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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

UPR board official calls for overhaul of courses & campuses, making UPR central to economy

Luis Torres Llompart, vice chairman of the University of Puerto Rico governing board

By The Star Staff

Luis Torres Llompart, the vice chairman of theUniversity of Puerto Rico (UPR) governing board, is emphasizing the need to “revisit” the university’s campuses and courses and make it central to an overhaul of the island’s economic development plan.

“We must revisit the campuses and specialize them, as well as the courses and curricula, and work with a new, reformed Puerto Rico,” Torres Llompart said Thursday at UPR Carolina’s “Dialogues” moderated by Prof. Rafael Méndez Tejeda. “This will take about a decade to produce results, so it’s time to start the process.”

He revealed, meanwhile, that the Financial Oversight and Management Board has created a “stakeholders group” that includes the private sector to develop an economic plan that converges with UPR. A plan is also being developed inside UPR.

Torres Llompart, a former Chamber of Commerce president, provided an overview and history as to how UPR contributed to the era of social and economic prosperity in Puerto Rico and helped create the island’s upper and middle classes since its flagship campus in Río Piedras was created in 1903 to prepare new teachers. The newest UPR campus, in Utuado, specialized in sustainable farming when it opened in 1978.

Every $100 invested by the state in the UPR generates $156 in the local economy, Torres Llompart noted. Between 2010 and 2015, income contributions from UPR employees and the sales and use tax applied to purchases totaled $740.3 million, he said. Considering the multiplier effect, $1.6 billion in taxes were generated via final demand pushed by UPR and others during that period of 2010 to 2015, he said.

Torres Llompart noted that UPR graduates experience a salary hike of $25,857 per year on average, and the Puerto Rico economy gets 20 cents for every dollar invested in a graduating class over a period of 30 years.

He also noted that between 1999 and 2014, UPR contributed 73% of the scientific knowledge in Puerto Rico with 33 new patents and is a leader in 90% of the research with a global impact conducted in Puerto Rico.

However, he said, UPR has slipped in its global ranking, something which he said is not to be celebrated. Between 2009 and 2016, UPR improved its general categorization in the ranking of 1,600 research institutions, reaching position 502 worldwide, 35th in the hemisphere and 15th in Latin America and the Caribbean.

According to the classifications for 2024 by the QS World University Rankings, a project of the global performance classification organization Quacquarelli Symonds, UPR was ranked as the second most important in the Caribbean, after the University of Havana in Cuba, among the 24 Caribbean universities that were evaluated.

When looking at the ranking at the Latin American level, UPR was among the top 50 universities and is the best positioned among Puerto Rican institutions, in 46th place. This, however, represents a drop when compared to last year, when UPR was number 40. In 2021, it was number 37.

However, Torres Llompart said he prefers to be compared to U.S. universities, which is where most students want to go.

“UPR is a diamond that has been filled with webs,” he said. “… It is too bad that I go into a board [meeting] and I learn that professors have not gotten a raise in 10 years. … I was also told there were workers that [were earning] $7.25 per hour. I think it is unfair to have slave-type wages for workers.”

The governing board vice chairman complained that he came to work on the big issues to help make the university great again, but as a member of the board he has spent more time “putting out fires.”

Torres Llompart did not support hiking tuition costs because he said most students will not be able to afford it. He has proposed to have students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds pay more in tuition, but was told it could not be done because it was discriminatory.

“There are students who have nothing to eat. There are students who must sleep in sports facilities because they have nowhere to go,” he said. “How can I increase tuition? This is a poor country. Puerto Rico’s per capita [income] level is lower than the poorest state.”

UPR’s budget has been cut over the past few years and is currently at about $627 million.

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