There is clear evidence that the University of the West Indies is facing severe financial challenges.
This is one of the highlights in the report about the region’s premier university by the Sir Dennis Byron committee that was mandated to look into the affairs of the premier learning institution in the Caribbean.
The report that was obtained by THE NEW TODAY said “there is significant risk to the future sustainability of The UWI” and “it would appear that the University has had an overextension of commitment beyond its means”.
The committee said in its report: “While the observed deficits are directly related to challenges with the current funding model (how The UWI gets its income), it is also related to the effectiveness of the operations and financial management of the University (how The UWI spends its money)”.
It went on: “These two critical components need to be addressed holistically to ensure that The UWI can survive to deliver on its mandate of providing tertiary education to the people of the region for the foreseeable future”.
As a public service, THE NEW TODAY highlights some of the far-reaching observations made by Sir Dennis and his group:
Respondents indicated an absence of accountability at all levels for breaches or noncompliance with existing regulations, policies and procedures and the apparent absence of sanctions or consequences for mistakes being investigated.
References were drawn to inadequate analysis and justification for decision making for major initiatives that have significant impact on The UWI (financial, service delivery) and sometimes noncompliance with the approval framework and regulations.
The Commission is aware that Ordinance 8 details the composition of both University and Campus Disciplinary Committees and noted that the recent review of Ordinance 8 which included an interrogation of the disciplinary procedures, and an analysis of the system of evaluation and promotion of staff, would not be ready for promulgation until feedback was received from campus management teams and their respective WIGUTs.
The Commission received repeated feedback concerning inordinate delays by Management in dealing with complaints relating to allegations of breaches of Ordinance 8 and believes that this is due, in part, to the delays involved in appointing and constituting an ad hoc committee for each complaint to be investigated: (this committee is not constituted until after a complaint is made).
The Commission recommends that the Disciplinary Committees at the regional and campus levels should be established as standing committees.
Transparency in the Assessment and Promotion Processes
The Commission received requests to highlight in its Report the need for greater transparency in the process for selecting candidates for promotion, appointment and tenure, and specifically with respect to feedback to unsuccessful applicants.
The Commissioners are aware of the fact that the terms and conditions of service for academic and senior administrative staff are regulated by the provisions of Ordinance 8, which is the only negotiated ordinance. Appointments and promotions are also governed by Ordinance 8.
The criteria by which Senior Administrative and Professional staff are assessed are spelt out in paragraph 14(b) of Ordinance 8 and appear to be clear. However, the Commissioners were advised that the Faculties were charged with providing elaborated language for criteria on a Faculty-specific basis and would welcome the completion of that exercise.
The Commission wishes to emphasise the need to advertise opportunities that arise for promotion and to give prompt and forthright feedback to staff whose applications are not successful.
Change Management and Culture
The Commission is convinced from the significant feedback received, that The UWI staff and leaders want to address the immediate challenges and improve the University’s financial and academic performance.
The recommended changes are significant and complex, and implementation will require strong change management capacity.
The leadership of The UWI will need change management support, and individual leaders must develop their skills in listening and in leading change.
Generally, advocacy for maintaining the status quo is strong, and without addressing, in a robust manner, the need for change as a priority, the work of the Commission risks having very limited impact.
Any recommendation to assist the institution to move forward in the very challenging environment must recognise the culture of the institution and respect and work within its culture.
The academic structure can be quite isolating, as it allows persons to operate in their own space often without consequences. The University environment may not have prepared its leaders to motivate people, initiate change and move the institution forward.
The norms support a peer-to peer-approach, with emphasis on discussion and consensus reaching. The appropriate exercise of authority over staff, and the need to control, direct and require specific performance outcomes are not part of the existing academic culture.
University employees are knowledge workers and would need effective communication and transparent and authentic leadership to buy into the changes required. They would have to own it. The main concern of this Commission is how to get the leadership cadre aligned and working towards the same goals.
Enhance Executive Management Effectiveness
The UWI People challenge is to build institutional trust, through effective, accountable leaders with clearly defined roles and deliverables and whose performance and conduct are measured, rewarded and sanctioned.
In corporate terms, the Executive leadership team of The UWI comprises approximately three dozen persons – Vice-Chancellor, Pro Vice-Chancellors, Principals, Deputy Principals, Registrars, Bursars and University Librarian.
There is need for improved oversight and accountability for all leadership positions, including the most senior roles in the organisation.
The existing governing instrument – Ordinance 8: Powers of Appointment, Promotion and Dismissal – covers only positions from the Assistant Lecturer to Professor, as well as Senior Administrative staff and Professional staff.
