The looming UWI, Barbados Govt $$ confrontation

Rickey Singh,

Added 16 August 2013

ourcaribbean

AT THE time of writing this column a confrontation was reportedly looming between the Barbados Government and the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies over the decision that, for the first time in its history, students of this campus of the region’s highest institution of learning would be required to pay the annual tuition cost of their education starting from academic year in 2014. The decision, for which Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s administration had to bite the bullet at this time of deep, spreading economic gloom, may perhaps cause a stirring in the grave of this nation’s “Father of Independence”, Errol Walton Barrow, with whose political history of free education for Barbadians right up to UWI level has been a cornerstone of policies by successive DLP as well as BLP-led governments. While students at the Mona Campus, the oldest of the UWI’s three campuses have been paying tuition fees since around the mid-1990s, Barbadian students will now be required to do so. Painful? Yes. However, heavy burden it could well prove, particularly for students of working class and even middle-income families, the reality check is that since back in the 1990s, the UWI’s policymakers, among them participating governments, had settled in principle to bear 80 per cent of annual economic costs with students contributing to the remaining 20 per cent. The Barbados Government intends, as I understand it, to remain committed to meeting the annual economic cost for students on all three campuses.     What has emerged as “quite surprising” for the UWI’s administrators, according to a telephone conversation I had with Vice-Chancellor Sir Nigel Harris, is the manner of the official announcement and rationale as articulated by Finance Minister Chris Sinckler that’s somewhat inconsistent with structured consultations that have been occurring between high-level government and UWI representatives. Without wishing to go into details, Sir Nigel gave assurance of the university’s “commitment” to re-engage the Barbados Government in dialogue at the “earliest opportunity”, hinting that this could in another week’s when he is due to be in Barbados. For his part, Finance Minister Sinckler contended in his presentation of the 2013 budget on Tuesday that “something had to give” on the Government’s involvement with the UWI which it owes approximately $200 million. It was in the context of climbing indebtedness of $42 million annually, that the tough decision was made by Government to introduce payment of full tuition fees for students effective from 2014. Why the Government consistently defaulted in its annual debt payments to accumulate a near $200 million obligation to the UWI is another matter. There also remains for consideration the curious logic defensively introduced by the Finance Minister about “Barbados comes first”. Was he intentionally separating more than 7 000 students (more likely 7 500) at the Cave Hill campus, at least 80 per cent of whom are Barbadian nationals, from Barbados’ interest? • Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean  journalist; rickeysingh2000@gmail.com

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