The residents of the Cayman Islands deserve far better from our country’s “national university.”
The University College of the Cayman Islands is losing students, losing money and losing whatever esteem it might retain in the minds of the local professional community.
The front-page story in today’s Compass, detailing the millions in “hidden” subsidies the government has been funneling to UCCI in the form of one-time payments and forgiven loans, is further evidence that UCCI is failing to overcome the multifaceted struggles that continue to plague the university.
Two years ago, UCCI was at a low point as an institution. A “viability report” questioned the university’s offerings and proposed significant reductions in operations and budget. Board Chairwoman Sheree Ebanks tendered her resignation, and on her way out the door offered a frank (and accurate) assessment of UCCI’s associate degree program, saying: “I come from the private sector, and if somebody came to me with an associate degree, I’m really not going to pay much attention. I’m looking for at least a bachelor’s. I’m really looking for a master’s. An associate degree in this day and age is pretty much meaningless.”
Less than two weeks later, Ms. Ebanks’s departure was followed by the resignation of fellow board member Linford Pierson, who had spearheaded the critical UCCI report.
As detailed in today’s story, the government has spent more than $500,000 to cover UCCI budget shortfalls since 2014 and has agreed to convert about $2.4 million in loans to the school to “contributed capital” (i.e., “more free money”). That’s on top of the $4 million per year the government currently provides to UCCI.
Despite the regular subsidy, the school has posted operating losses in nine out of the past 10 years, severely constraining any ambitions for growth UCCI might harbor, even in relatively popular areas such as its nursing program, which was allocated $427,000 during the last budget to build two new classrooms and a clinical nursing facility … none of which has yet materialized.
Earlier this month, former UCCI President Hassan Syed was found guilty of stealing more than $500,000 from the university between 2006 and 2008 through dishonest actions that were made possible through astonishing gaps in oversight, accounting and individual accountability throughout the UCCI administration and other areas of government. (The testimony provided by civil servants during the Syed trial was eerily similar to civil service testimony provided in the trial of Canover Watson over CarePay, in regard to the bureaucracy’s apparent “laissez-faire” – or, if you will, “couldn’t care less” – attitude toward the expenditure of public funds.)
Insofar as the latest UCCI news provides evidence that the university has cleaned up its act fiscally, it seems entirely to be evidence to the contrary.
Two years ago, we expressed hopes that the turmoil at the time would provide a rock bottom from which UCCI could rise, stronger than ever. We wrote in an editorial, “the way forward for UCCI should be one of enhancement, expansion and growth … The time is ripe for a metamorphosis of mission at UCCI, which will only be possible with the assurance of full funding and strengthened support from our elected officials and community leaders.”
So much for Plan A …
And the alternative?
We continued, “If our public sector cannot transform UCCI into the flagship educational institution that Cayman needs and deserves, the only other rational alternative, we submit, is for government to get out of the business of college altogether and … [devote] those resources elsewhere.”