Transactions At The University Of The West Indies, Mona – A Postgraduate Student’s Point Of View


The Mphil/PhD programs at the University of the West Indies are research based programs which demand a lot of time and resources. Tuition is usually covered in exchange for work done at the associated departments. This work includes tutoring or demonstrating laboratory exercises. Candidates are usually offered a stipend paid in quarterly installments. On paper the grass seems very green and the program is expected to run smoothly but of course this seldom, if ever occurs.

UWI MONA MAIN GATE

Where it regards payments of stipend, in my experience, it is always late, even up to two months late. While this is inconvenient that is not my primary issue with the program and I am very grateful for the opportunity to research, publish and expose the University to the competitive international world of education.

Provided that the programs are research based, it is not possible to define specifically when one will be finished. Mphil students are given up to three years to complete the program after which they can upgrade to the PhD program or graduate with an Mphil degree. It is possible, if the resources are available, to complete long before the given period, but more often than  not, based on my observations, that is not the case. There are occasionally very successful students who are able to complete the program within the proposed time frame for example Peter Nelson, who graduated last year with a PhD in Chemistry at age twenty-five.
The research projects may be funded by independent sponsors, the program supervisor who may have enough resources, or the Office of Graduate Studies and Research. I completed the Mphil program long before the proposed time frame, partially because I had to fund aspects of the study myself. I upgraded to the PhD program and received a grant from the Office of Graduate Studies and Research. In order to access the funds, one has to make request by filling out a purchase requisition form, have it signed by the head of department and attaching proof of grant received (usually a letter which states the details of the grant) along with pro forma invoices for the items requested. This is then sent to the bursary there the ‘Purchases’ section generates a purchase order. A cheque is sent to the company selling the item, who will then ship it to the department. The process seems very simple and one would expect to receive the items needed in just a few days. Right?… Wrong! What seems to be a simple process, quite often takes months and even years (I know of an incident where a student waited two years to receive an item!). If the item needed is critical for research, you may end up wasting months of your life just waiting, and there is nothing you can do about it.
If you are in the program for too long then the University with send letters to you, kindly asking you to leave, it doesn’t matter that they may be the reason for the delays, you just need to get out!

My personal experience
If you think of all the worst cases, chances are, I have experienced it. But I will just share my most recent case. I noticed over the years that most companies are reluctant to do business with the University, I now know the reason. They also require prepayments even if a purchase order is generated. For my clinical research project I collect blood samples and do amazing sciency stuff with it. The samples need to be stored in a freezer until they are tested. After years of storing my samples on borrowed freezers it has become necessary to move the samples to my lab. I received a grant from the Office of Graduate Studies and Research which I used  to order a freezer from Courts Jamaica Ltd. I assumed this would be an easy transaction given that it is not an international order and the University has done business with Courts many times before. The first problem I encountered was Courts refusal to deliver the freezer. They claimed that UWI owes them money and until funds are transferred, no delivery will be made. I contacted purchases and they gave a date when the payments will be made, after that date I did a routine follow up and confirmation was given that payment had been made. I checked with courts who denied this claim. After a back and forth battle I was asked to request the order again and a cheque will be prepared! Obviously UWI – PURCHASES department lied to me. I did as was told, and still no delivery has been made. If the transaction is not complete within a week I will purchase the item myself and request a refund (it may take up to a year for me to be refunded). That was one of the things I had to do to complete the Mphil project on time.
This happens too often for it to be an error. If there are any concerns with an order no one will call you to correct it. You have to make it you duty to follow up and often times stand over persons to ensure they do their jobs!

Solution?

  • In order for the University to be a first class  institution, international publications are needed. It is important that they make available significant funds to assist with research so more quality publications can be made.
  • They should never lie to students! If the funds are not available, just say so.
  • Notify individuals of issues relating to a transaction.
  • Pay the business /companies for items delivered. They would be more inclined to do business with the University.
  • Expedite the process from requisition to acquisition.
    This can maximize the postgraduate student turnover rate, publications, and eventually more students can be accepted.

Commendable effort
The University is well aware of some of these issues and is working to fix them. The University has been doing mass expansion across faculties and halls of accommodation so that it can accept more students. More students = more money. The University now has a yearly forum for investors on research days (usually in February) where additional funding for research is received.
The area of research is getting better in Jamaica and though slowly, in time we will be parallel with the developed world.

– Aldeam Facey 2015

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