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RIGHT OF CENTRE: Responding to citizens’ needs


Margaret Gill

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In our current context it is a curious question whether Barbados should continue to provide tertiary education “free”. Perhaps if we considered who would benefit should this be changed, the questions we are posing about university education at this point in our history might be more constructive.
Consider the context. Internationally, the world continues to face its worst economic depression; nevertheless, United Nations statistics show that in several ways the distance between the rich and the rest of us is growing.
Indeed, data shows that the number of people who control these vast sums of the world’s wealth is actually shrinking.
Even here in Barbados, our studies reveal growing numbers among the poor. However, industrialized countries are using more and more of taxpayers’ monies to try to shore up certain businesses and market economies. They are fixated on the principle of “too big to fail” while individual lives disintegrate daily.      
If it shows nothing else, this context strongly suggests we are in need of a new idea of society and economy. Will we get it by reducing access to our single university to only those who can afford it?  
Since Independence, we have been attempting to build a society that responds to the needs of all citizens. Education has been a key feature of that plan.
Fortunately for Barbadians, however much we have failed to realize other aspects of the dreams for a new society, we chose to be guided by the principles of justice and equity in education.
And it was not free. Some economists actually consider Barbados to be one of the most highly taxed countries in the world.
If we redirect public funding away from tertiary education, we will not be responding to the needs of many citizens. The growing yearly intake at the University of the West Indies suggests that need is strong but still highly volatile to income changes.
Furthermore, we must consider the education sector itself. We all know that Barbados is facing challenges of literacy and participation in education. The latter expresses itself, particularly at the secondary level, through violence in schools, involvement with drugs, low pass rates and general instabilities.
Many have also noted that men are not subscribing in adequate numbers at the level of university.  
These problems in the education sector presently appear intractable. They certainly require skill sets to address them that we do not now appear to have.  
I question whether we can fix them if we pull Government funding to the tertiary level.   
Our billion-dollar gross domestic product reminds us that nothing, including education, comes cheap. However, when we consider the alternatives around us, I suggest that we cannot afford to de-prioritize education.  
Recent output from the growing research programme at the Cave Hill Campus is exciting: tourism and coastal and marine management; telecommunications, robotics and automation; poverty and income distribution; oil price effects; men and masculinity; art, violence and trauma are a few examples.
Our students not only benefit the society, they contribute significantly to financing education through the fees they pay.
We have to make the only university we have available for all. We could change our Independence contract, but this is unlikely to bring us the new society.

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