Thursday, April 18, 2024

UWI fall-out


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University students aren’t the only ones feeling the pinch of having to finance their education.

The significant decrease in numbers of students registered at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) is also having an adverse impact on the books of businesses on or around the campus.

A campus mini mart, a barbecue restaurant a few hundred metres away, a new eating house at the bottom of the hill and public service vehicles are complaining about a substantial decline in revenue since the beginning of the new semester three weeks ago.

And the downturn in activity is being attributed to the reduced student roll that has been linked to challenges students face in coming up with tuition fees for the new academic year.

When a SUNDAY SUN team visited the campus a few days ago, it was evident that some areas had been affected.

Campus Mart, a mini supermarket that is usually bustling with activity during peak periods, is reporting a 25 per cent decrease in sales and the drop-off in business has forced management to cut staff by two employees.

“We are definitely down. We’ve not been as busy as in previous years. However, there is still traffic coming through. We are seeing a great number of first-time students but the numbers are not as high as we are accustomed to,” said Campus Mart manager Rodney Drakes.

“Buying patterns have also changed and I think it has to do with the economic situation.”

Campus Mart opens its doors from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. from Monday to Friday and closes two hours earlier on Saturdays.

In recent weeks, the biggest challenge has come after 7 p.m., prompting Drakes to give consideration to cutting down the store’s hours.

“It was an initial thought, but I still think it is too early for that. We have to run about five weeks to make a proper assessment,” he said.

“Third and second year students generally don’t come in the first two weeks. I am not overly worried at this point. It is the environment we’re in. We know that students will come.”

Last week, UWI officials reported that student registration for the 2014-15 academic year dropped by 28 per cent, declining from 8 713 to 6 229. Additionally, while new students last year totalled 2 240, the figure stood at 1 468 this year.

Other outlets on campus have also been affected by lower student numbers. While management of the cafeteria and bookshop declined to comment, observations suggested business was not as prosperous as in previous years.

A visit to the cafeteria just before 1 p.m. showed a hive of activity but there were a number of empty tables. Over at the bookshop, there was a steady trickle of customers.

Outside the campus, ZR vans plying the Wanstead, St James and Redman’s Village, St Thomas routes complained that business was also slow but pointed out the trend started sometime ago since the introduction of shuttle services for university students.

One establishment within close proximity to UWI which is finding it rough is TNT Barbeque Hut, whose manager Trevor Simmons described the current period as the worst in its 20-year-history.

“Business has declined significantly,” he said. “It has impacted on us negatively. I never thought it would have been that bad.

“Students have been our main market throughout the years. I can’t begin to imagine what would happen to us in years to come. I hope that something is done to help the students.”

Asked if he would consider special offers to students in an effort to beef up sales, Simmons said its current strategy was already aimed at targeting that market.

“TNT has often considered students. We always give good quantities which is an incentive for students,” Simmons said.

“We have introduced products that are not as expensive as before that we are sure will be able to help students. We were looking forward to a better market. We had our hopes up but they have been dashed.”

Another food outlet which is also encountering challenges is the newly opened Flamin’ Grill.

The restaurant, which started operations three months ago, is not getting the type of business it anticipated and manager Shane Forde said they were attracting only a few UWI students through its doors.

“We haven’t been seeing UWI students. We thought it would be better. It has not been good at all,” Forde said.

“We would get two, three, four UWI students a day. When we opened, we were hoping that we could cater to a lot of UWI students. I didn’t expect it would be that bad. I am quite surprised.”

One restaurant and bar, however, which is not complaining is Flash Zone Bar and Variety, which has been doing business close to the roundabout at the bottom of University Drive for less than three months.

Manager Vishal Narine attributed the success to offering UWI students a package that included discounts on food and drinks and complimentary Wi-Fi.

In highlighting the improved business, he said close on 60 UWI students patronised Flash Zone Bar and Variety for karaoke night on Wednesday and many remained until around 3 a.m. the following morning.

When the SUNDAY SUN team checked in during lunch hours, only two customers were on hand, but Narine said most of his clientele usually came in the evening and into the night.


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