25 Oct

USM closing doors in one week – Board thanks, students, partners, and staff for their support

 The Board of the University of St Martin wishes to thank its past and current staff and faculty of the USM for the excellent work that they have done throughout the 28 years of the university’s existence. The President of the Board and former Commissioner of Education, Mrs. Valerie Giterson-Pantophlet, also stated that the Board was humbled by the sympathetic reactions of persons of all walks of life to a recent press release sharing the current state of the university. Notwithstanding a petition signed by well over 3000 supporters of the University, we have yet to receive a positive reply from the Ministry of Education. Given this fact, the institute is forced to cease its activities within one week.

The closing of USM will leave country Sint Maarten without an institution catering to tertiary education. This leaves Sint Maarten students with no other option than to go abroad to pursue an education that would make them managers, consultants and professionals in the hotels, banks, insurance companies, and other businesses of the land. Equally, St. Maarten will be fully dependent on teachers trained abroad. The closing of the USM, founded by Ambassador Husang Ansari and Claude Wathey is a blow to the people of Sint Maarten.

The decision to terminate the University wasn’t an easy one to make. All successive presidents of the university over the past decade have addressed the university’s financial challenges towards the government. Various Ministers of Education, after St. Maarten achieved its separate status on 10-10-10, have made promises to adequately support the institution. They promised to enact a law of tertiary education as was the case in the Netherlands and other countries within the Kingdom that would secure funding for the USM.

In the parliament meeting of the 20th of May 2015 the USM championed for the law of tertiary education and also explained that it needed an increase of 3 million to adequately run the institution. Public promises were made but real funding was never received. Anonymous benefactors have over the years tried to temporarily assist to fulfill demand, but have lost trust to co-finance as government funding and the law of tertiary education is still forthcoming. Supported by the opinion of various financial experts that advise the board and staff, this has become an untenable situation.

That USM was in financial difficulties and needed government support should come as no surprise. The university’s requests for assistance have not only been officially directed to Ministers of Education, but were conveyed to the public as well. The most recent of these communications to the general public was done in a press meeting and release on August 23rd 2017. During that meeting the USM shared its plans for expansion of the institution which would only take place if the business sector received a hard guarantee that the government would properly fund the USM.

Hurricane Irma did not cause the demise of the institute. It only exacerbated and accelerated the challenges that the university faced. The lack of proper funding on an island where most make just above minimum wage created the impression that the USM was an expensive school, while in comparison to other institutions this was definitely not the case. Most of the students attending the institution have had to hold a steady job next to their studies. They had delays whenever they fell out of a job or the employer’s time schedule did not jive with that of the USM. Proper government funding would have alleviated this. Today as many of the USM students have lost their jobs or face job uncertainty many are seeking relief or considering canceling. The Board cannot respond adequately to that plight as they have not received a positive response from the government after they sounded the alarm on the 2nd of October 2017.

The Board regrets the decision even more as USM has accomplished various successes over the past 3 years. PhD exchanges with Utrecht University, the University of Aruba, and the University of Amsterdam, a common practice amongst top universities in order to garner and exchange knowledge, have taken place for the first time in USM’s history. The USM staff began to publish scientific articles in international academic journals as well as the local newspaper, enhancing the international and local recognition of the institution. A special relationship was created with the 5th ranking hospitality institute in the world, the Hotel School The Hague. In 2 years USM graduates would be able to obtain a Bachelor’s degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management and go on to the Erasmus University to pursue a Master title.

The USM also achieved a milestone as it singlehandedly managed to achieve level 5 international accreditations for its Hospitality & Tourism Management and Business programs.  For the first time USM students could transfer to European institutions and achieve their Bachelor’s degree within two years. Through the cooperation with UVI, St. Martiners could obtain North American accredited Bachelor and Master degrees at the USM. All these endeavors and gains were achieved with limited funds.

To the consolation of students, the USM is exploring two options that will not leave its student population stranded. The first is the transfer of students to Tulane University in New Orleans where they will be taken care of for one semester at USM rates. The other is to have the UVI take over the operation on St. Maarten. This will guarantee that those students who wish to remain on the island will be able to complete their studies.

Even though USM is forced to close its academic doors as of October 31st, the Board is still keeping its door open for further discussions with the Minister of Education and the Government of Sint Maarten. The USM Board would like to thank all St. Martiners, including those government officials, who have sought to put the matter of the law of tertiary education and guaranteeing the viability of the USM on the public agenda and have it be part of the budget of the Government. Valerie Giterson-Pantophlet stated: “I hope that the closing of the USM is a wakeup call to everyone that we need the law of tertiary education in place, we need to give our young people who remain on the island a chance to better themselves, and we need to secure the future of our children. We need to create a new civilization. It cannot be business as usual anymore”.

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