photo: Laura Bijnsdorp

PHILIPSBURG – Over 300 students might not be able to continue their studies at the University of St. Martin.

The University, which is the only accredited tertiary form of education on the island, has been asking for additional funding from the Ministry of Education since 2005.

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By Laura Bijnsdorp

If funding is not received, the University of St. Martin will have to close its doors, a decision that will be announced this Friday.

Responsibility of funding lies with government
The annual overall cost to operate USM is approximately 4.14 million guilders. The university gathers about 1.2 million from tuition fees. The Ministry of Education has only subsidized the University of St. Martin a sum of 850.000 guilders in the past years, which is about 20 percent of operational costs. As is customary within the Kingdom, Universities normally would receive 80 percent of these costs from government.

Before hurricane Irma, substantial funding from silent-donors kept the University afloat. After Irma, these donations were made impossible due to the damage caused by the storm to the business sector.

“Is it the responsibility of our business sector or our government that we pay taxes to, to provide tertiary education options? I believe it is the latter.“ Francio Guadeloupe, President of University of St. Martin states.

No response by Ministry of Education
In a letter presented to the Minister of Education Ms. Silveria Jacobs on October 2, the University of St. Maarten Foundation asked for an increase in subsidy of 1.6 to 1.8 million guilders on an annual basis. Another letter was sent a week later, asking for a response by Thursday, October 19.

The board or faculty has not received a reply as yet from the Ministry of Education.

No law for tertiary education since 10-10-10
Funding isn’t the only issue the University had been facing. Since 10-10-10, the government has still not formally recognized USM in the form of a tertiary law.

“When Sint Maarten became a constituent state, the government had to have a law of tertiary education in place. The law is tied to funding. It has been seven years and this law has yet to be finalized.” Guadeloupe explains.

Despite the lack of support from the government, both legally and financially, the University has managed to gain various internationally recognized accreditations since 2014.

No other options for some
Without USM there will be no local opportunity to graduate with an associates, bachelor or masters degree.

If the University closes, over 300 students that are attending the university will have to go abroad if they want to further their studies. For some, heading to other countries is an option, but for those who face financial constraints this may mean they cannot get a tertiary degree.

“I don’t see any other hope for myself than USM. USM is affordable and gives me the option to work and study at the same time. I cannot afford to go somewhere else”, says Jonathan Silben Salvador, who works as a chef and hopes to be able to complete his last semester of hospitality and tourism management at the University.

“If the University closes it would mean that the majority of our population will not have the opportunity to climb the social ladder,” Guadeloupe concludes.