Students need to be more responsible with their tuition fees | Local company

IN ORDER for West Indies St Augustine University to become less dependent on government grants, the campus must operate like a business to become profitable and sustainable.

This is the view of UWI Director Professor Brian Copeland, who said that with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, governments in the Caribbean were challenged, so it would have been difficult to maintain their usual funding.

Speaking to Express Business last week, Copeland said that’s why the St Augustine campus wants to make students more responsible for their tuition.

He said contributing governments fund 80 percent of the economic costs of tuition and students pay 20 percent. T&T students currently cover 12% of economic costs.

“It does not include GATE (government tuition assistance). Including GATE, the percentage of tuition paid by local students drops to around 6%. I said students should take responsibility of their tuition. We have to move to this space because we won’t be raising first-class citizens,” Copeland pointed out.

He noted that a tuition reduction was granted in 2021 when T&T experienced two periods of closure.

“We don’t do it drastically, but we have to. I think you would agree that for an institution to sit with unchanged fees for 21 years, something is wrong, so we have to fix it. I can’t say how much the dues will go up yet, because the meetings are still going on.

“Students benefited from reasonably attractive fees. The cost of training at one of our partner universities in the United States in the Faculty of Social Sciences is US$50,000 ($340,000) per year. That’s $12,000 a year here in St Augustine. We don’t come close to that, but it’s just to show you the disparity,” Copeland pointed out.

Projects

The campus is running a deficit of TT$45 million and the Principal strongly believes that the UWI South Campus, Debe, which has been reconfigured to become the UWI Global School of Medicine, can increase revenue for UWI St Augustine.

Copeland said it was supposed to launch two years ago, but Covid-19 happened.

He hopes that it can be put into service soon, in order to compensate for the deficit which must be reduced.

“The Debe campus cost $600 million to complete after contractors defaulted. Some $500 million came from the government and $100 million from the UWI. We will attract paying international students from the United States who will be able to access scholarships from their country to study abroad.

He pointed out that South Campus plans to enroll 150-180 students per year and that the school would be able to fund 25% of UWI’s current expenses, which is huge.

“We have asked the government to help us facilitate the establishment of agreements with the US government, as well as a one-time payment of $20 million to complete the establishment of the program. We asked in August and still haven’t heard anything,” Copeland said.

He said one of the key aspects of achieving the university’s 2030 vision is educating the public about the role of the institution and the role of research as a viable career option. He noted that higher education evolves to develop people physically and mentally over time.

Copeland, who is retiring July 31, said his vision for the university is that it will operate like a business to generate its own funding and create productive graduates who can embark on rewarding lives.

“Research must be meaningful and deliver maximum value to the nation. I would like to see the creation of a new sector of small and medium enterprises with spin-off companies that can attract 30-40% of future currencies. We want to do a total overhaul for maximum efficiency of the administration.

He served his first term as campus principal in 2016 and was due to retire last year in August, but a decision was made by UWI Chancellor Robert Bermudez to extend it until this year.

Monetize innovation

UWI Ventures Ltd Chairman Gerry Brooks highlighted several investment-worthy, nationally significant innovation projects currently under development at UWI. These include innovations in chemical engineering, ICT, high value-added agriculture, medicine and music. He explained that UWI Ventures is a separate and independent governance structure from UWI, given the need for agility and flexibility as a business entity.

“UWI Ventures collaborates and works closely with UWI, through its Entrepreneurship Unit and the St Augustine Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (StACIE), to provide comprehensive and integrated support to selected start-ups, including including grant funding, intellectual property protection, and a full suite of entrepreneurship services, including but not limited to business planning, coaching, mentoring, and marketing entrepreneurial opportunities innovative.

UWI Ventures is also designed as a holding company for UWI spin-offs and start-ups,” he said.

Brooks said one of the projects being considered, which can also help the country’s export, is the cocoa industry.

He pointed out that there are opportunities in this industry and that is why UWI Ventures is working with the head of the Center for Cocoa Research, Professor Pathmanathan Umaharan. The Center is a globally recognized entity specializing in genetic research, disease resistance, quality assurance testing and post-harvest technologies for cocoa.

Brooks said there is an opportunity to boost exports of dark chocolate, cocoa butter, cocoa liquor and couverture.

He noted that a proposed factory would cost around TT$7-8 million and would have a production capacity of 200 tonnes of cocoa per year. This represents about half of T&T’s total cocoa production. This creates an avenue for the production of cocoa plantations.

“The government has committed to give $7 million, so all we have to do is get the funding to get this project off the ground. Remember, when you do a project like this, it takes five to seven years to see results,” he said.

The president also pointed out that UWI Ventures has created an app so that entrepreneurs can participate and contribute their ideas.

Then turn those ideas into reality.

“We want to make it a successful business with a private partnership and even go public. The aim is to help the UWI campus as well so that dependency is not on the government. The objective is to create a certain number of subsidiaries and to develop them also at regional level.

Another project is fingerprint recognition technology. Brooks said it was an entirely local innovation from the University of the West Indies and was the only locally developed biometric system.

He said fingerprint recognition technology provides ultra-secure, pass-anywhere access to customer file data.

Brooks said the UWI fingerprint recognition technology is of international standard quality and there is a US patent for it. It can be a good investment opportunity so people don’t have to walk around with multiple IDs.

“The patented UWI fingerprint recognition technology software system offers a very attractive investment opportunity. I can also see it taking off well,” Brooks added.