KOTA KINABALU: It was reported by a news portal yeaterday that a university owned by the Sabah Foundation was considering slashing staff salaries by half and possibly lay off hundreds as it struggles to deal with a sharp drop in student intake due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a memo cited by the news portal, University College Sabah Foundation (UCSF) stated that these were part of cost-cutting measures in light of a plunge in intake for the April semester.

UCSF vice-chancellor Mohamed Haleem Mohamed Razi highlighted that despite “the millions of ringgit in terms of financial aid and scholarship grants obtained by UCSF from various agencies, the reality is that the new student enrolment has failed.

“Only 18% of our target for the April semester has been reached, and this has significantly affected UCSF’s financial position,” he stated.

Datuk Seri Abdul Rahman Dahlan,UMNO Supreme Council member stated the cost-cutting scheme, staff will be subjected to a 50% pay cut with working hours reduced to 20 per week.

If by September there’s no improvement in the university’s financial status, the number of active staff would be reduced to a minimum in order for it to stay afloat, he said.

He added in the memo released to university personnel a few days ago that a portion of the staff would be placed on unpaid leave from October onwards.

They are however allowed to find work elsewhere.

UCSF, established in 2013, is a subsidiary of Sabah Foundation, a state government-linked company. It has close to 200 staff with 400 students presently enrolled.

“The problem faced by UCSF is not new. In 2018, the staff of UCSF under the Sabah Animation and Creative Content Centre (SAC3) had revealed to the press that they have not been receiving salaries from UCSF. The SAC3 was a project fully funded by the Federal Government under the Sabah Development Corridor (SDC) initiative which was launched in 2008.”

Under SEDIA’s Enactment 2009, all projects under the SDC has been entrusted under the supervision of Sabah Economic Development and Investment Authority (SEDIA), as a one stop authority, whose Chief Executive has been appointed by the Federal Government as the Controlling Officer under the Federal Financial Procedure Act (1957), according to him.

According to reliable sources, following the complaint and concerns raised by the staff of SAC3, SEDIA had been instructed by the State Government to look into the problems faced by SAC3 and seek a solutions to their predicament, Dahlan Tuaran UMNO Chief said.

Among the short term measures to address the concerns, SEDIA and UCSF had agreed to emplace SAC3 under direct supervision of SEDIA, and eventually to be parked under the newly created Ministry of Education and Innovation. At the moment SEDIA is fully responsible for the operation and funding of SAC3, including the payment of staff salaries, he elaborated.

It therefore is a matter of serious concern that UCSF, the only state-owed university in Sabah, and the source of pride of its people had come to a point that it can no longer afford to pay its staff salaries, due to low enrolment rate , presumably arising from the Covid-19 pandemic, according to him.

“The question now arises, is that in spite of the announcement of two stimulus packages by the Sabah State Government, how come the plight of UCSF is not being addressed? What happens to the Ministry of Education and Innovation? Is the Ministry oblivious to the plight of the only-state-owned university in Sabah? The people of Sabah deserve to get an explanation from the Minister and also Yayasan Sabah.”

“What could be worse, there was even talks that even SAC3 could face an uncertain future, and eventually to be closed. If the Ministry of Education and Innovation can’t even resolve the financing problems faced by UCSF, there is little comfort to expect that SAC3 would fare better.”

While SEDIA had done its part in assisting to resolve earlier problems faced by SAC3, and UCSF, thereby allowing both entities to function and pay their staff salaries; the Ministry of Education and Innovation together with Yayasan Sabah owe an explanation to the people of Sabah as the ultimate stakeholders on the direction and prospects of not only UCSF, but also SAC3.-pr/BNN