The University of the West Indies (UWI) vice chancellor, Prof E Nigel Harris is stepping down one year ahead of schedule. Harris was expected to serve in his capacity until April 2016, but has signalled his intention to make the move one year earlier. The Sunday Guardian spoke with Harris on Tuesday at the UWI’s launch of the Diplomatic Academy, where he confirmed the move to step aside. After one decade on the job, Harris said the time had come to let someone else step into his shoes.
“There are so many things I would have liked to do, but I know others would come to do,” Harris said. He said the international search for his replacement had already begun. The letter to colleagues came just one day after he confirmed the decision to step down. “I am writing to announce that I shall demit the office of vice chancellor in April 2015. By that time, I would have served for ten years as vice chancellor, which is about the time I believe senior administrators of organisations such as ours should serve,” he said.
Harris said while there was a lot to be grateful for—doubling of the university's enrollment to 50,000, doubling of applications to 30,000 per year, establishing the Open Campus—there was still a lot of work to do.
Regional govts owe UWI US $100M
As Harris makes his move though, he said UWI was owed a massive US$100 million in fees from member country campuses. He noted that while the university's revenue had been doubled in the past ten years, the debts of contributing countries have piled up. “The wake of the global economic collapse in 2008 has resulted in arrears in payment by our governments in excess of US$100 million. This will represent a considerable challenge in the next few years,” he said.
Harris said during his last year at the campus, he intends to expand linkages with community and colleges in the “UWI-14” countries. “Our financial stability at an economically challenging time for Caribbean governments is a major challenge,” Harris said in his letter.
T&T does not owe UWI any money—Howai
Finance Minister Larry Howai, in an email exchange on Thursday, said T&T was not one of the campus countries owing the UWI. “If there is anything outstanding, it would be nominal or would be a recent outstanding balance that is the process of settlement,” Howai said.
He could not comment on the financial position of other campus countries, but did say that the 2008 financial downturn had affected the ability of certain countries to maintain their payments.
“I don't have an up to date position on each island as I was unable to attend the last meeting but, as you know, several Caribbean islands have been experiencing fiscal challenges over the past few years and this would have affected their ability to meet their committents.”
Howai did not state which member countries were in arrears. The same query was posed to Tertiary Education Minister Fazal Karim, who did not comment on the issue but directed all questions regarding the outstanding money back to Harris. “I suggest he is best placed to answer this,” Karim said in a text exchange on Thursday.
UWI campus countries
The UWI has four main campuses located in St Augustine, Trinidad; Cave Hill Barbados; Mona in Jamaica; and the Open Campus with representative offices and classrooms in 16 regional islands including Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Bahamas, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St Lucia, St Kitts &Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines and in the Turks and Caicos.
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