Mon | Nov 19, 2018

UWI ponders IPO as assets roll in

Published:Wednesday | November 7, 2018 | 12:00 AMAvia Collinder/ Business Reporter
Professor Densil Williams, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Planning, University of the West Indies.

Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Planning for the University of the West Indies (UWI) Professor Densil Williams is describing as incubatory plans to offer shares in the institution via an initial public offering (IPO) that would result in its listing on the stock market.

"At this stage, the thought of the IPO is incipient, and as such, we would not be in a position to provide any great details at the moment. As soon as things progress, we will be sure to inform you and the wider public," the pro-vice-chancellor said Monday.

His comment follows the announcement by UWI Vice-Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles that UWI is "evolving as an entrepreneurially driven institution and may even issue an initial public offering in the future" - comments he made at an awards ceremony on October 29.

UWI is the consider academic institution to consider such a course locally, the other being a private operation owned by the University of the Commonwealth Caribbean, which has selected Mayberry Investments Limited as broker for its share float.

Beckles reaffirmed the university's move towards commercial activity and has "given each faculty and department a remit to have spin-off companies to take their research to market", he said at the function.

The vice-chancellor disclosed that the government of Trinidad and Tobago recently handed over a new hospital to UWI "to strengthen its balance sheet and generate a revenue stream for the institution to go forward". It's part of an agreement under which governments indebted to the UWI agreed to swap assets for the liabilities.

"Do not be surprised if in the short to medium future, all of these assets are located within a specific property and asset management company that will then be used to develop property assets and generate even more value for the university, and one day, we might even issue an IPO," Beckles said.

Governments of the region owe debt going back 25 years, which has accumulated to around US$200 million.

In addition to the Trinidad offer, Antigua and Barbuda has agreed to provide assets to the UWI on a freehold basis, which the institution can add to its balance sheet and also use as collateral to generate capital for expansion and modernisation of the plant.

Professor Williams, who disclosed the swap agreement at midyear, said at the time that the Caricom heads of government had also committed to making interim payments in cash to help the UWI deal with any cash-flow burdens.

"Things are progressing well," he told the Financial Gleaner this week in the wake of a meeting last Thursday.

"All member countries have committed to honour their obligation," he said.

At the special meeting of the University Grants Committee on November 1, Chairman and Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley said that lands in Barbados would be transferred to UWI, while Jamaica's finance minister, Nigel Clarke, asked that the UWI send a proposal to the Jamaican Government on the asset swap for its consideration, while Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands have also said they will honour their obligations to UWI by end-December, Williams said.

"Overall, the progress has been good, and we at the UWI thank Prime Minister Harris of St Kitts and Nevis for his service using the diplomatic channel to assist the institution," he added.

avia.collinder@gleanerjm.com