Help us! – Student guild concerned about Barbadian students’ plight

by Donna Sealy

This parent has a son in third year, one in first year and one who wants to attend the Cave Hill Campus.
This parent has a son in third year, one in first year and one who wants to attend the Cave Hill Campus.

A growing and worrying number of Barbadian students attending the University of West Indies, Cave Hill Campus are turning to their guild for “welfare” assistance.

President of the Guild Damani Parris told Barbados TODAY that during the last semester there were requests from several students, some of whom were so badly off financially they were asking for bus fare to get to school, and money to buy meals and books.

The student representative could find no record of Bajans attending the university being in such strife in the past, and feared that if Government went ahead with making these individuals pay their own tuition fees next year the numbers would surge.

“Traditionally, the Guild is not primarily responsible for welfare but we noticed that the requests from Barbadian students were for the first time registering in terms of percentage of students requesting welfare and because Barbadians are the primary group at the Cave hill campus, we were becoming very concerned about the trend when a number of them began to make [requests] because of things like they’re not eating, they can’t afford to buy books, they can’t afford to get here on a daily basis,” a worried Parris said today.

“I thought that was very concerning and when their requests came in it was essentially that the university was putting them or their families under so much strain that they could not continue without the assistance from the Guild and this put [us] in the position where we had to approve them for the first time,” he said.

Parris noted that while it was not unusual for non-Barbadians to make requests, it certainly was for Barbadians. He added that even though they were enrolled and trying to write their exams, they were “receiving that financial pressure at home that meant the difference between coming up here on a daily basis or staying home”.

The students, he said, also had to opt between attending classes and going hungry while there or staying home to have a meal. They were therefore forced to make decisions that were detrimental to their educational pursuits.

The President added that Government seemingly failed to fully understand the impact of the new policy given that “many of the students were already in financial dire straits”. His initial disclosure came during the town hall meeting last night while he was addressing the audience attending the Guild’s town hall meeting in the Roy Marshall Teaching Complex.

It was then that he noted for the first time in “the history written in the Guild” at the UWI, there were “not one, not two but multiple” welfare requests from Barbadians.

Regarding the controversial university tuition fees policy, veteran trade unionist Sir Roy Trotman is being called on to “mediate”.

This afternoon, the 20-year-old Political Science student told Barbados TODAY the letter would be sent off to the “very experienced” labour boss for action as he felt it necessary that the matter be discussed in a rational manner as he implored the Government to meet with the Guild.

“We are asking him to lend an ear as we attempt to ensure that the student body is well represented. The student body has been making solid demands that the University of the West Indies and the Ministry of Education as well as other stake holders involved in this activity, do sit down with the general student body before anything else is taken forward.

“So the Guild has taken the position that it will request the various stakeholders to sit down with the student body. The student government will hopefully be allowed to mediate under … Sir Roy Trotman who we will be sending this letter too and request that we can therefore bring a solid resolution that is beneficial to all to this particular manner,” he said this afternoon.

It was last night before a sizeable audience that the fired up president vowed that the controversial tuition policy decision, announced during last Wednesday’s Budgetary proposals by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler, would not be implemented.

“I will ask him to come and mediate this issue as we the student body attempt to sit down with the government of Barbados. He has done it before on behalf of the University of the West Indies … and we’re asking him to do it again because we need to have some person mediate this issue through.

“I will stand and say it right now; On behalf of every university student who I now represent that this policy will not stand at this country, now, not ever, never! This 20 per cent ladies and gentlemen will not be allowed to stand … and I don’t care what I have to do to get rid of it but it will go away,” he said to rapturous applause.

Earlier in his address, Parris said when he did his research immediately following the Budget, he looked at the implications of the policy and while before he had quoted the “percentages to the people, the potential out fall, the damage that can be done to the public by this policy unfortunately” the public was not getting a clear picture.

Therefore he was “forced to defend” the single parent who has to pay for two students to attend while he/she did as well.

“I am forced to defend the student will be the first graduate in his household with four other siblings and who has to guide his siblings into the understanding that a university education is normal. That is who I have to defend.

“I have to defend that lady who though, she is alone in her household, works to put herself through this educational process by going to work every day to find the $1,000 to pay to the University of the West Indies so that she can get an education. That is who I have to defend.

“So when I am told by the public that I am unfair and I am unreasonable, that I am unjust and malicious, ladies and gentlemen I will continue to defend that student body, because that student body elected me,” he said emphatically.

“… I invite the opposition. I invite the discussion that we need to have around this matter but I need it to be understood clearly that the students I have to defend, the 6,000 plus Barbadians that come to this university, The 80 per cent of them who cannot afford to come, come September 2014 are who I have to defend as long as I am standing here and have breath my lungs, I will defend them because that is what I have to do,” the President said to more applause.

Invitations were sent to Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, Sinckler who indicated he was out of the county and Minister of Education Ronald Jones who declined but invited them to “a private meeting”.

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