PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - As an Educator teaching 25 years at the University of St. Martin (USM), I would like to humbly give my advice and solution to the Minister of Education on how to save our University of St. Martin. I fully understand the situation our Government is being confronted with. The shortage of income for this year and the coming years for the entire country is something we all have to face and therefore it is impossible at this point and time to commit to any type of monetary assistance to the University, but we need to be creative in seeking a solution.
This is where creative financing comes into the picture within Government. Governments just can't continue to depend on just one source of income such as taxation from businesses and the residents but should start executing other sources of revenue generating measures to meet the demands within government.
Mr. Editor, as Leaders and Elected Representatives of the people, education, education, education is what we should set as priorities within Government and go the extra mile to make exemptions and amendments to our Budget 2017 and draft Budget 2018. All political parties that ran in the last election had education and higher learning institutions at the top of their political manifestos. The question is how much has been achieved since the third annual Governor's Symposium on July 2, 2014 at the Westin "Education is the Foundation to sustain democratic way of life." The Foundation of any society is its commitment to the community.
As St. Maarteners we should love and support each other the way that we should in order to build up our community, society and Institutions.
Over the years, I just find It "simply amazing" the way we treat our highest learning Institution on the island. USM has produced some of the best local professionals who hold key positions within the public and private sectors of St. Maarten. The strength of USM has always been its students who have a good track record in the public and private sector and attending other Universities abroad.
It’s a national shame that throughout the years the University has still not been recognized and even more shameful that less than one percent of our National budget for Education goes towards the University of St. Martin. It's very embarrassing for USM to travel abroad in meetings with other top Universities and when asked the simple question if our University is recognized by Government, they must answer no....
As a former Member of Parliament, I can remember championing the draft Harmonization Ordinance which has been recently passed in Parliament by the Minister of Finance and the draft Tertiary Ordinance which to date is still going through the process to recognize the University of St. Martin. Simply Amazing....
Mr. Editor, My first job since graduating and returning back to St. Maarten in 1991 was teaching at USM as a Faculty member of Johnson & Wales University. I also was the first President of the USM/Johnson & Wales Alumni Association in St. Maarten. USM has more than 750 Alumni many of whom have gone on to work internationally and locally in various sectors.
The point I want to make is that I have seen USM develop and progress and have witnessed the highs, lows, the political games and the struggles of USM over the years to change its image and try to become an accredited and recognized University within its own Country.
We as a community and alumni should be able to give back to our local University and help to build back this invaluable Institution. Giving back comes in so many forms including financial subsidy but all forms of support are appreciated.
USM should also make their Alumni feel as if they are a part of the University by organizing homecoming events, workshops, fundraising galas and keeping them up to date with University events and achievements.
I fully agree with the Minister of Education that USM Board has to comply with the subsidy ordinance and hand in their outstanding financials to government but that shouldn't hold back the process of helping our highest learning Institution on the island.
USM is a private non-profit organization in which not only Government has a role to play but also the Board of Directors of USM, that also needs to carry out their responsibilities and step up to the plate and start governing, leading and executing the vision of the University of St. Martin. The Board of Directors has a strategic function in providing the vision, mission, policies and goals of the University. Fundraising is one of the major responsibilities of a nonprofit Board of Directors/ Trustees. We have to remember USM is not a Government Owned Institution and we all have a responsibility to USM as Board, Management, and Faculty and Alumni graduates.
The question however is are we doing our part to recognize and feel proud of our University? We need leaders who are not just followers that just talk about the problems without giving any solutions. True Leaders think and talk about the solutions to change. This includes wanting to change the negative image of our University. My humble advise and solution to our Leaders in government is to amend the Budget 2017 to give USM part of the funding this year and increase USM subsidy to 3 million guilders on the draft Budget 2018 to save our University. I know the next question will be where are we going to get the 3 million guilders from? As a former Minister, my humble advise would be to take it from the different Ministries which always have a surplus at the end of the year because most of the time they can't execute their proposed projects.
I would like to know if all Ministries in government have a shortage of funds for this year. Government has to set priorities, improve their financial management and cut back on some wasteful spending and cutback on some of our associations/organizations abroad that give no return of investments to the island. Government also has to make it a priority to finalize the draft Tertiary Ordinance. Parliament should follow up to make sure the Tertiary Ordinance is finalized with the input of USM and go through the process to Parliament.
Mr. Editor, when it comes to our own local Highest Learning Institution and local professionals, we love to put them through the grinder of procedures and not give them the recognition for their hard work. Why? That is the same feeling I have with our own local University which we are failing today. Not to have recognized and accepted our responsibility over the years. But today, we can blame USM for their failures and short comings in which we also should share responsibility making it almost impossible for USM to succeed on its own island.
In closing, I would like to thank and wish the President of USM, Mr. Guadeloupe who has tendered his resignation all the best for all the hard work and sacrifice he has dedicated over the years to put USM on the map. We have lost a good, hard working local professional who has the University at heart. I am sure he has learnt over the years the political games, egos, characters that have been played with USMs future. But, I foresee USM rising again in the near future once again with a revised vision, strategic plan and put as a priority with creative financing on our National draft Budget and recognized by our Government.
Mr. Editor, this is the time our leaders have to be creative, Innovative, solution oriented and use the SMART method (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely) for finding concrete solutions to move St. Maarten forward. USM is facing dire times, can we not come to its aid as one community?