Bad UWI break

Whether or not you agree with what he outlined as his Government’s programme to get the economy back on track, it would be hard to deny that Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Chris Sinckler had a lot to say during his three-hour Budget presentation yesterday.

However, it is also very clear from the reaction of Barbadians far and near, that nothing he said — not the multi-million dollar capital works projects, not the tourism incentives, not the freeze of public sector hiring — touched the population like the decision to make Barbadians studying at the University of the West Indies pay tuition fees from next year.

The words had hardly left his lips before the social media were hot with comments for and against. What’s clear from the discourse so far, however, is that the comments back and forth on the subject of university education, led largely by Government spokesmen and politicians generally, has done nothing to set a positive tone for what is now taking place.

Truth be told, Barbadians should not have been surprised by the announcement, since even though it was not exactly sure what was coming, only the intellectually blind would not have seen that something was on the highway headed in their direction.

What is unfortunate is how the Government chose — yesterday and prior — to sell its plan to impose tuition fees on Barbadians.

For nearly two years there has been a running dispute between the university, and in particular the administration of the Cave Hill campus, and education and finance officials over the state’s failure to pay its commitment to the institution. What therefore emerges now, as evidenced by the comments of those who have taken to the social media, is that the Government has not paid its bill and is now passing the burden on to current and future students.

Sinckler, Minister of Education Ronald Jones, Minister of Commerce and International Business Donville Inniss, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and others who raised questions about the quality of students, the quality of teaching, the quality of graduates etc, within the context of an unpaid bill, all served to cast what is now occurring in the wrong light.

It should have been a systematic, structured national debate about the cost of tertiary education delivery vis a vis the financial ability of the country. Debt should not have been a factor since money legitimately owed is a commitment and men and women who renege from commitments only tarnish their reputations and lessen their credibility.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a debate over whether a Govermment/country can afford a service it has traditionally offered for free, regardless of whether or not it is as emotionally tied to the aspirations and hopes of a people as university education is to Barbadians. So we wish that from this point onward money owed to the university is not linked to whether tuition fees should be charged.

The second major failure of the Government on this issue relates to a weakness of politicians generally — the apparent belief that everything must include some element of stealth and intrigue. Had the Government stated up front that it was headed in this direction, what Barbadians would have been looking to the Budget for would have merely been the numbers. The discourse on the efficacy of the decision would already have taken place.

Our politicians need at this stage of our development and Independence to place more trust in the people and their intelligence.

A third element, again resulting from the Government/politician-led debate has now added inter-island rivalries to the mess, with non-Barbadians using the words of our own politicians to cast the typical Bajan university student, particularly at Cave Hill, as lazy and indifferent.

The protracted, in many ways nonsensical public debate about Bajans taking six or seven years to complete a four-year degree programme, rather than dealing with them and the system that facilitated them when it occurred, was another example of how poorly we have managed tertiary education issues in recent years.

While we suspect that the Opposition, seeking quite legitimately to capitalise on this matter, will promise to reverse the Democratic Labour Party when they return to power, it does not lessen the fact that level-headed thinkers in our society still need to lead a sensible debate on the future of university education funding.

The only sensible options can’t be either that the student finds the money or the Government pays. In fact, we strongly believe that with prudence and proper planning Government can cut its funding to the university by an even larger amount than outlined yesterday, while not depriving a single Barbadian desirous of a college degree of getting it.

6 Responses to Bad UWI break

  1. Glyne Griffith August 15, 2013 at 7:29 am

    Before our politicians can trust the people, as this commentary rightly argues, they must come to respect the people. Much of our politics since decolonization suggests that, with few exceptions, this has still not yet happened.

  2. Freeagent August 15, 2013 at 8:13 am

    The public of Barbados, the UWI family in particular, should not have been surprised to learn that it will now cost them to go to school at the Cave Hill Campus. For too long governments have been subsidizing education, then in some instances, those who have benefited have left the island to suffer while they leave and go to countries where getting rich means more to them that “giving back to the taxpayers of Barbados”. Students in other countries have to pay for their education and they do it. Why can’t we? This freeness from government had to stop at some time so if it is now, let the thousands who enjoyed this freeness give thanks.

  3. Michelle Worrell August 15, 2013 at 11:20 am

    We also need to take away the free bus rides that school children get. We have to be REAL. These same “poor” children vandalise the buses, gather in “hives” in and around the city or wherever with the main intention of getting ZRs or minibuses, are scooped up very often by the police and education officers and taken to their respective schools. All of this happens while tax-paying, law-abiding, paying passengers are staked out because of the unavailability of buses. These “poor” school children have the best cell phones and walk around all day long with ear pieces (even at school). If you inspect their pockets you may be alarmed at the money they carry and the hair gel, perfumes, electronic equipment, DVDs they have occupying their expensive “North Face” bags instead of the texts from the government-sponsored loan scheme which decorate classroom floors everyday!!!!!!!

    • Brimstone August 15, 2013 at 4:41 pm

      Wow Michelle, they may get you for harrassing the kids, but you are perfectly right……. I would go further to say we need to revoke ALL the ZR and most minibus license. Privatize the bus service among a small group of consortiumns and let stable law abiding persons get jobs. The ZR drivers have no moral decency and none of the fantastic sums collected by them is used constructively in the society,,, it is all spent on drugs, guns and depraved encounters. Remember these are famous for destroying some of our young women on their last trip.
      You also need to remember the poor that we are trying to defend is a myth we create, because the real poor aspiring kids do their best to succeed, and these are the ones we need to help along the way

  4. tallman August 17, 2013 at 4:24 pm

    Well written article, education is liberation. Some people play the @ss at UWi, however these are not an accurate representative of the whole. If I had to pay for it, I am not sure I could have, many thanks for it.

  5. Nicole August 18, 2013 at 8:38 am

    I want to commend the editor for an excellent editorial which appreciates the true issues at stake rather than being distracted by the ‘smoke and mirrors’ which were used to distract persons. How can one just ignore a debt that has already be incurred? A debt that did not just accrue overnight and one which has significantly impacted on the University’s ability to function effectively? What makes the matter worse is that Barbadian students continue to enter the institution thereby further increasing this debt. The off-hand and flippant manner in which this issue is being discussed is both sad and unfortunate. The editor correctly points out that persons who fail to meet their commitments (i.e. the existing debt owed) tarnish their reputations and credibility. This is indeed a sad day for Barbados who has always prided itself on meeting its commitments, international and otherwise notwithstanding our small size. I would also like to recall that the Government on a number of occasions gave UWI the firm assurance that the debt would be cleared. Now we hear that they will get to that when they are able.
    The other point that I wish to strongly endorse is the fact that the question of whether or not/how the government could continue to pay for tertiary education is one on which we should have had NATIONAL discourse OVER A PERIOD OF TIME to arrive at a consensus on how to deal with the issue. Instead the government has taken my right to make a contribution on an issue of fundamental importance to the future of Barbados and the type of country it will be and citizens it will produce in the future away from me. I am more than disappointed – I am devastated and insulted.


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