USM finally signs MOU, classes resume in Jan.

Department of Education head Sidonia Lacorbiniere-Hodge, Education Ministry Acting Secretary-General Shermina Powell-Richardson, Minister of Education Silveria Jacobs, USM board President Valerie Giterson-Pantophlet and USM board Vice-President Wycliffe Smith.

PHILIPSBURG–Efforts by Education Minister Silveria Jacobs and the Education Ministry to keep the doors of University of St. Martin (USM) open have finally borne fruit.

  USM representatives and the Ministry of Education “finally arrived” at an agreement and signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) securing the continuity of education for students of the institution on Monday, December 18. This, after the USM representatives had not seen it possible to sign the proposed MOU on December 11.

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  However, after hearing an interview by the Minister on the topic on December 12, USM contacted the Department of Education with a willingness to resume talks, which resumed on Wednesday, December 13.

  The Ministry was “happy” to do so and met with the USM board to revisit and discuss the MOU that Jacobs had presented to the Board, it was stated in a press release last night. At the end of an almost two-hour meeting it was agreed that USM would restart the 2017-2018 academic year on January 15.

  Representing the Ministry of Education at the meeting were Secretary General Jorien Wuite, Department of Education head Sidonia Lacorbiniere-Hodge, Senior Policy Officer Ruth Linger and Policy Support Officer Angele Bell. The USM Board was represented by its President Valerie Giterson-Pantophlet, Vice-President Wycliffe Smith, Vice-Treasurer Vasco Daal, Secretary Marcellia Henry and Robert Judd.

  “The Ministry and the Board reviewed the various drafts, discussed, negotiated, edited and re-edited a final draft which both parties could live with,” the release said.

  It was then agreed that within 24 hours the Ministry would send a clean copy of the draft MOU to the Board for review. After receiving the amended MOU, parties continued to negotiate changes on Friday December 15, and Saturday, December 16.

  Discussions regarding the draft MOU ended on Monday, December 18, when the representatives of the USM board and the Ministry met to reach a final agreement on the text of the MOU with the blessing of the Minister under the mandate she had received from the Council of Ministers. The final text was approved by both entities and made ready for signing.

  The board will receive the necessary financial injection from Government to restart the 2017-2018 academic year. Meanwhile, government accountant bureau SOAB has begun a financial and management audit of USM which will eventually lead to an advice to Government concerning structural funding for the university.

  The Ministry has established the ordinance on higher education as a high priority and will strive to have the draft ordinance approved by the Council of Ministers by June 2018 to start the legislative procedure to the Council of Advice and thereafter Parliament in the second half of 2018.

  Parties have also committed to work together in the next few months to address the need for a structural increase in the USM board’s subsidy over the next couple of years.

  The USM Board “is grateful to the Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport and her staff for the work they have done to ensure that USM can reopen in January 2018.” Jacobs and the board are both “extremely happy” to inform the students that they can continue their education after so much uncertainty as to the future of USM.

  “This is a happy ending for the students, staff and USM family, and the St. Maarten community,” the release said. “The Board of the USM Foundation and Management is happy with the final version of the MOU.

  “USM is undergoing a renaissance, seeking to re-root itself in a more sustainable manner in St. Maarten. The structural funding is an assurance of the sustainability of this higher education institution.

  “As a Board, we know that only by investing in USM, we can guarantee achieving our mission statement, which is to contribute to having at least an associate degree holder in every household in St. Maarten. In other words, an educated population able to face the challenges and make use of the emerging opportunities in our globalising world,”

  Jacobs thanked the Department of Education and all other departments and divisions within the Ministry and Government apparatus for their tireless work and dedication to see this through. She “is extremely proud of the never-give-up attitude and perseverance of all involved to continue the fight for longevity of higher education in St. Maarten, with a focus on the students and staff as well as accountability for public funds.”

  She congratulated students, teachers, staff and parents of the USM students, saying: “Congratulations to especially the students and staff for standing up for what you believe in and for speaking out and letting your voices be heard and for not ever giving up amidst the storm. Government is committed to live up to its pledge to do all within its purview to ensure continuity, quality and accountability for all past, present and future students for whom the USM has been and is the gateway to a better and brighter future.”

Source: The Daily Herald