Minister of Education Ronald Jones has dismissed as simply “foolish noise” the latest reports surrounding the Government’s decision to stop meeting tuition fees for University of the West Indies students, effective this September.
Addressing an awards ceremony for the Young Democrats Educational Grant Programme last evening, Jones complained bitterly that some people seemed only bent on creating confusion, instead of giving the new payment scheme a chance to work.
“This is the first time I’ve seen so many hungry people beating at the door of the University of the West Indies [asking], ‘Wait them got three people in there, or them ain’t got none? Tell me, let me create confusion in the place’.
“That’s what they do. And I ain’t going to apologize for saying that,” the Minister added.
In an apparent reference to recent media reports, which have quoted campus sources as indicating a drastic decline in student enrolment for the 2014/2015 academic year, as a result of the Government’s new policy, the Minister of Education appealed specifically to members of the media to “let the place live and settle down”.
“ I said it! You can write it down. Let the place settle down!” he stressed, complaining that “every day, for the past three or four weeks, they have been calling the University of the West Indies [inquiring about], ‘How much you got in Social Sciences? You got four people in Humanities? . . . All kinds of foolishness!”
“Let the university go through its systems, finish the registration process. Let the Student Revolving Loan Fund do what it has to do, let us work it through, work it out. Let the university come up with models and help its students go through the system,” he insisted.
The Minister of Education said while the Government would have liked to maintain 100 per cent coverage for students, a new financing strategy had become critical when its tuition payments ballooned to more than $200 million annually.
He said the ruling Democratic Labour Party administration, which had introduced free tertiary education under the leadership of the late Errol Barrow back in the 1960s, was not trying to kick down the ladder. However, he warned that continuing to pay the full coverage for students in 2014 would be tantamount to foolishly burying one’s head in a deep hole.
“You put yourself at the bottom of the hole and you pulling in mud on yourself. That doesn’t make any sense,” said Jones.
He further warned that had the Government persisted with the free tertiary education policy, “the hospital would have closed, [the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic] would have been on its last legs. We would have had to cut the [Barbados Community College] by 50 per cent.
“These are the realities,” he said.
In recent days, Former Prime Minister Owen Arthur has been among those warning Government not to abolish free tertiary education at this time, saying the move will not only adversely affect countless students, but the development of the UWI and the country as a whole.