Funding UTech — Cast thy bread...

Lebert
Langley

Monday, August 20, 2018

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The University of Technology, Jamaica Academic Staff Union (UTASU) joins the debate about the viability of the national university and the unique and vital contribution it must make if Jamaicans from all walks of life are to be empowered with skills to excel in the 21st century and create the nation we all deserve and desire.

Inflow

Much has been achieved in the past, but the university must be properly funded and resourced to continue to excel in teaching, service and research. A major issue which hampers the university's ability to better serve the needs of its main stakeholders — students — is the annual per capita subvention from the Government of Jamaica.

For the 2016/17 academic year, each student at The University of the West Indies Mona Campus (UWI) received support from the Government of Jamaica, through the Ministry of Education, of $454,753.00. During the same period, each student at the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech) received per capita subvention support of $147,702.00. This means that each student at The UWI received $300,000.00 more or about three times the per capita support when compared with students at UTech. At that time, there were over 18,000 students at The UWI, compared with over 12,000 at UTech. Subvention to The UWI for the period was $8.73 billion compared with $1.87 billion to UTech. We declare no ill will towards other institutions, but make comparisons of subventions to buttress the case.

UTech Jamaica's per capita subvention has been the lowest among tertiary and quasi-tertiary institutions for many years, falling to less than 50 per cent of the average per capita allocation in the tertiary education sector. Teacher's colleges; College of Agriculture, Science and Education (CASE); Edna Manley School for the Visual and Performing Arts; and other quasi-tertiary institutions such as community colleges received up to five times more per capita subvention than the national university. See Figure 1 (Government Per Capita contribution to Tertiary Institutions 2007 - 2014)

Unfortunately, UTech's per capita subvention is lodged securely at the bottom of the proverbial pile and falls well below those of even secondary (yes, secondary) institutions. The Economic & Social Survey of Jamaica 2015/16 shows that per capita expenditure for Vocational/Agricultural Schools was $472,663; grades 7 - 9, primary and junior high schools $202,314; and technical high schools $158,810 — all significantly more than that for UTech. Only traditional high schools with $140,927 fell marginally below the UTech subvention. See Table 1 (Ministry of Education per capita expenditure by educational level 2012/13, 2014/15, 2015/16)

Outflows

Another contentious issue for the academic staff union is the salaries of academic staff at UTech, which remain among the lowest in tertiary and quasi-tertiary institutions. Beginning in 2007, the Government of Jamaica aligned salaries in the education sector (teachers, education officers, HEART instructors, etc) to 80 per cent of market. However, the salaries of lecturers at UTech were not adjusted by the ratios required to maintain relativity as a Level 2 institution.

The tertiary and quasi-tertiary institutions in Jamaica were classified in 1992 (Sherlock Report, 1991), with UWI Mona at Level 1, UTech at Level 2, and all others at Level 3. The salary structure reflected these three levels. Today this is no longer the case and there exists a wide disparity in remuneration packages, in some cases more than twice the salary of the average UTech lecturer. For example, some academics in Level 3 institutions earn more than some academics at the national university, and in some instances academics at the same rank at The UWI are paid more than twice their UTech counterparts. This situation is so dire that some specialist teachers in high schools now earn more than some categories of UTech lecturers.

UTASU has, since 2010, agitated for adjustment in salaries that would allow its members to maintain their relevance in the education sector. This adjustment was finally agreed among the ministries of finance and education, UTech, and UTASU in the heads of agreement for 2015/2017 signed May 12, 2017. Having waited for eight years, and despite the severe erosion in the value of the remuneration package, to date this agreed adjustment is yet to be implemented.

Resources

The burden of scarce resources has impacted working conditions of staff at UTech. This manifests in the high levels of attrition, especially in key science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) areas critical for national development; low morale; and the inability to attract faculty. The impact of this has also been heavier workloads for academics, who must serve the needs of a student population that has more than doubled since 2005. The number of schools has almost tripled (moving from seven to 20), the number of colleges increased from none to three, the number of faculties from four to five, and the programme offerings have been expanded significantly. Lecturers should be commended for using the limited resources to prepare more than 50,000 high-calibre graduates to take their places across the nation, indeed the world.

A further comparison with The UWI shows that UTech academics, with a teaching loads at times 50 per cent higher, and with no teaching assistants and markers, are subject to the same expectations for teaching, research and community service output.

The allocated government resources to fulfil this mandate must reflect equity in government subvention support to give all students an equal opportunity to realise their potential and play their part in national development. This requires compensation that reflects the true value of staff; appropriate conditions of work; and improved technology, infrastructure, and educational facilities.

The staff have proved their dedication and loyalty to the institution by continuing to work in good faith with the hope that the working conditions will be improved to allow the university to build on the established platform of excellence.

It is no secret that UTech faces formidable resource challenges. But with the thrust of a relatively new University Council, new leadership, and with committed faculty, UTech is poised to multiply its long-standing successes, conquer new horizons, and realise its full potential if provided with adequate financial support for its students.

The institution's record of performance, its continuing invaluable contribution to national development, and the role it fulfils in the realisation of our national vision points to the need for urgent dialogue and national consensus on the way forward.

Lebert Langley is president of the University of Technology, Jamaica Academic Staff Union. Send comments to the Observer or utasustaffunion@gmail.com.

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