation.
“We came out of that retreat with a vision to cut our expenditure by ten per cent in the next two years. That was pre-COVID. Now we are faced with an even more difficult and insidious circumstance. We looked at how we could securitise our receivables to ensure funding still flows into the university and that is still under consideration.”
He said with the pandemic sweeping the globe, the University Grants Committee met and a decision was taken to restructure the way it operates during the pandemic.
Beckles said the UWI is already feeling the crunch of a lack of funding.
“We will come back to the UGC with COVID budgets, we will cut our expenditure significantly, as our governments will expect us to do,” he said.
“We will do this and we will bring new COVID budgets back to the UGC for approval. And then to begin the process of rolling out a new era, a future in which we manage our university resources, policies and programmes skilfully helping the institution to maintain its global status while working hand-in-glove with the governments’ fiscal and financial parameters.”
Beckles also paid tribute to the staff of the university’s Science, Medicine, Humanities and Social Sciences faculties who have mobilised over the past three months to form a COVID-19 task force.
He said this mobilisation showed that whenever the region is threatened, the university can mobilise at a higher level to assist.