The Commission recommends that as a matter of high priority, the responsibilities of and criteria for performance oversight of Senior Management above the level of Ordinance 8 need to be clearly defined.
Appropriate guidelines to provide a policy framework for Executive oversight and accountability should be drafted, and consultations held with the executive teams prior to implementation.
The Commission also suggests that these guidelines on executive accountability must be consistent with the recommended changes in The UWI structure and governance.
The Commission further recommends that the leadership of the University take the time and allocate the resources necessary to achieve the “alignment of purpose” within the University.
The UWI’s achievement of its strategic goals will be dependent, in large measure, on the extent to which its Human Resources policies and processes are aligned with the purpose and goals of the institution (including improved governance, financial sustainability and accountability).
Such goals are achievable only where the people on whom their achievement largely depends feel valued, are motivated and trust those who lead them.
The Commission’s recommendations, if accepted, will require significant organisational redesign, process improvements and culture change.
There must be a dedicated managerial resource able to develop maps for each stage of the implementation and to report to the executive leadership on the achievements against an agreed timetable and plan. If this is not done, the recommendations may go the way of the Attain Report and so many others.
The success of any contemporary organisation depends on how well it can use and control the quality of its information and communications. This is particularly true for a university as large and complex as The UWI, serving so many contributing nations scattered across a million square miles of sea.
The good governance and effective management of the University are both contingent on the availability, integrity, usability and coherence of its mission-critical enterprise data, so as to support evidence-based decision-making and results-based management practices.
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) form the digital platforms and systems that collect, organise, manage and communicate information electronically. The robustness of those platforms and systems, however, does not only depend on the ICT development and investment levels.
It also depends on the broader encompassing work environment, cultural settings and collective eco-system of the University. Digital transformation fuses ICT changes with cultural and operational changes to define new ways and attitudes for an enhanced, more robust One UWI eco-system that can foster collaboration to achieve greater economies of scale and scope.
The digital transformation thus offers productivity gains, efficiency savings and resource-sharing opportunities that are crucial for surviving the widespread public spending cuts aggravated by the evolving global, pandemic-driven economic downturn.
Transitioning a One UWI budget system to more robust shared models for resource allocation and financial reporting/accountability is imperative for contending with regional challenges, including adapting to ongoing and expected changes in the external fiscal parameters imposed by campus-hosting governments and the other contributing countries.
Digital Transformation Issues
The Commission took note that the University has made progress over the years in terms of developing its ICT base and systems. Yet, the fragmented governance, lack of buy-in and commitment at several levels of the organisation and sparse funding have conspired to limit and undermine the eco-system gains accrued from ICT.
The high level of decentralisation has also led to incompatible platforms and eco-system elements across the University. Addressing these and other factors has become more vital than ever, particularly with the growing need for greater consolidation and integration of the distributed operations, systems and data assets of The UWI.
The Commission was informed that a series of digital consolidation and integration initiatives has finally culminated in a digital transformation programme, newly launched with the advisory consulting support of ProCare Services.
This programme will manage the cultural, operational and technological changes needed to move to an enhanced, more integrated eco-system of greater productivity, effectiveness and efficiency, which is critical for the survival of The UWI as a regional university.
In considering the way forward, the Commission interviewed the University CIO and the Managing Director of ProCare Services and received written submissions on the current state of play at the University.
Consequently, the Commission examined relevant reports submitted by both, and sought additional clarifications where needed.
Based on the iterative interviews and readings, the Commission concludes that a digitally transformed, more integrated One UWI eco-system is a top priority that is crucial for surviving the financial and other challenges facing the University.
(a). The transformation will be technology‐enabled, not technology‐driven, despite its “Digital” nomenclature and even though its roots were started by the ICT teams across the University.
In other words, the transformation hinges on, but is larger than the University and Campus ICT operations.
(b) It is developing as a multilateral change management programme that overlaps with, subsumes and integrates several earlier ICT and other projects and initiatives across the University.
Human Resource Issues and Requirements
The digital transformation programme engages 82 key in-house resources across the University, with a tentative overall estimated level of effort equivalent to 15-19 FTE workloads.
The estimate can be interpreted as equivalent to 300-400 FTE days per month or 75-100 FTE days per week.
Reportedly, with other commitments and duties competing for their time and focus, designated resources are not yet spending adequate time on their transformation roles.
Many would need relief from some other commitments and duties and/or support by additional human resources in order to dedicate adequate time for the digital transformation.
Performance evaluation criteria must entice them to focus on their transformation roles and to excel at performing them.
The University may also have to hire some additional staff, fully outsource some tasks and/or procure technical assistance to supplement the in-house capacity, where needed.