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:
Cost‐ sharing with risk mitigating considerations
The Commission recommends aiming for the following base scenario for cost-sharing, recognising that other scenarios would need to be assessed before a final one is agreed with the relevant stakeholders, including key Government representatives:
(a) Students – 40% through borrowing with long-term mortgage-type, graduated payments that are aligned with the graduates’ ability to repay, for example, a set percentage of the graduates’ income/salary during their working lifetime.
(b) Government – 60%
The Commission also feels that the roll out of this model would require a implementation plan which would incorporate risk-mitigating elements such as the following:
(i) A policy which could include components like grandfathering of existing students, possible phasing in of increases, and needs-based assistance determined by means testing.
(ii) Ensuring sufficient funding of relevant lending agencies in each Contributing Country to enable the issue of larger loans to cover the increased student contribution/fees. The provision of adequate funding to the lending agencies has been an issue in the past. Apart from Government funding, alternative sources would have to be sought, including multi-lateral funding and pension funds.
(iii) The loan repayment structure must be manageable, and should be aligned with the student’s ability to pay once he/she graduates and secures employment or starts earning income.
(iv) Loan repayments could be tax-deductible to reduce the burden of repayment
(v) To encourage repayment and reduce delinquency, stronger collaboration with credit bureaus (where applicable) and banks to ensure that student loan payments become a priority for the graduate’s disposable income.
(vi) Communication regarding The UWI Leadership’s plan to reduce the economic cost of the programmes, and by extension, funding requirements
(vii) Strengthened and focussed alumni communications and engagement to encourage repayments and reduce delinquency.
Notwithstanding the merits of these ideas, the Commission recommends that they be subject to a more rigorous examination and modelling, to determine with more confidence, the most optimal cost-sharing ratios and most viable characteristics that will make the model as affordable as possible, both to governments and prospective students.
Additional Sources of Funding
(a) Private Sector Contribution:
While acknowledging the significant contributions made to the University by many private sector entities in the region, the Commission felt that the private sector, as a beneficiary of higher education, could contribute more to tertiary education.
The level of funding for students should be biased towards key programmes/courses that the region considers important for development. An appropriate mechanism/framework could be developed to secure greater contributions by the Private Sector, particularly those enterprises that employ UWI graduates, so that the contributions by Governments can be reduced over time.
The Commission recommends that The UWI conduct research on global best practices on private sector funding with a view to determining the approach(es) that might be appropriate in the regional context.
(b). Engaging Alumni:
Alumni contributions are an important source of funding at universities across the world. There is potential to obtain greater contributions from UWI Alumni. The current infrastructure at UWI to support these efforts, however, is woefully inadequate, and requires investment and increased capacity to bring the engagement of alumni in university affairs in line with best practice norms.
The department responsible for Alumni engagement has staffing of 6 persons, and insufficient budgets to execute the necessary systems, programmes and follow-up. A strong co-ordinated effort (supported by adequate systems, resources and funding) should be made to execute a sustained programme to engage The UWI Alumni to participate in the development of the institution through ongoing financial and other contributions.
It is likely that the investment in this area will be handsomely rewarded. Also, to incentivise Alumni to give more, their contributions to The UWI could be tax-deductible, and the Commission recommends that the necessary tax‐deductibility approvals be sought by the department responsible for alumni affairs.
Digital Transformation to support outlined recommendations
One of the five key functional domains of the digital transformation programme that has been launched in 2019 with the advisory support of ProCare is the Financial Domain. It is currently sponsored by the Cave Hill Campus for and on behalf of the Vice Chancellery and all campuses across The UWI.
The Commission sees the value of digitally transforming the financial operations of the University that will lead to productivity gains, efficiency savings and resource sharing. These are KEY strategic imperatives for placing the University on a sustainable financial path.
This will be crucial for regaining and sustaining the financial health of the University, particularly amidst the widespread public spending cuts that will be aggravated by the evolving global, pandemic-driven economic downturn.
Upon considering documents and suggestions put forward by ProCare, the Commission further supports the following:
(a). Transitioning the One UWI budget system to more robust shared models for resource allocation, tracking and reporting, as an imperative for contending with regional challenges. Those include adapting to ongoing and expected changes in the external fiscal parameters imposed by campus-hosting governments and the other contributing countries.
(b) Unifying the financial data definitions and schemes, including cross-campus financial transactions, data mobility, comparability and reporting so as to streamline the multiple charts of accounts, and facilitate inter-operability and consolidation across the University.
(c) Calculating, charging, billing and reporting of teaching economic costs and tuition fees by an incremental unit such as the credit hour, as a means of improving the visibility and transparency of the required disaggregation of those costs.
(d) Enhancing the ability to recover joint costs, share joint revenues and distribute both the costs and revenues more equitably among collaborators, in order to promote more collaboration and innovative entrepreneurship, without jeopardising relations with, and commitments to funding governments. This will be contingent on enhancing the visibility and transparency of costing and resource allocation at more granular levels.
(e) Building mandatory financial reporting requirements into
system to facilitate performance monitoring, and inform decision making in relation to the key strategic priorities of the University. The aim is to facilitate visibility of the aggregated and disaggregated costs in all mission-critical elements such as the quality of teaching, learning and student development, the effectiveness of the ICT assets and operations, and the quality, quantity and impact of the research, innovation and publications across the university.
