Published On: Tue, Dec 5th, 2017

University woes

Hilbert HaarBy Hilbert Haar

The financial quagmire the University of St. Martin finds itself in should not come as a surprise to anyone, especially not to politicians and decision makers.

Under its previous president, Annelies Oliver-Van den Assem, the institution teetered already on the brink of financial disaster and under her successor, Francio Guadeloupe, things apparently went from bad to worse.

Is this a surprise? Something the Parliament woke up to after Hurricane Irma? Or did the USM only got the attention of decision makers when it became clear that it would have to close its doors because now there is really no more money to continue?

Ah, yes, private sponsors have been affected by the hurricane and their priority is obviously to get their businesses back on track. The generous handouts to the university have dried up for obvious and very understandable reasons. For too long members of Parliament and members of the executive branch have taken for granted that the private sector would keep the USM in business.

Subsequent ministers have made all kinds of promises to the university too – about help with accreditation, and about “officially recognizing” it.

Those have now proven to be just words, a spiel of politicians who felt that they could hardly say something else – like, take care of your own business, we’re not interested.

No, politicians have always maintained how important the university is for the country. But they never put their money where their mouth is.

And even now, we heard one MP – George Pantophlet – say that the private sector would benefit from supporting the university financially. But nobody said that the largest beneficiary – the government as the largest employer on the island that is dying for expertise within its ranks –stands to win the most by proper higher education.

This makes it even more of a mystery why the government has been dragging its feet with the establishment of the law on tertiary education – a key element in the continued existence of USM.

As I like to say: I+A=R – intention plus action is result; and we can say with the highest level of certainty that the expression of bogus intentions about the USM’s importance have never been followed by decisive action to achieve results.

This way, the current failure of the university is a common responsibility of the parliament and the government. The government has not done what it is supposed to do, and the parliament has failed to push the government hard enough into action.

A last point I want to address is the money the government suddenly found to make a rescue budget available to the USM. Those 750,000 guilders to save one semester is of course more than welcome, but DP-MP Perry Geerlings justly wondered where that money is coming from. With a looming budget deficit of 126 million guilders and a recent 2.1 million donation to lottery company My Lucky Day (by forgiving outstanding license fees), it is nothing short of a miracle that the government still found some money for the university.

If we compare the 2.1 million debt the government forgave to Randall Friday’s My Lucky Day to the 750,000 guilders that might or might not be coming to the university, we are sorely tempted to assume that gambling is more important to this caretaker government than higher education. Go figure.