Tuesday 26 March, 2019

'Low gov't subvention' a burden on UTech students, protestors say

University of Technology students protest in front of the institution's Papine, St Andrew campus on Wednesday. (PHOTOS: Julian Richardson)

University of Technology students protest in front of the institution's Papine, St Andrew campus on Wednesday. (PHOTOS: Julian Richardson)

University of Technology (UTech) students say they are being burdened by a government subvention policy that sees the institution receiving significantly less funds per-capita than its University of the West Indies Mona counterpart.

The subvention is a grant that is disbursed by government annually to assist institutions with their operations. It is used towards offsetting tuition, boarding, transportation costs among other operational expenses. 

According to the president of the UTech Students’ Union, Tia Ferguson, the inadequate subvention has been particularly stressful for students over the past five to seven years who have been forced to fork out higher school fees.

“This is unacceptable... it means that additional pressure is being put on our students and then funding has to come from tuition,” Ferguson told Loop News on Wednesday during ongoing strike action at the Papine, St Andrew-based campus.

Third year business student at UTech, Greg Foster bears a placard urging government to "Recognize UTech".

Ferguson also noted that, based on the 2019/2020 budget that was tabled in the House of Representatives last week by Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke, UTech will not be getting an increase in its subvention.

UWI up to the 2016 - 2017 academic year received per-student subvention of $454,753, some three times more than UTech's government per-capita support of $147, 702. In fact, UTech reportedly receives the lowest per-capita government subvention of any tertiary institution in Jamaica, and less than most secondary schools.

When asked, Ferguson was unable to say why funding for UTech has been historically low when compared to other tertiary institutions and even high schools.

“We are here asking what the criteria are and, if UTech is not meeting those criteria, tell us. We need to see clearly stated criteria to which you give universities or (other) educational facilities subvention,” she said.

UTech Students’ Union president, Tia Ferguson addresses her colleagues during the protest.

While the strike action which includes the academic staff continues, with staff and faculty decked out in black as a show of protest, Ferguson hopes to have some answers soon as a meeting has been arranged with Education Minister, Senator Ruel Reid.

In the meantime, a joint statement from the UTech Academic Staff Union (UTASU), UTech Administrative Support Staff Association, the University and Allied Workers’ Union and the students’ union, points to the “chronic underfunding of the university by the government.”

According to the statement, the matter is a “longstanding issue that remains unchanged despite numerous initiatives by stakeholders.”

“Today’s action is intended to give fillip to the students who have now raised their voices and to the management of the university, both of whom are now frustrated at the continued underfunding of the university,” the statement continued.

It pointed out that UTech “inherited government programmes such as nursing, midwifery, oral health, and public health without the necessary infrastructure or financial support.”

“The absence of adequate funding at UTech, Jamaica has imposed hardships and a difficult working environment upon the staff and students. Notwithstanding, UTech has maintained academic excellence at great personal sacrifice and has delivered to the nation, thousands of skilled professionals, has more than doubled the student population since 2007, and has been able to even earn programmatic and most recently, university accreditation,” said the statement.

UTech Subvention Protest

It noted that if UTech is to continue on this path of excellence it needs an “urgent and significant injection of funds.”

Reports reaching Loop News are that the students and staff are willing to take their protest to both the ministries of finance and education until the matter is resolved.

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