Fri | May 29, 2020

UWI feels COVID pinch - Mona rethinks hiring new staff as financial strain sets in

Published:Saturday | April 4, 2020 | 12:08 AMRomario Scott/Gleaner Writer

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed The University of the West Indies, Mona, into deeper financial troubles, forcing it to be banging on the Government’s doors for support, principal, Professor Dale Webber, said yesterday.

Speaking during a digital town hall meeting held by the university, Webber said that the campus would be hit hard financially as suspension of on-site classes has thrown the institution into a scheduling tailspin, with classes being shaved from summer offerings to exams only.

“There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic will deal a significant blow to our finances here at Mona. You will remember I have been going to faculty by faculty saying how bad some of financial situations are. They’re even worse now,” the principal said yesterday as he addressed deans, lecturers, and students.

Painting the picture of a worsening financial situation, Webber pointed to the lower levels of collection from students, the suspension of some fees, extension of payment plans, a downturn in the commercial activity at the campus, and the impaired ability of students to register for the upcoming academic year.

“The financial strain that the university has been under is only going to get worse based on the COVID situation … ,” Webber said, adding that The UWI, Mona, has reached out to the Jamaican Government for support amid the crisis.

Recruiting likely to be paused

Asked whether staff members could find themselves out of a job because of the weakened financial position, Webber said the university would likely have to shelve plans to recruit new staff.

“We were to have 43 interviews in the month of April to take on new staff, but it is clear [that] we will need to rethink adding staff when we are in this financial crisis based on the COVID situation,” Webber said.

He, however, added that the university did not have any immediate plans to lay off staff.

“Staff who are already here or staff who have been here for us, bear with us, we are committed to you, and we will, for as long as possible, maintain that commitment,” Webber said as he sought to reassure workers.

The UWI, Mona, has approximately 20,000 students and 3,000 staff.

But even as he acknowledged that the regional institution is about to take a hit from the COVID-19 economic fallout, Webber announced a relaxation of some of The UWI’s fees for students.

“The University of the West Indies, Mona campus, recognises that the COVID-19 pandemic will have an economic impact. We are not clear what those impacts will be, but we are sure they will impair the capacity of our students to meet their financial obligations,” said Webber.

“We would be foolhardy to, therefore, not consider [ways to assist them],” he added before announcing a raft of new measures.

He announced a waiver of late registration fees for Semester Two until the end of teaching, with the registration portal being open until April 24.

“Students admitted in the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 academic years will be allowed to access final examinations or assessments once their miscellaneous fees have been paid and at least 50 per cent of their tuition fee has been paid and they have entered into some plan with our registry and bursary,” the principal said.

There is also the suspension of late-fine charges from March 13 to April 13.

The leave-of-absence portal has also been reopened.