Arthur warns govt that its education policy is going in the wrong direction
Don’t abolish free university education just yet!
That’s the stern warning today from former Prime Minister Owen Arthur who was adamant that “the country must find a way to invest in tertiary education”.
He was also highly critical of the present move by the Freundel Stuart Government to impose tuition payments on students attending the University of the West Indies, effective this September, describing it as not only “draconian” and “unreasonable”, but a “Barbadian tragedy”.
Arthur also warned that the island was in danger of “becoming just another one-pace pony in the developing world”, while accusing the ruling Democratic Labour Party administration which had introduced free tertiary education as far back as 1968, under then Prime Minister Errol Barrow, of “kicking down” the education ladder, which has allowed him and countless ordinary Barbadians to “climb” their way out of poverty.
The former Barbados Labour Party member, who recently turned Independent, spared no insult for the new tuition payment policy, while adamant that there were much better options for supporting tertiary education.
He again put the idea of a higher education training levy on the table, saying: “People like myself, who have benefited from the society’s investment in our capacity to be what we are, should be called upon to make a contribution.”
Additionally, he said a registered Education Savings Plan would allow parents to save for their children’s education while benefiting from tax incentives.
However, Arthur said he could not possibly support the Government’s current approach to funding university education when “there are still a lot of Barbadians who need that helping hand”.
“And, having myself profited from the society which invested in my tertiary education, I feel very disinclined to kick down that ladder by which I climbed,” he added.
“Whatever else we do, I still feel the country must find a way to invest in tertiary education.
“From a national consideration, I am also of the view that while fiscal considerations are driving the Government, other strategic considerations apply,” Arthur cautioned.
However, with the Government currently forging ahead with its programme, he said at the very least, there needed to be a special accommodation made for those students who enrolled in the UWI under the free system, but have now been left “stranded” under the new payment system.
The St Peter MP highlighted one particular case, in his constituency where he said a family was now in “agony” over how they were going to send back the student to finish the last year of his veterinary studies.
“. . . And the society can’t do those things to people. It is unreasonable!” Arthur said.
“I think that whatever the Government does from a fiscal point of view, it really should allow those who are about to finish their university degrees to finish under the rules which they started,” he argued.
“And, if new rules are to be brought to bear, it really should be applied to people who are about to enter, who could then decide if they can enter or not enter. But it is very heartbreaking to imagine that a person would have started a university degree course with certain expectations and, now that the finish line is within shouting distance, they can’t finish!”
Arthur, who is a trained economist, also warned that Barbados’ biggest deficit was not the fiscal deficit, nor the balance of payments deficit.
“It is the tertiary education output deficit,” Arthur said, noting that while “other countries are pressing ahead to close theirs, we are going in the wrong direction where that is concerned”.
“The Cave Hill Campus is perhaps the single biggest earner of foreign exchange of any enterprise in Barbados. We have to see it not just as an educational institution; we have to see it from its many-faceted development perspectives. And I would love to see the Cave Hill Campus develop to be the township that it was really intended to be. Its impact on Barbados would be bigger than Sandals, Sandy Lane –– all of them!
“It [the university] has to be the place where we also have the link to the global technological society. I don’t believe that decisions in relation to it should be based only on narrow fiscal issues, but on broader development issues; and this is a time when the country should be talking through this matter in the fullest way.
“The Government’s decisions are too narrowly based on fiscal issues. I believe we are going to make a fundamental mistake here. You can rationalize access to the university at Cave Hill Campus, you can find new ways of funding it, but the draconian approach to leave people stranded is something that I could not possibly support.”