Gov’t to start clearing UWI debt early April

uwicavehillwflagGovernment will start to clear the millions of dollars its owes the University of West Indies once its new financial year starts next month.

But as it seeks to fix this “bothersome saga”, Minister of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, Ronald Jones, warned that the current model through which the UWI received financial support was “unsustainable” and had to be adapted over time.

Government owes the UWI, including its Barbados campus at Cave Hill, St. Michael between $150 million and $200 million, arrears which date back to last year.

“It is not only a simple matter of how you organise tertiary education in Barbados, but how you look at the sustainable funding over time and we will discuss that,” he told the House of Assembly yesterday during his contribution to the Estimates Debate.

“There has been some shouting across the space, there has been some little irritants across the space, there have been documents being passed here and there across the space, but this is par for the course.

“I wouldn’t worry about that, for they will be receiving from the Government of Barbados for the debt owed on behalf of the education of Barbadian children, significant amounts of money starting early April and following right through until the agreement is totally satisfied.

“But I want to say to this Chamber and I want to say to Barbados (that) the model at this stage is unsustainable, but you don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water and therefore you have to adjust the model in such a way that Barbadian students continue to go to University of the West Indies, continue to add to the development agenda of Barbados.”

Jones added that tertiary education like that offered at UWI “still remains an important aspect of the human resource development potential of Barbados and we must find ways and means of sustaining that, just like we would find ways and means of continuing to build out early childhood education”.

He said no one could deny the “build up of funds” owed to the university, calling it “a particularly bothersome saga of trying to provide tertiary education where revenues have been declining, where, based on our model of providing education in what we call free mode, would impact on our expenditures”.

“So if there is declining revenue you have to find solutions to deal with an important issue such as tertiary education. I am pleased to note that the Barbados Labour Party in its manifesto got their hands on a report done by Sir Hilary Beckles and the other tertiary level persons in the Ministry of Education etcetera and … they spoke to what they called the Beckles Commission model of funding and organising and allocating education,” he told the Lower House.

“I am glad that for the first time in their lives that they accept that a set of proposals has some merit and that these proposals came out of a commission set up by the Democratic Labour Party’s government in 2011… It is right now before Cabinet for Cabinet to look at and to sign off on,” Jones added.

The minister also said while education had received less funding in the 2013-2014 Estimates, this was neither unusual or a cause for concern, but he said the $112 million budget reduction referred to by a Barbados Labour Party member was untrue.

“These are not the figures that I saw, these are not the figures that I know. Which part of these Estimates was the member speaking from? I went through and I look at the appropriate page, we would have to send home, Mr. Speaker, over 50 per cent or more of the teaching population of Barbados, which stands just around 3,000 in the secondary (and) primary school system,” he said.

“In fact, I am not going to argue that there has not been a reduction in the monies available, there has always been some up and down fluctuation, according to the amount of work being done in the infrastructural provisions under the Ministry of Education, this has been the case.” (SC)

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