BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Monday August 26, 2013 – Students at the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) are seeking a meeting with the Barbados government after it announced that it would no longer be paying tuition fees for nationals studying at the tertiary institution.
The Student’s Guild said that it was also disappointed that no representative of the Freundel Stuart administration had attended a town hall meeting on Thursday where the issue had been discussed, despite being invited.
President the Student’s Guild, Damani Parris, said the students plan to call on veteran trade unionist Sir Roy Trotman, the general secretary of the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) to mediate with the government on their behalf.
“On behalf of every university student who I now represent, this policy will not stand in this country now or ever, never,” Parris said.
But Prime Minister Stuart has defended the decision of his government saying that free tertiary education was never intended to last forever.
He said his administration wanted nationals to understand that the new policy is being implemented in an effort to ensure the economic stability of the island.
“The government is doing the best it could and people are simply being asked to contribute to their own development,” Stuart said.
Finance and Economic Affairs Minister Chris Sinckler in his 2013-14 budget presentation earlier this month, said that effective 2014, Barbadian students pursuing studies at the university’s three campuses will be required to pay their own tuition fees, while the government continues to fund economic costs.
Sinckler said the tuition fees range from BDS$5, 625 to BDS$65,000 (One Barbados dollar=US$0.50 cents) and that the new policy would reduce the transfer to UWI by an estimated BDS$42 million a year.
Paris told the town hall meeting that 80 percent of the Barbadian students would not be able to meet the new fees.
“I am forced to defend the single parent that comes to this university, who has to pay for two students to come to this university while she is attending it. That is who I am forced to defend.
“I am forced to defend the student who will be the first graduate in his household before 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, ladies and gentlemen, who knows she is alone in her household, works to put herself through this educational process by going to work every day to find the thousand dollars a year to pay to the University of the West Indies so that she can get an education. That is who I have to defend,” he added.
Parris said he was disappointed that the Barbados government did not take up the invitation to send a representative to the town hall meeting where students and parents got a chance to air their concerns.
“I wonder if the government understands that I have for the first time as a Barbadian Guild President received welfare request from Barbadians for the first time in the history written in the Guild of Students at the University of the West Indies.
“Have they any understanding of these measures? Do they understand the social implications of the fact that I am the first Guild President sitting in my office that I know of in the written history of that organization called the Guild of Students to know of a Barbadian request for welfare? And they are coming, not one, not two but multiple and I have to defend that student body.”
Head of Government and Sociology and Social Work at Cave Hill, Dr. Tennyson Joseph said the decision to impose tuition fees on Barbadian Students represents the collapse of the entire project of independence that led to the upliftment of people with the provision of education, jobs and health care.
He said while the economics of the matter has been discussed, the question of the social implications remains unanswered.
Joseph foresees dire fallout for Barbados including higher levels of unemployment and even more worrying a reversal of the developmental gains the country has made.
“What differentiated Barbados from the rest of the Eastern Caribbean was your free education. You have no land, you have no mangoes, you have no breadfruit.
“So the only thing that the sensible Prime Minister did all these years ago is to realize that the only valuable asset and resource he has was his people. And so, the free education project was a developmental project, the same way that Sir Arthur Lewis recognized that the University of the West Indies was a developmental project. And the investment worked,’ Joseph added.
Opposition Leader Mia Mottley, who has already criticised the policy, told the meeting that the island should not be in this position.
“The sociology of living in a small space required a few things and these few things relate to public health because public health conditions don’t know age, race or stage. Education because this is the ladder out individually and ultimately collectively to build prosperity. We do not export oil as yet but what we do export is minds.”
President of the Clement Payne Movement, David Commissiong insists Barbados is not a banana republic but a democracy and that the government had no right to dismantle the Barbadian system of free education.
“So I’m saying we the people of Barbados, need to say to this government you have no mandate. This decision has to be rescinded…It has to be rescinded. And you have a year in which to accomplish that. So my advice is not to even be thinking along the lines of you know how do I accommodate myself to that decision. Our task must be to mobilize, to change a decision that is fundamentally undemocratic.”(CMC) .