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THE GOVERNMENT must be commended for finally putting in place the long promised bursary scheme for those students so adversely affected by changes in tuition fees policy that they were in danger of interrupting their tertiary education at the Cave Hill Campus.
The announcement that Cabinet had on Thursday last approved the establishment of the programme raises some questions, but the important aspect of the decision is that the education safety net has been put in place and it is hoped that no deserving student will now drop through the cracks.
Education has long been a major tenet of the social policy of both major political parties, although the Democratic Labour Party, led by the late Right Excellent Errol Barrow, and the late Cameron Tudor in particular, spearheaded what was then a most crucial and critical platform of social policy by implementing free education right up to tertiary level.
That the policy was supported by the Barbados Labour Party when it came to office is an indication of the far-reaching wisdom of the original idea as well as a recognition that the country’s stage of development as a post-colonial society with all the scars of benign under-development required the continuation of the policy.
It is agreed that free education was the flagship policy of the Democratic Labour Party, even if it later became common ground between the two major political parties.
In an atmosphere of common agreement on the individual and national benefits of the general policy, there should be similar consensus about major changes in the policy.
Surely the moment must be long past when the major aspects of required social policy, such as payment of tertiary level education tuition fees, should be treated like the proverbial political football.
This country has developed beyond the back-breaking agricultural society of 50 years ago.
Per capita income has risen from the pitiable levels of former times to the stage where clear thinking suggests that some revisiting should be made to fee-paying aspects of educational policy, created against a different social background.
The entire society must become involved in the debate about radical changes in such policy. This country still declares itself to be a democracy and we are the poorer if we educate our people without the society benefiting from the capture of their informed views on major social issues.
The fine-tuning of tertiary level educational policy is a debate which should have taken place, given that there is consensus between the two major parties on the social utility of the general policy.
If it seems clear that some members of the society can now afford tertiary level tuition fees, the reality is that many others still find it difficult to pay, and the arguments should be about refining the policy to help those who cannot help themselves.
Given our current fiscal stringency, and in the absence of such a debate, the bursary scheme is a pragmatic, welcome and overdue step.