PHILIPSBURG:— On October 2nd, the Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport (ECYS), Silveria Jacobs, received a letter from the President of the Board from the University of St. Martin Foundation (USMF), Mrs. Valerie Giterson-Pantophlet. In said letter, the USMF requested the intervention from the Minister of Education, and by extension the Government of St. Maarten, to increase the subsidy to approximately 3 million guilders for the institution to be sustainable due to loss of donors as a result of the hurricane. This does not serve as an official request for subsidy increase based on Article 11 and 13, sub 1, of the Subsidy Ordinance, which states that a subsidy request must be submitted by March 1st of the preceding year for which subsidy is being sought and should include the institution’s programs and budget.
Despite the manner in which the ultimatum was handled by the USMF, Minister Silveria Jacobs, including several stakeholders within the Ministry, scheduled a meeting as soon as possible to bring clarity and seek solutions to the urgent issue at hand in the interest of continuing education at this level as well.
During said meeting, held on Wednesday October 11, 2017 the USMF was able to bring clarity on their situation, and government made it clear that while there is total understanding for the position the University finds itself in, it also finds itself in a precarious financial position due to loss of income for the foreseeable future. The government of St. Maarten is cognizant of the important role the USM plays in the society of St. Maarten and is willing to work together with the USMF to seek a solution that will safeguard the future of the institution as well as not jeopardize the current students and staff.
The University of St. Martin (USM) has had a history of well documented difficulties in the areas of daily operations, organization and financial structures and has, over the years, received assistance from the territory of the Netherlands Antilles, the Government of St. Maarten as well as the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science in the Netherlands to gain accreditation for programs. Since 2014, USMF has been receiving a subsidy amount of Fls. 850,000 from the Government of St. Maarten, of which 10% is withheld until financial reporting obligations are lived up to.
USMF has submitted unaudited financial reports for 2013 and 2014 in February of 2017, citing cost of audited reports as the reason. The Ministry ECYS is currently processing the advice, which still has to be decided in Council of Ministers, in order to be able to award USM the remaining 10% of the subsidy owed for the years 2013 and 2014. Had the semester been able to start as scheduled, USMF would also have received the tuition payments of students who had been awarded Study Financing.
USMF is currently receiving said subsidy under an agreement with the government of St. Maarten made in December 2014 by Ministerial Decree in which the following points, among others, are highlighted:
- USM will allocate Fls. 425,000 of the subsidy for the personnel and operational costs associated with USM’s TEP and Fls. 425,000 of the subsidy for other personnel and operational costs incurred during the delivery of the various undergraduate programs
- Ensure all degree programs are in line with the needs of the wider community of St. Maarten
- Provide copies of the policies
- A report detailing the quality of education at the institution during the academic year.
- Report to the Minister of Education, Culture, Youth, and Sport in accordance with the guidelines established in Article 16 of the Subsidy Ordinance.
- Submit a subsidy request including USM’s program and budget for the subsequent academic years by March 1st of the preceding year for which subsidy is being sought as established in Article 11 and 13, sub 1, of the Subsidy Ordinance.
An increase in subsidy under the current regulations, as requested in the correspondence from the board of the USMF can only be processed when all the necessary documentation is submitted according to the subsidy ordinance mentioned above and highlighted in the Ministerial Decree cited above.
The reality of the situation is that the pre-Irma 2017 Budget of the Ministry of ECYS was already stressed and projected to end in deficit in 2017 based on subsidy obligations among others. Post Irma, both the 2017 and 2018 budgets will have to be amended due to lower income being projected. Realistically speaking, government is being asked to stretch a budget which just like USM’s has taken a major hit in income. The request to increase by over 2 million guilders in this critical time is therefore not executable, even with the best intentions, unless government:
a) decides to cut it from somewhere else, b) proposes it as part of the recovery fund and/or c) finds a creative way to finance the newly accredited programs the University claimed it now has.
All these possible scenarios, however, would require justification via proper documentation which is still pending, as the 2015 and 2016 financial reports have not yet been submitted. This has been discussed with USMF, as well as sent via correspondence.
Government would like to reassure all concerned that it is committed to dialogue with USMF in order to find a way to resolve this challenge in the interest of the students and staff of USM and the continuity of education at tertiary level and has made its intentions very clear to the USMF.
Ministry of ECYS Press Release