The Vice-Chancellor and Campus Principals as CEOs of the University and campuses, respectively, are responsible for managing both the academic and corporate operations of the University.
Some of the key powers of the Vice-Chancellor include:-
(a) general and specific supervision over the educational arrangements of the University, including authority for the admission of students
(b) maintenance and promotion of the efficiency and good order of the University
(c) ex-officio Chair of the Senate and with certain specified exceptions, chair of all Committees of the Council and Senate provided that the Vice‐Chancellor may appoint a member of the University to be Chair of any such Committee.
In like manner the Campus Principal is “responsible to the Vice‐Chancellor for maintaining and promoting the efficiency and good order of the University at the Campus to which the Principal is appointed”.
In addition (and of relevance to subsequent discussion), the Principal “…. Shall be ex-officio Chair of the Academic Board (of the Campus) … and of any standing, special or advisory committee set up by the Council, the Campus Council for that campus or the Senate…
Other Senior Managers with both corporate and academic management responsibilities include the Pro-Vice-Chancellors, Deputy Campus Principals, the Deans, the University Registrar, the University Bursar, the University Librarian and other officers. At the Campus level, in addition to the Principal, Deputy Principal and Deans, there are the Campus Registrar and Campus Bursar.
There exists Executive Management Teams chaired by the Vice-Chancellor at the regional level and by the Campus Principals on the campuses. However, as indicated earlier in this Report, these are not statutory entities and their membership, authority, responsibilities and frequency of meetings vary widely.
These factors contribute to uncertainty about their value and effectiveness in the overall management of the University.
People Management Matters
The Commission’s key task was to listen, review and recommend how The UWI could move towards improved governance and financial sustainability – the focus of previous sections of this Report.
The comments below are focussed on the ‘people’ component of Governance. Herb Kelleher, former CEO of Southwest Airlines, famously said “the business of business is the people.”
The feedback that the Commissioners received clearly suggests that the University is not intentionally focussing on the people in the organisation and the employee experience is not being managed effectively.
The feedback from consultations with this stakeholder group highlighted the following areas of concerns:
(a) A need for more effective leadership throughout the institution
(b) The need for consistent performance management discussions and honest feedback on performance for all levels of staff
(c) An absence of sanctions for breaches and non-compliance with existing regulations and policies
(d) The need for greater transparency in assessment and promotion.
The Commission feels that these concerns must be addressed. Appropriate attention and focus on these areas would enhance the overall employee experience and improve engagement, morale and productivity.
Develop Effective Leaders
There is a need to promote and develop a cadre of leaders who are emotionally intelligent and who show up and connect with the people they lead. The academic culture and structures might not have equipped Deans, Heads of Department, Lecturers and others who are promoted to senior administrative positions, with the skills sets and leadership competencies required for general management.
Organisational leadership has not explicitly been required for senior academic roles: How to allocate resources, manage finances, read a balance sheet, understand the implications of accumulating debt; manage and motivate people, guide marketing and product development strategies are now required skills of a 21st Century University Executive.
A campus is a billion-dollar business which requires leaders who hold themselves accountable, pay attention to their people skills and lead by example.
A person who is promoted, for example from Dean to Campus Principal faces a big transition, requiring a new skill set.
Existing efforts and programmes which seek to prepare academic leaders for wider management should be prioritised.
Concerns were expressed that the apparent absence of effective mentoring for leadership roles has had a negative impact on governance within the university system.
Some respondents expressed a desire for a better relationship between academic leaders and ATSS. Persons appointed to leadership positions require the support of the Administrative and Technical staff to successfully transition from academic to leadership roles.
A Robust Performance Management Framework
Respondents noted the lack of consistent performance appraisals and or feedback on performance. Regular appraisals were absent at all levels, whether from Executive leadership, Deans, or Department Heads.
The academic members of staff are, apparently, only appraised when they are due for a formal review; that is, contract renewal, crossing the merit bar, promotion to senior lecturer, promotion to senior lecturer above the bar, and promotion to professor.
In the case of the administrative staff and the ATSS staff, appraisal instruments exist but appear to be inconsistently administered and even then, in a perfunctory manner.
Further, the conduct of the performance appraisal is often considered a “compliance requirement,” rather than an effective performance development tool.
There would be many benefits from a simplified and integrated performance assessment process applied across The UWI. This could have the advantage of everybody speaking and meaning the same thing and having shared conversations, to the benefit of the University.
The metrics should be legitimised through international benchmarking. This is important as The UWI must urgently address significant financial challenges and, simultaneously, maintain its reputation for world class academic excellence.
The University Leadership and Management teams must be the catalyst to improvements at The UWI and provide full and ongoing leadership support, given the urgency of the need to reduce costs and find new sources of funding.
The Commission also supports a performance management system based on a very simple instrument which allows for frequent feedback between participants.
The Commission recommends that the University’s executive team agree on and apply a few key performance metrics across The UWI. Further, that these key strategic priorities directly address the University’s urgent financial requirements while maintaining its international standing for academic excellence.
In this exercise, we recommend close attention be paid to the findings and recommendations of the ATTAIN Report 2016. The ATTAIN Report noted that the University lacks important operating metrics at each of the campus locations. Less than 20% of the data requested for review during their diagnostic consultancy was made available.
The digital transformation programme formulated with the advisory consulting support of ProCare has a focus on aggregated and disaggregated data visibility and mobility to facilitate capturing and monitoring those key performance metrics and other analytics.