Authorities of the University of Liberia (UL) have requested the Liberian Legislature to approve its draft budget of US$23.6 million for fiscal year 2020/2021.
The money, according to UL authority, is needed for the smooth running of the university and investment in additional revenue generation streams.
UL President, Rev. Dr. Julius Sarwolo Nelson, and his Vice President for Finance and Fiscal Affairs, M. Garswa P. Jackson, recently told lawmakers during the university’s budget hearing on Capitol Hill that the administration has identified several projects including investment in Insurance Company, printing press, and water bottling company.
“Funds from these investments will reduce the university’s dependence on the government for almost everything. In this light, I will like to inform you people that we have conducted a feasibility study and business plan for each of these projects and foresee immense benefit if undertaken,” said Dr. Nelson.
Dr. Nelson added that the business ventures earmarked are crucial in helping to augment the university’s financial resource base, especially at a time when the state-owned university is executing a government policy of free tuition at the undergraduate level.
However, Dr. Nelson said that the ideas of the proposed investments can only come to pass depending on the availability of resources as stipulated in their budget.
Dr. Nelson: “It is in this regard that we crave the support of this honorable body to aid us through the approval of our requested budgetary allotment amounting to $US$23.6 million
According to Dr. Nelson, the current contemporary model of financing tertiary education globally calls for the university to adequately pursue profitable ventures with the aim of supplementing government’s subsidy.
He stated that during the period under review, the university ran a deficit budget with total expenditure amounting to US$18,850,198, while its total revenue was $18,775,993, resulting in a deficit of US$74,405.31.
He noted that the university has recognized various projects that have the potential of generating revenue to augment government subsidy under what he calls the “Lux Investment Corporation.”
Commenting on the issue concerning the university’s academic programs, Dr. Nelson told the Legislature that for the fiscal year 2020 – 2021, UL intends to expand its academic programs for the purpose of meeting national demands.
In his deliberation to the Legislature, he named three new undergraduate programs that have been identified with feasibility review being finalized for the establishment of these programs to include Architecture, Statistics, and Information Communication Technology.
Regarding graduate programs, he said the university plans to establish the First Executive MBA Program for highly experienced professionals who have served in middle or senior management positions.
Dr. Nelson further clarified that the University of Liberia also intends to jumpstart research activities to enhance the promotion of academic excellence, generate funds, and serve as a national platform for problem-solving.
He conveyed to the lawmakers that during the 2019 – 2020 fiscal year, the university recorded a number of notable achievements including one faculty returning from studies with a Ph.D. and five other faculties returning home with Masters Degrees in multiple disciplines.
He also disclosed that 16 faculties, seven of whom are Ph.D. students, have also departed for studies during the period under review.
Furthermore, Dr. Nelson said the university is currently sponsoring 37 faculties studying abroad, acknowledging that it is an evidence of his administration’s uncompromising commitment to improving the quality of services to students and the country in a strive for excellence in partnership with RUFORUM and other partnering institutions of higher learning.
In the continuous strive of the university to meet national demand; Dr. Nelson revealed that four new programs have been created which include Master of Public Health Program; Master of Environmental Science and Environmental Management; Biodiversity and Climate Change.
Dr. Nelson recalled that 3,672 students in various disciplines graduated at the landmark centennial convocation of the university in December 2019.
Dr. Nelson said the global pandemic (COVID-19) has prevented the university’s traditional in-person classroom method of teaching. According to him, the university came out with a decision to join the model adopted globally and launched the E-Learning Semester to complete the second semester of Academic Year 2019-2020.
At the commencement of the subsequent semester, the UL President stated that the University of Liberia will conduct an assessment on the way forward. “I am confident that by then it will be in a better position to return to the traditional face-to-face learning method, blended with its e-Learning beginning January 2021.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Nelson disclosed to the lawmakers that the university has completed the renovation of Lux Radio and it is in the process of re-obtaining its operating license from the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA), something which he believes will aid the university’s public relations arm and learning activities at the Department of Mass Communication.
Despite the achievements outlined by Dr. Nelson, he said the university has faced a number of challenges with a significant rise in non – payment of tuition and fees from graduates and professional school students which contributed to the deficit in the institution’s budget.
According to him, about 35 percent of the tuition and fees collected represented arrears collected from the previous semester.
He, however, expressed gratitude that the Government of Liberia has fully disbursed salaries to full – time and part-time instructors for the fiscal year 2019- 2020.
He praised the government for providing the full tuition subsidy for the first semester of academic 2019 – 2020 but clarified that the university has not received up to one million of its budgeted expenditure, resulting to three months unpaid stipends to its medical and pharmacy students, a deficit amounting to over US$74,000.
In in a related development, UL Vice President for Finance and Fiscal Affairs Mr. Garswa P. Jackson explained that the university’s dependence on government will be reduced in the future when the government makes initial investment toward the institution’s investment plans, pleading with the Legislature to aid the university in that direction.
Mr. Jackson also informed the Legislature that Firestone and Arcelor Mittal have stopped remitting money to the university.
Following these separate presentations by the university, Grand Kru County Senator Dr. Peter Coleman commended the UL administration for the deliberations under difficult and challenging circumstances and pledged to lobby with his colleagues in the committee room for the university.
At the same time, he stressed the importance of education and the immense contribution to the UL administration in building human capital. Dr. Coleman also stressed the need to find resources to give the university to help make its work more effective.
In remarks, the Chair of the joint committee Rep. Edward Karfiah said that the National Legislature wants to see the university succeed, and as such it will do everything possible in support of the institution.