The Cayman Islands government has spent more than $500,000 since 2014 to cover budget shortfalls at the University College of the Cayman Islands which were partly blamed on declining enrollment and “static” school fees.
In addition, the government agreed to convert some $2.4 million in loans to the school to “contributed capital,” as financial struggles at the university continued during 2015.
The school currently receives more than $4 million per year from the government to run its operations, but the payments and “loan forgiveness” have been made in addition to that amount.
Education Minister Tara Rivers told the Legislative Assembly last week that the publicly funded university, which began offering four-year baccalaureate degrees in 2004, has struggled with operating losses in each year except one for the past decade.
These losses, she said, were partly due to a pension plan deficit of $514,000, and more than $211,000 in “unsubstantiated expenditure” that occurred during a previous school president’s tenure.
“UCCI has found itself continually operating close to break-even,” Minister Rivers said.
While the school has struggled along as best it can, Ms. Rivers said, the budget situation means it is “challenging” for UCCI to carry out preventive maintenance work and replace school equipment as it breaks down.
“This had a significant impact on faculty and staff morale,” the minister said, adding that while overall costs were contained, the impact of the unexpected costs had “caused a strain on the day-to-day operations” at the university.
One example of the disrepair cited by Minister Rivers is at the university’s well-attended nursing program, which has outgrown its building and requires a new facility, she said.
By fall 2016, weekly or biweekly maintenance was needed on the air conditioning system in the nursing school facilities, as well as maintenance for a leaky roof. The program currently has 32 students in three cohorts and expects another 12-15 to join by this spring.
During the last government budget, $427,000 was transferred from a construction project at another public school and put toward building two classrooms and a clinical nursing facility to help support the growing program.
“Construction has not progressed,” Minister Rivers said.
Although Cabinet provided the money requested by the UCCI Board of Governors for the nursing school expansion, the estimates fell short of what was needed, Ms. Rivers said. Additional private funding will be sought to open the new facility in 2018, she said.
In order to deal with the budget shortfalls reported during the school’s 2013/14 and 2014/15 budget years, Minister Rivers said the loans were converted to “contributed capital,” and noted that Cabinet approved a tuition increase of $25 per course for associate degree courses taken by non-Caymanians.
In addition, the Board of Governors is “assessing the effectiveness and viability” of all UCCI programs via a number of subcommittees, the minister said.