There are tough times ahead for the national university and there are growing concerns that it may translate to a cut in staff and faculty. The university is said to be facing a projected loss in income of seven point one-six million dollars or twenty-seven point three percent of its 2019/2020 recurrent budget. It had proposed spending twenty-six point two million dollars on personal emoluments and other costs. On June eleventh, a memo sent to the faculty and staff of the University of Belize by President Clement Sankat speaks to “very challenging revenue loss at the university as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.” In the communication, Sankat outlines that G.O.B. has reduced its subvention by twenty-four point two percent, from eleven million dollars to eight point three-four million. The university is also preparing for a twenty-five percent loss in income from student tuitions and fees for academic year 2020/2021 as a result of reduced enrolment due to the inability for new and returning students to fund their education. President Sankat states that the institution has no choice but to reduce expenditure very significantly. By way of a survey, he polled the thoughts of the faculty and staff.

Dr. Pio Saqui, President, U.B.F.S.U.
“The president of the university is right that the impact of the pandemic caused by COVID-19 is global; this is not something that is immune to Belize or we are immune to it as a country and by extension the University of Belize is vulnerable to the situation. We are expecting that the impact is going to be something that we have to engage. Fortunately, the builders of the university had foreseen this and have prepared a procedure for us in ways that this can be engaged. So we don’t know what the changes will be, the president shared some numbers with us. He has not made any formal proposals, he has asked for us to join in the participation, engaging him in conversation in finding mechanisms for us to help in bridging the gap. We are prepared to do that.”

A tuition increase, which was approved by the Board of Trustees to take effect this upcoming academic year, has been suspended. There is also a proposal for student fees to be reduced by twenty-five percent in an effort to retain students.

What Does the UB Faculty and Staff Union Has to Say…

But according to the University of Belize Faculty and Staff Union, they are seeking greater involvement in the process of mitigating the impact of COVID-19. In a response letter to President Sankat, the union says that it needs to be engaged as the sole collective bargaining agent for the three hundred and fifty plus faculty and staff in the employ of the university; the union currently has two hundred and thirty-four registered members. Union President Doctor Pio Saqui says that there are protocols for the determination of financial exigency, which are clearly defined through an established process put in place in 2002 by the then Board of Trustees of the university.

Dr. Pio Saqui, President, U.B.F.S.U.
“We have asked the president, and this is where we are at in the conversation, that we engaged in an agreed upon process; especially one that is already spelt out for us so that we can ensure that the faculty and staff and not just our union members, but every member of faculty and staff are treated fairly and that they feel that they have been engaged and participated adequately so that they can find whatever outcome that comes by to be acceptable. We know that it may not be satisfactory because we wouldn’t like to change how it is, only for the better, but at this moment, we don’t know what those changes will be and of course that is the purpose of the deadline that’s been set out. The president has made it clear that all options are on the table and indeed that is a very serious point he makes because indeed we have to be prepared for all options.”

Still No Official Certification for UB Faculty and Staff Union

But the UB Faculty and Staff Union is faced with another dilemma. Even as it has been in existence for twenty years and has represented its members, the union has not been able to receive its certificate, despite meeting all requirements. Back in January, it was set to receive its certification, but there was another delay. Doctor Pio Saqui likened it to meeting all school requirements, but not graduating to receive your certificate.

Dr. Pio Saqui, President, U.B.F.S.U.
“Our faculty and staff has not had a formal union for its almost twenty years of existence and in January of this year we met all requisites to achieve certification as a legal body and as a sole bargaining agent for the faculty and staff of the University of Belize. That said, that has not come by easily. We are still awaiting for the tripartite body to sign the certificate and hand it to us. So this is the only thing that is pending, which is sort of like a ceremony. I don’t if you have been in that position where you have met all your school requirements, but you have to wait fu go dah graduation. Yo smart, but we noh tell you yo smart yet. So that’s where we are at the moment and we are actually disappointed by that fact because I think we have waited long enough. We were certified since January and we need to know that that certification can be completed because in any conversation and representation of the university, we have to be for certainly legitimate in what we are taking on.”

Channel 5