Financing the university in a post-2015 world

Universities have a vital role to play in reducing socio-economic inequalities post-2015, but the financial crisis has brought a number of constraints on government financing, higher education programming and the overall growth and competitiveness of countries.

Institutions like the University of the West Indies, or UWI, have unique financing systems for running their operations. Up until the great recession of 2008-09, a substantial number of university programmes across the world were predominantly financed by governments.

It has become apparent that as countries' output and tax revenues progressively decline and the operational costs of universities increase, a corresponding measure of budget tightening will be imposed by respective governments. Universities therefore have to develop alternative mechanisms for funding their operations.

UWI's resilience mechanism

First established in Jamaica in 1948 as a constituent college of the University of London, the University of the West Indies was granted university status and gained academic independence in 1962.

Commencing services with its flagship faculty of medical sciences in Mona Jamaica, UWI has amassed a comprehensive array of programmes with renowned scholars and experts in their respective fields.

Four campuses now exist throughout the Caribbean, namely: Mona, Jamaica (1948); St Augustine, Trinidad (1962); Cave Hill, Barbados (1963); and the UWI Open Campus, Regional (2008).

The University's enrolment has grown from 33 students in 1948 to 48,000 students in 2013, with an estimated 120,000 alumni. The UWI is currently listed as the number one ranked tertiary institution in the English-speaking Caribbean.

In response to the above-mentioned trends, which could jeopardise UWI's programmes and its attainment of Post-2015 Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs, UWI has carved out a Strategic Plan 2012-17 to use as a tool for the efficient and effective running of its operations.

Six strategic goals have been identified and operational objectives (2012-14) for the four campuses were fashioned accordingly.

Financing and resourcing UWI

Diversifying UWI's income source has been a strategic goal for the past decade. The university recognised that if it is to strengthen programming and compete globally then measures must be put in place to reduce its heavy reliance on government financing.

Financial diversification initiatives implemented in the previous strategic plan (2007-12) were:
  • • 1. Increased income from consulting fees, for example, from institutions such as Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies, or SALISES, and the newly launched UWI Consulting Inc.
  • • 2. Increased number of full fee-paying students at the Mona campus in Jamaica.
  • • 3. Expanded services to the public, for instance, the establishment of a holding company for e-sources to the public and the launch of an innovative DNA testing facility.
  • • 4. The development of weekend programmes.
  • • 5. Increased income from special projects.
  • • 6. Donor funding for the Open Campus - newly developed teaching and learning services through virtual and physical site locations.
  • • 7. Concessionaire fees from private businesses.
  • • 8. Research grants.
UWI's 'financial' goal in its Strategic Plan 2012-17 is designed to extend that in the preceding plan. A key feature in the current financial strategy is not only to diversify the university's income source, but also to create a more cost-efficient institution.

It specifically outlines three themes, namely: 1) diversifying the university's income source by reducing reliance on government financing; 2) restructuring UWI's capital base and moving towards operational independence; and 3) encouraging efficient resource utilisation through the introduction of systems to promote a culture of greater efficiency and accountability.

Some of the main initiatives implemented in 2012-13 under the theme of 'diversifying the university's income source' were:
  • • 1. A 125 % increase in the Gender and Development Training Programme.
  • • 2. The roll-out of a fee-paying law programme at the Cave Hill campus.
  • • 3. A 25% increase in enrolment on the Barbados Interdisciplinary Tropical Studies Program.
  • • 4. Sizeable consultancies won by SALISES.
  • • 5. Mona campus' International Students Office (ISO) increased its international recruitment drive.
  • • 6. Outsourcing of the UWI Open Campus 12 payroll.
  • • 7. The introduction of an amenities fee for health and student services at the St Augustine campus.
  • • 8. The establishment of a dedicated commercialisation unit.
  • • 9. Augmented earnings from commercial projects by enforcing the common service fee of 15% on all projects.
In the future, it is expected that further initiatives will be taken for income diversification in specific areas like commercialisation of research, licensing and selling of products or services and increasing rental rates of services and facilities. Moreover, UWI intends to increase strategic partnerships that will produce investments in the university in line with the goal of 'recapitalisation of UWI'.

Under the financial goal of 'efficient resource utilisation', UWI also plans to increase the efficiency of its operations. UWI campuses, like Cave Hill (Barbados), are currently engaging with renewable energy stakeholders in an effort to reduce operational costs while Mona campus is planning to establish a co-generation plant and intra-departmental devices for energy conservation.

All campuses are required to use ICT to leverage operations, that is: to deliver course content and achieve efficiencies in overhead costs; to use department-produced podcasts or screen casts as a delivery tool for courses; and to implement sensors to control lights and air-conditioning units.

The European University Association has identified the pitfalls universities have had in generating an aligned approach to strategic outcomes as: lack of investment in dedicated management, leadership and communication.

UWI is equally aware of the stumbling blocks that arise when seeking to implement an income diversification strategy and has a dedicated office of planning and development, which monitors each campus' progress towards its strategic goals.

Partnerships, co-funding and expert collaboration

According to the Russell Group and other academic associations, universities' efforts towards income sustainability are highlighted by their commitment to strengthening partnerships, co-funding research and expert collaboration.

In the global landscape of higher education development, universities, like businesses, must find partners who can facilitate, fund and bolster their knowledge transfer services to their highly mobile clientele (students and businesses). Partnerships that create strong expertise, course content and research capabilities are able to attract international students and investment from pioneering industries.

The UWI has developed three strategic goals that have elements of increasing partnerships, namely: 1) teaching, learning and student development; 2) research and innovation; and 3) outreach and internationalisation.

Priority areas of focus for capacity building

In an effort to strengthen its programming, research capabilities and contribution to regional development in the post-2015 period, UWI has identified a number of priority areas for internal capacity development. These are:
  • • Agro-technologies and food security.
  • • Alternative energy systems.
  • • Convergent ICT applications.
  • • Creative industries.
  • • Tourism management.
  • • Human security.
  • • Governance and regulatory systems.
Major funding will be sought to build institutional capacity in these areas, through the establishment of international partnerships and structures that will facilitate a more effective role by UWI in regional and global development. Teams have been formed from among the university's academic and research staff to design concept notes and proposals.

A business perspective report to the UN Secretary General showed that businesses felt strongly that quality education should be a main priority for the post-2015 agenda. Likewise, UNESCO calls for a post-2015 strategy that ensures learning content and curriculum is relevant to the learner's context and provides knowledge, skills and values relevant for peace and sustainable development.

The theme of this submission illustrates the mechanisms used by the University of the West Indies in the prevailing trend towards reduced government funding. There will be new challenges for resources in a post-2015 world and governments must acknowledge that universities, like UWI, are catalysts for shaping human capital and sustainable development.

Building a society equipped with the technical expertise needed for growth in productivity and sustaining returns to an economy still hinges on governments' ability to sustain sufficient public funding to higher education.

* Mitch Hartman is a development officer at the University of the West Indies.

* The Association of Commonwealth Universities, or ACU, is running a campaign to raise awareness of how higher education can and should respond to global challenges beyond 2015 - join the debate and share your thoughts: The world beyond 2015 - Is higher education ready?.