Financing higher education through COVID-19

Financing higher education through COVID-19

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

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At the time when schools were shuttered in mid-March of this year, in the wake of the (COVID-19) crisis, the budget process for the upcoming school year 2020-21 for higher educational institutions (HEIs) would customarily be completed and the budget approved by their respective boards.

This has left educational leadership with a new challenge to steer their institutions through the unplanned for, but now expected, tough financial times.

The prediction from Richard Byles, Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) governor, is that the economy will contract by between seven and 10 per cent during the 2020-21 fiscal year from the impact of the pandemic, and its accompanying heightened uncertainty.

The expected return to pre-COVID-19 levels is not before 2022-23, with partial economic recovery predicted to commence in the 2021-22 fiscal period along with anticipated growth of three to six per cent.

With competing interests for limited public funding, HEIs and their leadership will have to strategise for institutional and financial sustainability and growth and the motivation of their teams by:

Collaboration and development or new ideas and solution — by engaging staff, faculty and other stakeholders, including alumni, who have the expertise to help build synergy, complement their strengths, and inject diverse thinking.

This should include operational and capital expenditure budget revisions and resubmissions during the delayed start to the school year which, according to published reports, has been pushed back to October 5, 2020.

Critically evaluating their contingency and mitigation planning —This should include listening to their chief financial officers (CFOs) and accounting heads. Effective accountants have the logic, reasoning and expertise to create frameworks and build models for alternative income generation (where possible), reduction in student fees receivables, budgetary controls and cost containment, whilst delivering procedural transparency. The leadership is expected to support and lead cost containment measures proposed to facilitate financial stability.

Renewing and motivating — educational leadership must provide professional development training for new initiatives and measures, as well as recognise faculty and employees for innovative endeavours and their active buy-in and participation in planned initiatives, which may be uncomfortable or unpopular. Equally, they need to acknowledge and celebrate the lessons learned from any failures.

The professional champion, which the educational leader is envisioned to be, should then be able to communicate a clear view of the institution's plans and outlook to all its stakeholders, even in the face of this adversity. Sustainability demands it —especially now.

Shereyl Daley, FCCA, FCA, Dip Ed (Hons) is a chartered accountant with over 20 years' experience in leadership and management. She is an educator, the student advocate for ACCA Caribbean Jamaica Chapter, currently pursuing the EdD in Higher Educational Leadership at UWI Open Campus, and is the executive director for the Caribbean Microfinance Alliance.

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