Rev. Dr. Julius S. Nelson, Jr. with his Vice Presidents at the budget hearing.
Rev. Dr. Julius S. Nelson, Jr. with his Vice Presidents at the budget hearing.

In an effort to invest in business activities and help reduce its dependence on government, the University of Liberia (UL) is craving the support of the Legislature for the approval of  its requested budgetary allotment amounting to US$23.6m for fiscal year 2020-2021. 

Three of those projects that the university is targeting to help it generate additional revenue outside of government subsidy are the Lux Insurance Company, the Lux Printing Press and Lux Fountain and Water Bottling Company.

In defending its budget, the President of the University of Liberia Rev. Dr. Julius Sarwolo Nelson and the UL Vice President for Finance and Fiscal Affairs Mr. Garswa P. Jackson explained the significance of the Legislature supporting these investment ventures.

According to Dr. Nelson, feasibility study and business plan for each of these projects – Lux Insurance Company, Lux Printing Press and Lux Fountain and Water Bottling Company, are nearing completion.

These business ventures are crucial in helping to augment the university’s financial resource base especially at a time the companies including FireStone Liberia and ArcelorMittal have stopped remitting money to the state – owned university which is already executing a government policy of offering tuition free education at the undergraduate level.

Dr. Nelson said these investment undertakings can only be actualized if the requisite resources — particularly the initial capital — are provided by the State. 

“It is in this regard we crave the support of this honorable body to aid us through the approval of our requested budgetary allotment amounting to $23,605,625.00,” he said.

Dr. Nelson explained that the contemporary model of financing tertiary education globally calls for the university to adequately pursue profitable ventures with the aim of supplementing government subsidy.

Under the period in review, the university operated a deficit budget with total expenditure amounting to US$18,850,198 while its total revenue was 18,775,993, resulting in the deficit of US$74,405.31.

“For this purpose, the university has identified various projects that have the potential of generating revenue to augment government subsidy under what we call the Lux Investment Corporation,” he said.

On issues concerning the university’s academic programs, Dr. Nelson informed the Legislature that for the fiscal year 2020 – 2021, UL intends to expand its offering of academic programs for the sole purpose of meeting national demands. 

He detailed to the Legislature that three new undergraduate programs have been identified with feasibility review being finalized for the establishment of these programs which include Architecture, Statistics and Information Communication Technology. 

For the graduate programs, he said the university plans to establish the UL First Executive MBA Program for highly experienced professionals who have served in middle or senior management positions. 

Dr. Nelson further explained that the University of Liberia also intends to jumpstart research activities to enhance the promotion of academic excellence, generate funds and serve as a national platform for facilitating research activities and solving problems at the university and also in the country. 

He reported to the lawmakers that during the 2019 – 2020 fiscal year, the university recorded a number of notable achievements among which include one faculty returning from studies with PhD and five other faculties returning with Masters Degrees in multiple disciplines. 

He also reported that 16 faculties, seven of whom are PhD students, have also departed for studies during the period under review.

Additionally, Dr. Nelson said currently the university is fully or partially sponsoring 37 faculties studying abroad, noting that this is an evidence of his administration’s uncompromising commitment to improve the quality of services to students and the country at large in a strive for excellence in partnership with RUFORUM and other partner institutions of higher learning.

In the continuous strive of the university to meet national demand, Dr. Nelson disclosed that four new programs have been created which include Master of Public Health Program; Master of Environmental Science and Environmental Management; Biodiversity and Climate Change.

Dr. Nelson recalled that 3,672 students in various disciplines graduated at the landmark centennial convocation of the university in December 2019.

With the presence of Covid – 19 in Liberia preventing the university’s traditional in – person classroom method of teaching, he said the university took a decision to join the model adopted globally and launched the e-Learning Semester to complete the second semester of Academic Year 2019-2020.

At the commencement of the subsequent semester, he said the university will conduct an assessment on the way forward, and he is confident that by then it will be in a better position to return to the traditional face-to-face learning method, blended with e-Learning beginning January 2021.

“What we are planning now in the new school year, that will be a blended semester with both the face – to – face and the distance learning. We also have to meet the protocol, we have to invite the Ministry of Health team to inspect our facilities, make sure all of that is in place before we can go back to that exercise,” he said.

Meanwhile, Dr. Nelson informed the lawmakers that the university has completed the renovation of Lux Radio and it’s in the process of reobtaining its operating license from the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) which will aid the university’s public relations and learning activities at the Department of Mass Communication. 

In spite of the achievements outlined by Dr. Nelson, he said the university has faced a number of challenges, with a significant rise in non – payment of tuition and fees from graduates and professional school students which contributed to the deficit in the institution’s budget.

According to him, about 35 percent of the tuition and fees collected represented arrears collected from the previous semester.

In spite of the challenges, he expressed gratitude that the Government of Liberia fully disbursed salaries to full – time and part – time instructors for the fiscal year 2019- 2020.

He praised the government for providing the full tuition subsidy for the first semester of academic 2019 – 2020, but added that the university has not received up to one million of its budgeted expenditure, resulting to three months unpaid stipends to its medical and pharmacy students, a deficit amounting to over US$74,000.

Mr. Garswa P. Jackson, Vice President for Finance and Fiscal Affairs, University of Liberia

In his presentation, UL Vice President for Finance and Fiscal Affairs Mr. Garswa P. Jackson explained that the university’s dependence on government will be reduced in the future when the government makes initial investment toward the institution’s investment plans, pleading with the Legislature to aid the university in that direction.

“Because what that will do is that once the university starts to invest and earn more money, it reduces our dependence on government,” he said.

Mr. Jackson indicated that the university operated a deficit budget, adding that its total expenditure amounted to US$18,850,198 while its total revenue was $18,775,993, resulting in the deficit of US$74,405.31.

Mr. Jackson informed the Legislature that FireStone and ArcelorMittal have stopped remitting money to the university.

Following the presentation by the university, Grand Kru County Senator Dr. Peter Coleman praised the University of Liberia for having done a very great job under difficult and challenging circumstances, and pledged to lobby very seriously with his colleagues in the committee room for the university. 

While stressing the importance of education and the immense contribution the University of Liberia is making in building human capital, Dr. Coleman urged the need to find resources and give them to the university to help make its work more effective.

The Chair of the joint committee Rep. Edward Karfiah thanked the university family, assuring them that the Legislature wants the university to succeed and it will therefore do everything possible in support of the institution.

Rep. Karfiah noted that having listened to the presentation, inquiries and clarifications during the hearing, the rest will be left to be decided in committee room and the Legislature will get back to the university administration.