UWI student paints bleak picture
Working class student numbers down, Square told
Final-year student at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, entrepreneur Cheryl Moore, was able to come up with the funds to register today to continue her studies, but many of her schoolmates were not so lucky.
Moore has painted a bleak picture of the problems facing students, many of whom have been unable to pay their tuition fees as registration starts this week.
“One department within Humanities has attracted four persons . . . . Social Sciences, of course, has been hit hard because we know that the majority of persons from Barbados’ working class actually take on programmes in that department. They only attracted 400 persons and some of the other numbers like those in Science and Technology and Medical have suffered but, not as much as Social Sciences and Humanities,” she said, noting that those who study the latter areas are generally from well-off families.
Moore, who is studying political science with international relations, was one of the panellists at the University Of Independence Square that met on the weekend to discuss this and other troubling matters. She told the meeting that the Ministry of Education’s failure to convey information about a payment scheme to the university had left many students being embarrassed.
“This administration recently talked about the introduction of bursaries to students; it has talked about a payment scheme for students. The day after the minister talked about paying monthly for the programmes, we had a number of students going up to the university and [making queries] with the administration to take advantage of the programme. The administration subsequently told the students it had no idea what they were talking about; that the information had not been passed down to them.”
Moore pulled no punches as she accused Government of giving away millions of dollars in concessions to Sandals Resorts and local hoteliers, while claiming it had no money.
Lecturer in the Social Sciences Department, Terry Harris, brought another perspective to the situation, while acknowledging the significant decline in registrants.
“The individuals coming on campus to pay, the numbers have dwindled. It’s vastly below what we would have expected. [Those who’re coming] are arriving in Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs. These are not the usual shuttle crew.
“The university has a bus service that brings a lot of the working class students to campus, [but] those individuals aren’t coming on campus to pay. It’s the sons and daughters of the doctors, the lawyers, those in the upper echelons of society,” he said.
Senior attorney Robert “Bobby” Clarke, another panellist, insisted that education was a right, and should not be open to debate.
“When a Government puts out a policy that it’s going to have free education at tertiary level, that must stay there forever. There’s no reason to ever stop it,” he argued, dismissing claims that the Government had no money, as he cited its involvement in a number of projects, which he said, were not being fully utilized.
The meeting passed a resolution for a committee to be formed to lobby on behalf of affected students. While details of the composition of the committee were still being worked out, attorney-at-law David Comissiong, the chief organizer of the meeting, said the Guild of Students should be prepared to do what was necessary to fight for its members.
“Those of us who know that it is wrong should be willing to do what is required to make them understand that it is wrong,” he said firmly. “I want to send a message to students of the Cave Hill Campus that sometimes as a student body you have to be prepared to protest. You have to be prepared to sit down, and sit in, and lock out and disrupt if you are defending an important principle; and this is a very important principle.
“This principle says that education is a fundamental human right, and that we in Barbados will not have a society in which we have first class citizens who can access education and second class citizens who can’t access it, simply because they’re poor. We are not going to accept that!
“If we cannot take a stand on insisting that the children of poor people must be treated no differently than the children of upper class people where their education is concerned, then what can we take a stand on?” Comissiong challenged his listeners.
Those present at the discussion included Independent Senator John Watson, Members of Parliament Trevor Prescod and Cynthia Forde, and businessman Mohammed Nassar.