University president lays out precarious financial position
An increase in tuition fees is desperately needed to help deal with a mounting financial crisis at the University College of the Cayman Islands, president Roy Bodden has warned.
UCCI has “never recovered” from the “fiasco” of runaway president Hassan Syed’s alleged raid on its coffers, Mr. Bodden wrote in a report detailing the perilous state of the institution’s finances.
He also blames the refusal of successive government to sanction an increase in fees for the lack of funds, which he describes as a “sword of Damocles” hanging over the university.
He says the Ministry of Education has asked for new programs to help more students attend college without offering sufficient help to pay for them.
And he warns that the “government-wide austerity plan” has left UCCI in difficult financial straits with a dilapidated campus, “crumbling” classroom ceilings and buildings in keeping with a “Third World backwater.”
He says concerted efforts to persuade the Ministry of Education to allow an increase in tuition fees, which have not been changed since 2003, have fallen on deaf ears.
President Bodden’s report to the university’s board of directors, which accompanies the financial statements for the 2012/13 academic year, cautions that further improvements in standards will be impossible because there are “so many glaring needs” eating away at the institution’s limited finances.
Former university president Syed was arrested in Switzerland late last year and is facing potential extradition to the Cayman Islands, where he is wanted by police in connection with a string of theft and fraud offenses dating to 2008. He was charged in absentia in 2012. The investigation into Mr. Syed followed an auditor general’s report highlighting “unsubstantiated financial transactions for the office of the president.”
Mr. Bodden, in the introduction to his report, which was not yet been tabled in the Legislative Assembly but has been posted on UCCI’s website in the last few months, points out that the university is still paying the price.
“The University College’s finances have never recovered from the Hassan Syed fiasco. At the very least, some entity or individual should have been responsible for reimbursing the approximately $300,000 which the auditor general’s office claims is unaccounted for at this time.”
The missing funds are just one aspect of a bleak financial picture painted by President Bodden in his annual report.
He highlights the introduction of the dual-entry program and the pre-college studies program – two programs to help high school students get “college ready” – as a drain on finances.
He writes, “In discussions leading up to the drafting and implementation of these programs, the Ministry of Education gave the distinct impression that, as a partner, the UCCI would not have to bear the brunt of the finances for these programs. While that may have been the intention, the actuality is far more sobering.”
He calls for a more “enlightened relationship” between government and the college and an increase in tuition fees to help the university pay for these programs, as well as for upgrades to the college’s “crumbling infrastructure.”
He says the university has made “concerted attempts” to persuade the Ministry of Education to sanction an increase in tuition fees, pointing out that fees in the U.S. rise by 5 percent on average every year.
He expresses further frustration that a report on recapitalizing UCCI, produced by the university’s chief financial officer, had been “drowned in negativity and intransigence” and remained uncommented on by the ministry.
“Failure to address this challenge has brought unwarranted strain on the cash-flow situation at UCCI,” Mr. Bodden said in the report.
He says the campus is “ageing and dilapidated” and points out that the university received a citation from the fire department because its alarm system was “completely rusted out” – a problem that cost $52,000 to fix.
He writes that the campus is not human rights compliant and has only one wheelchair ramp. “I am concerned also about the crumbling ceilings in some classrooms and possible exposure to mold,” he says.
While expressing gratitude to the ministry for a gift of four modular classrooms, which house the new school of nursing and the pre-college studies program, Mr. Bodden adds, “While it is obvious that these classrooms have been refurbished to a high standard, it is also clear that their presence among the other buildings is an incongruity more indicative of a Third World backwater than a jurisdiction which touts its high ranking among the world’s financial centers.”
The University College ended the academic year in 2013 with a net surplus of just over $12,000 – down from close to $500,000 the previous year.
Mr. Bodden says necessary improvements for 2013/14, including upgrading the fire alarm system and cleaning mold, will run to more than $800,000, jeopardizing the institution’s financial position further.
“The government-wide austerity plan has seriously eroded the University College’s ability to service its needs. I caution that our inability to meet this demand places us frighteningly close to the situation of what I term ‘diminishing returns,’ meaning that we will see no improvements for the money spent because there are so many glaring needs.”