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Costatt realigns core operations

Published: 
Monday, January 22, 2018
Dr Gillian Paul

The College of Science, Technology, and Applied Arts of T&T (COSTAATT), is “tightening its belt,” and is now operating “pretty much to the bone,” in the face of a declining enrolment.

The management of the tertiary institution and is now “rethinking its business model,” to align its offerings to the economic diversification pillars.

Speaking to the T&T Guardian yesterday COSTAATT president Dr Gillian Paul said because of ‘funding challenges,” the organisation has had to put on hold plans to hire some critical staff and has to cut back in a number of areas, and is now running a “very, very tight cash flow management operation to sustain operations.”

But even so, she said, they have tried “to insulate the students as much as is possible from the effects so that they can complete their studies.”

Within the past two months there has been talk of extensive staff cuts to take place at the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT).

Talks have been ongoing at the Ministry of Education between the University and the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union which represents the UTT staffers.

Paul told the T&T Guardian that COSTAATT also has its own financial challenges but she said they face the problem of understaffing and had advertised a number of critical positions for hire in 2016. But a shortfall in funding put paid to plans to hire staff in a number of critical areas including the library and IT department.

She said: “What we ended up doing is not filling vacancies in order to deal with the shortfall in funding and we rely more on adjunct as a result, so that we hire less full-time and more adjunct in those areas.”

“We have been running on a very, very tight staffing complement,” and despite the financial challenges “we still trying very, very hard not to affect staff at all, so we have asked staff to tighten their belts. We place a high priority on keeping the staff that we have employed and we are rethinking our business model as we understand that this is the new normal and the level of public funding for the institution will be affected, so we are working on that as well,” she said.

The organisation, she said, had recorded an overall 10-12 per cent decline in enrolment as a direct result of changes to the GATE programme.

“The profile of the students that we serve it is a little bit more difficult for our students to self-finance and with the introduction of the means test, those who would have started and anticipated some funding, so enrolment is a bit down,” she said.

The decline, she said, is also “related to the job market as well, we have an over-supply of graduates and getting jobs is not so straight forward, so they probably a little more thoughtful in terms of investing in education right now.”

People, she said, are also “looking for more training in what I call more short-term, focused areas that will allow them to get employment very quickly, and so one of the things we are doing is looking at our strategic plan and at a broader range of programmes than we would have traditionally offered in the past, doing things that are more relevant.”

Shifting focus

Although COSTAATT was set up as a Community College, which would generally focus on technical and vocational education, Paul admitted that “we have not really focused a lot on that over the last five or six years.”

She said COSTAATT has “always been strong in IT and we have a strong presence in nursing and in health,” but she said the time had come to look at “exploring” some “very practical areas.”

To this end, Paul said, “the Department Chairs are looking at offering more practical immediately applicable short courses in diplomas in Agriculture, Tourism and trying to align the training with where the economic diversification pillars are.”

Those ideas, Paul said, will be included “in the new strategic plan for 2018-2020.”

To sustain COSTAATT’s current operations, she said, there have been cutbacks, “like all the other public agencies, we cannot provide refreshments for every meeting, we are looking at trying to bring electricity cost down, we are spending less on office supply stationary and using as much digital technologies to be able to reduce the amount of expenditure on printing, photocopying and things like that, and really being very careful.”

Paul said: “We have to do a lot of cash flow management is what I would say, so that we get the GATE but sometimes we are not able to pay invoices as quickly.”

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