Gov’t Debts, Low Subsidy & Investment Batters UL

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Madam Weade Kobbah Wureh.jpeg

The University of Liberia with never enough government resources and investment dollars required to meet its operating budget and improve infrastructure and standards has been writhing under the financial stress for a long while.
The UL administration is now up against the wall after students bulked against a tuition hike intended to help make up for inadequate funding from government to support Liberia’s premier tertiary institution.
Finding herself in the hot seat with her boss, UL president Dr. Emmet Dennis away on leave and the university running on empty with no options in sight, the acting president, Weade Kobbah-Wureh, went for broke. Her chance to expose the sources of UL’s perennial problems and make a case for its survival and progress came when President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf convened a meeting attended by the UL administration, faculty and student leaders and representatives to discuss current problems at the university.
The discussions were held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ C. Cecil Dennis Auditorium on Monday.
Madam Kobbah-Wureh charged that the failure of government institutions and officials to settle their debts to UL is strangulating the operations of the institution.
This situation, coupled with the repeated shortfalls in budgetary appropriations for the university, the significant increase in the student population over the last five years, are some of the major problems that necessitated the proposed increase in tuition fees, said the acting UL president.
Madam Kobbah-Wureh, who is the official vice president for administration, said those problems have left the school unable financially to settle some of its own obligations.
Other challenges she cited include the high cost of transportation for faculty, staff and students to commute to Fendell. Prominent on the list is the high cost of external recruitment of qualified instructors and professors for specialized areas in the schools of medicine and pharmacy.
The high cost of setting up a robust information communication and technology system (internet system on all campuses of the University) was also a major drawback, likewise setting up digitized libraries on the campuses, according to Kobbah-Wureh.
The unpreparedness of students to invest in their education and the need to break the culture of “everything for free” without giving back anything in return, is another challenge the UL faces, she said.
She said the UL still remains the lowest paid university in the world, insisting that the UL authorities are not insensitive to the difficulties faced by the students, but increasing tuition and fees is to ensure quality education for the students comparable to any in the sub-region.
Declared Madam Kobbah-Wureh, there is an urgent need to develop a sustainable funding plan for the university beyond crisis management. The UL VPA, however, expressed the determination of the administration to improve the standard of the institution.
On the State of the UL over the last eight years, she said the UL has focused on five areas including: reduction in academic and fiscal malfeasance, faculty development, external collaboration, external support; and improving the physical and academic facilities, inclusive of the science and computer laboratories, libraries at the medical and law schools, buildings and grounds and other infrastructures for student accommodation.
As a result of the financial constraints it faces, the UL administration was compelled to announce increases in its fees per credit hour from L$175 to US$5 or its equivalent and its transportation fares for students from Red-Light to the Fendell Campus from L$30 to L$100. The increased fees were met with outrage from the student population.
The students are contending that the increments do not match the quality of facilities and standards at the UL. There are no modern functional computer and science laboratories, bus stops that would shield students from the sun and the rain and other deprivations on their list of complaints.
She said the increment in fees and fares are meant to close up some of the gaps within UL’s budget. “The current budget presented for fiscal 2015-2016 by the UL is US$29 million. To date, the Government of Liberia has committed US$15 million. From tuition and fees the UL generates an additional US$5 million, leaving a deficit of US$9 million,” she explained
She explained that the increment in tuition and fees beginning this academic semester will generate an additional US$3 million which will still leave a deficit of about US$5 million.
Madam Kubbah-Wureh said UL administration will no longer allow government entities to owe the university for students on scholarships. Scholarship donors must make over 75% down payment before their beneficiaries are allowed to register.
The head of the UL Student Union (ULSU), Daniel T. Woart, in his intervention, told the President about the deplorable learning environment that students are confronted with at the institution.
He said the students are not resisting the increment in transportation fares and fees per credit hour, though given the economic situation in the country, those increments must be commensurate with the quality of facilities at the UL.
“As far back as 2009, we alerted Dr. Dennis that the issue of raising the level of education was very necessary and there is a need to improve the academic infrastructure at UL,” he said.
He stressed the lack of computer labs for the various colleges that needed to do practical work to improve their skills for the job market most especially the Business and Science Colleges.
“We are aware that for the growth and development of any country, the sciences play a very critical role. For students who should play a major role in the development of the country learning in such an environment, we need to ask ourselves whether we are ready,” said Woart.
He said if there is an increase in tuition fees and authorities do not change the academic environment, they will be deferring the provision of quality education.

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