Jones defends UWI policy amid falling enrolment
Minister of Education Ronald Jones has maintained that Government’s tertiary education tuition fee policy was necessary or the number of students would have had to be restricted because the Freundel Stuart administration simply could not continue to heavily subsidize education while supporting other services.
His comments came on the heels of calls by the principal of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Professor Eudine Barriteau for Government to re-examine its tuition fee policy, which she blames for a dramatic drop in the number of students pursuing graduate and undergraduate studies at the institution. As at August 29 the university had an enrolment of 4, 772 compared with 8,711 for the 2013 academic year and 6,936 in 2014 when the tuition fees took effect.
Admitting that he was not satisfied with the low numbers this year, Jones said he was scheduled to meet with the university officials this week to discuss “a range of issues” and to seek solutions.
“Over the next few weeks and months we, the university, the Ministry of Finance [and] the Ministry of Education are going to look and see what is it more that we can do for those who matriculate, for those who want to study, who we are going to be able to get them back into the university,” said Jones, adding that the university should also continue to attract more international students.
“If the state is in a position to re-look [the policy] then I am sure the state will do, but we can’t be playing around on the periphery or outskirts with such a serious business,” he added.
However, in defending Government’s policy, Jones explained that it was highly dependent on the economy, adding, “there are also competing demands for scares resources” including health care, “an extremely strong” welfare sector and transportation.
“So something has to give at some time because of this pressure, and the best method of not allowing the entire system to collapse, in the case of education, was to say to people ‘look, we will continue to support education for you at tertiary level to the tune of 80 plus per cent’. In one instance it is 87 per cent and in other instances 80 per cent.
“We looked at the overall cost of programmes as the crunch was felt, and we said if we don’t implement what was suggested long ago, that 20 per cent cost on the student, then we are going to have to restrict the large movement of students into UWI across the system – not only at Cave Hill – and we preferred to go the method where more could have been in and not less,” he stressed.
Acknowledging that there was a decline of approximately 45 per cent in student enrolment since the policy was introduced, Jones said he was not entirely sure that Government’s policy was the only reason.
“People are saying it is because of the cost [but] I do not know if that is a definitive fact.”
“Some students didn’t go back to university in 2014/2015, a few have gone back, some have not gone back. Cave Hill hasn’t told me why, neither have those students told me why. One could argue that some was as a result of the fee, but there might be other multiple reasons,” said Jones.
Admitting that he did not talk much about “the issues with the bursaries that caused a bit of stir” last year, Jones said it was a way of providing some help to those who were having difficulty paying for their studies.
“The Minister of Finance announced the scholarships and grants that should be rolled out shortly but most likely might not impact on those who are in. Those who are in might have seen the way and have paid their fees or some part there of. But we will still look at them within the mix,” said Jones.
During her address at the campus’ 2015 matriculation ceremony at the Roy Marshall Teaching Complex on August 28, Barriteau outlined a number of cost cutting measures the campus had embarked on. Those included freezing vacant positions, significantly reducing part-time work and significantly reducing the number of substitutes for staff who are on holiday.
Acknowledging that some aspect of the tutorial complement would be affected by the decline in enrolment, Jones said he had not been engaged in any discussion as it related to the effect on professors, professional staff or technical staff.
“We continue to provide finance to the university. I know it would want more because there have obviously been a drop [in enrolment] and if you have smaller student numbers that means you are not getting the tuition fee,” he acknowledged, saying that Government’s support in that regard had fallen to between $24 million and $26 million. (MM)