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THE ISSUE: Support for fee payment


Natasha Beckles

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As Government continues to search for the best way to manage its spending, education is often suggested as one of the areas in which expenditure can be reduced.
More specifically, a cut in state support at the tertiary level is believed to be the most effective option.
The Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development has contributed significantly to the financing of education at the University of the West Indies (UWI), with the cost rising from $114.7 million in 2004-2005 to $142.8 million in 2009-2010.
In the BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY of last September 12, economist and management consultant Ryan Straughn put forward several suggestions which could alleviate Government’s burden of financing tertiary education.
Straughn, the managing director and chief executive officer of Abelian Consulting Services Inc. and president of the Barbados Economics Society, said parents who were university graduates should finance their children’s tertiary tuition.
“Right now there are people who are sending their children overseas to all kinds of universities and they pay for it willingly,” he said.
He suggested that Government could limit the access of university graduates to the full benefits of income tax allowances for the first five to ten years after graduation.
He cautioned that Government should not “seek to withdraw from providing space” at the University of the West but should do what it takes within reason to further expand attendance.
In the same edition, economist Professor Frank Alleyne called for a national discourse on the financing of education in Barbados, with the view of allocating resources equitably to all levels of the system.
He said the island’s educational system focused too strongly on the “apex” of tertiary education at the expense of early childhood education.
At the time, Alleyne was speaking during a panel discussion on Financing Education In Barbados hosted by the Barbados Economics Society at the Savannah Hotel.
“If you’re going to build a sound education system you have to start at the bottom and that is pre-school education.
“If you look carefully at our education system in Barbados there are no clear criteria for the allocation of resources,” Alleyne said.
The professor noted that no political party had been able to address the issue of resource allocation.
“If you say that you’re going to put a ceiling on the allocation to the campus, what the other party which is in opposition will say is, ‘Put me in; I’m going to move that ceiling,’” he said.
However, he noted that the absence of fiscal space meant that the issue would have to be addressed.
“My fear is that what you will see is some tinkering rather than facing the issue head on and asking questions about what type of system we want to build and what is the most equitable means of allocating resources at the various levels of that system,” Alleyne said.
The professor added that the case for the state funding education was not as strong as it was in 1963 when many households did not have the means to finance the education of their children.
“None of the governments in the English-speaking Caribbean are really able to finance tertiary education in the way it was conceived back in the ’60s,” he said.
In 2005, while speaking in the Senate on the 2005-2006 Estimates, the late Sir John Stanley Goddard suggested that free tertiary education might have created a freeness mentality in the minds of students.
In the DAILY NATION of March 22, 2005, Sir John said: “Free tertiary education has provided professionals within the society and created upward social mobility. The large middle-income class in the island has swollen because of free tertiary education.”
However, he suggested that the time had come for students to pay part, if not all, of the economic cost of their education.
Later that year, UWI Vice-Chancellor Dr Nigel Harris said Barbadian students should not continue to expect taxpayers to pay for all of their higher education. He is quoted as saying that they should view the paying of some of the tuition fees as an obligation, part of the process of becoming responsible adults.
“Indeed, the Barbados Government, to its credit, stands all the tuition and fees. I think that dynamic has got to change. I think the students, perhaps, have not got accustomed to the idea of their obligation and responsibility to contribute to their own education,” he said.
However, UWI Cave Hill principal Sir Hilary Beckles said he did not think that Barbados’ significant investment in higher education should be seen as a problem.
“I believe that what separates Barbados from many countries in this hemisphere – in fact, in the world – is the high investment we have made in education.
“And to problematize that investment today, to even critique it or to second-guess it, is to not understand the fundamental logic and the fundamental structures of Barbados as a civilized society,” Sir Hilary said in the WEEKEND NATION of June 4, 2010.
More recently, in the DAILY NATION of November 14, 2011, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart said tertiary education in Barbados would remain free across the board, dismissing suggestions that only the “less well off” should receive state subsidies. He insisted that asking students to pay tuition fees would be a step backwards in the country’s development.
Stuart said that the country’s model of free education across the board was admired and praised by international development agencies for its extraordinary emphasis on human capital and the contribution it had made to the country’s exemplary progress.
On the other hand, he said, Barbados was continually being badgered by international financial institutions to end “unsustainable entitlements”.
 “I firmly believe that it would be a retrograde step if we were to dismantle equal access to education by the reimposition of tuition fees at the tertiary level.
“Universal access to tuition-free education was a deliberate piece of social engineering that has delivered handsomely on its investment. It has helped to create a large and vibrant middle class and a relatively prosperous and enlightened citizenry who enjoy a high standard of living,” he added.

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