Time to explore sustainable solution for tertiary financing

Time to explore sustainable solution for tertiary financing

Friday, December 06, 2019

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Dear Editor,

Exam season at our tertiary institutions is upon us and the attendant jitters surrounding the non-payment of fees and subsequent de-registration have yet to subside. To its credit, the Government has provided support in the form of an injection of millions of dollars over the last three years to avert the de-registration of students, especially for those who are in the final semester of their degree programmes. However, it ought to be apparent that this is not a sustainable solution.

As such, I am calling for wider dialogue around a long-term plan for sustainable tertiary education financing. It is understood that the Government and our universities have their own financial obligations, which must take some precedence; however, an investment in our human capital is likely to reap far more dividends for our society going forward, instead of having to contend with the cost of inaction.

A comprehensive re-examination of the funding model for tertiary education should take into account the needs of students in poorer households, the increase in the demand for tertiary education, and the country's current and long-term fiscal challenges. This new model needs to both enhance access and expand higher education.

Part of the problem is that universities are seen to be competing with students for scarce resources in order to run the institution efficiently. In order for the burden of expenditure to be eased on the primary consumers — the students — universities must first consider augmenting its sources of other revenue (such as rental income, commercialising its research and endowments) so that there is no over-reliance on tuition fees to fund its operations. Consequently, tuition fees could be lowered or, at the very least, only increased in smaller increments than what currently obtains.

Additionally, the private sector, while providing much-needed and appreciated scholarships, could engage in a public-private partnership (PPP) with the Government that would see the former willing to specially subsidise the fields of study of greatest demand, based on labour market surveys, which would lower the overall cost in the long-run because of the returns that would accrue to the overall economy due to the filling of labour gaps.

Finally, as the Jamaica Stock Exchange is the best-performing stock market in the world, universities could consider listing on the exchange in order to raise funds. I am confident that there are many people who would love to invest in a long-term bond for higher education in such a way, which would also have the effect of increasing national and regional ownership of our institutions.

Sujae H Boswell

Hall Chairman

Chancellor Hall

The University of the West Indies, Mona


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