Sunday, March 18, 2018

University of Puerto Rico fiscal plan called deficient

By on March 12, 2018

SAN JUAN — Members of the National Student Confederation (NSC) claimed Monday that the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) does not have an adequate fiscal plan to present to the Financial Oversight and Management Board, while professors reject suggestions by the panel established by the Promesa federal law.

“The fiscal plan circulated during the past week by the UPR administration is one with many deficiencies and clearly lacks analysis and how the recommended implementations will be made operational,” declared Neftalí Sánchez, president of the General Student Council of the school’s Río Piedras campus.

The students made their remarks after fiscal board Executive Director Natalie Jaresko met with the university’s governing board and amid a request for 15 additional days for UPR Interim President Darell Hillman to deliver the fiscal plan. On March 9, the oversight board granted until March 23 for the UPR administration to deliver a new version of the plan.

The University of Puerto Rico Clock Tower in Río Piedras. (File)

“It is difficult to conceptualize how to prepare for an increase in study costs when the information provided is limited and does not provide room to contemplate how much we would need to cover tuition and the associated costs,” argued Juan De Jesús, president of the Ponce campus General Student Council.

The students indicated that the fiscal board proposed the university administration close campuses or increase the cost of undergrad credits to $220.

“The student community is not in denial or alien to the country’s economic situation. However, it recognizes that the administration must contemplate increasing its oversight of the funds obtained before contemplating any type of restructuring that results in limiting the Puerto Rican community’s access to education,” declared Nancy Cardona, president of the Medical-Sciences campus’ General Student Council.

“Having loans, having more than one job, or both, are ways the student sector currently pay,” she said, added that “the recommendation by the board could reduce the possibilities of remaining on the island to be able to contribute to the development of our country.”

They said the institution’s administration is evaluating measures for a new version of the fiscal plan, which the student councils will analyze for the upcoming discussion between student representatives, the university board and the UPR governing board.

Puerto Rico lost 6% of its population after Hurricane Maria

Meanwhile, members of the Puerto Rican Association of University Professors (APPU by its Spanish acronym) alleged that the fiscal board’s recommendations will affect access to public higher education and Puerto Rico’s socioeconomic development.

“Ms. Natalie Jaresko’s recent expressions regarding that neither the proposed increase in the cost of tuition nor spending cuts are enough and that the closure of up to five campuses should be considered only reveal how little knowledge they have of the UPR System’s function and impact on the island,” APPU President José Rivera said in a statement.

He noted that, according to UPR Cayey’s Census Information Center, the university’s campuses have played a key role in the economies of their respective towns. In February 2017,  10 of the 15 municipalities with the highest economic productivity on the island had a UPR campus.

Economist José Caraballo Cueto recently posited that UPR campuses are the only major economic strategy to bring economic development to other parts of the island and avoid further concentration in the metropolitan area. Rivera thus insisted on the UPR as key for municipal reconstruction after the damage caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria.

“Now more than ever Puerto Rico needs an accessible public university,” he reiterated.

He added that the APPU has denounced that the government’s draft fiscal plan, delivered to the board in February, does not consider the need to review the tax incentive laws to identify those that represent a multimillion-dollar expense for the people of Puerto Rico, but have no impact on the island’s socioeconomic development. However, he said, the UPR is the island’s top academic institution, surpassing the other private universities in all categories.

“It is completely irrational to impose a reduction of government investment in the UPR of more than 50 percent when the government can save even more without affecting economic development or the right to education in our country. I call on the governor and Ms. Jaresko to refocus on economic development and dare to reformulate the tax incentives to the private sector that are not fulfilling the purpose of strengthening the economy,” Rivera said.