COUVA South MP Rudranath Indarsingh accused Education Minister Anthony Garcia of stabbing the people of TT, UTT workers and the trade union movement in the back after a plan to retrench 244 more workers at the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) was announced. In May 2018, UTT announced a restructuring exercise which resulted in 59 academic staff being retrenched, a process that dragged on past November last year. In 2017 the budget allocation for the UTT was cut by a third to $200 million.
It isn’t a new problem. As far back as 2016 the OWTU, which represents non-academic staff, had raised concerns about staffing, salaries and sustainability. Salaries were 70 percent of the university’s monthly operational expenditure in 2018 and cuts were also done in its pricey top management as well, reducing the VPs and managers headcount by 40 percent.
Professor Sarim Al-Zubaidy, UTT President warned in January 2018 of the uneconomical staff to student ratio of 5:1, far from the norms of 18:1 and 25:1 expected in higher education. The rationale of the 2019 retrenchment exercise is yet to be announced, and there has been no indication about how the considerable and unionised. non-academic staff would be handled.
UTT’s non-academic to academic staff ratios run 2:1 when an even split is considered normal for a university. The count of academic staff 11 months ago was 400 and Imbert believed that the university could cut staff by 25 percent without disrupting teaching while addressing the threat of insolvency at the institution.
After last year’s staff reductions, UTT is working with roughly 350 academic staff and while the distribution of the planned staff reductions is still to be announced, Professor Imbert’s 2018 target for the University was 300 academic staff. If this is a considered restructuring exercise that’s been planned for more than a year, it’s being mishandled and miscommunicated in the extreme.
Apart from the internal disruptions resulting from this poorly executed communications strategy, there has been no clear announcement of the staffing targets being set by UTT to address its solvency and sustainability issues. The arbitrary execution of this plan does little to instill confidence in the capacity of either the government or the university’s administration to implement a dramatic change in the way the institution operates.
UTT’s mandate is the development of Trinidad and Tobago, and the university has a specific focus on creative and petrochemical industries as engines of diversification and socioeconomic transformation.
It’s needs to get busier demonstrating capacity to handle that essential work and better at managing the self-inflicted communications chaos of the last year.