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EDITORIAL: Harsh reality of UWI costs

BEA DOTTIN, [email protected]

EDITORIAL: Harsh reality of UWI costs

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News that the cost of tertiary education is high and continues to rise would not have surprised anyone following public affairs in Barbados.
The Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West?Indies has been in extension mode for some time and as it continues to expand its offerings, the Minister of Education says the annual bill is about $167 million.
This is a tidy sum, but the development of the people has always been seen as a major objective of the political parties which have offered candidates for consideration of the voters.
The taxpayers have therefore been called upon to fit the bill so that all, rich and not so rich, and poor alike, can have the benefit of tertiary education without directly paying for it.
Nobody has seriously disputed the argument that in the 1960s the immediate and foreseeable future demands required that there should have been instituted at that time the policy of free tertiary education.
In recent times, there has been a view that the costs associated with tertiary education are too high and that some form of payment should be extracted from those who benefit from such training.
The debate has been joined, because some others have maintained that free tertiary education is as much a social service as is health care, and that it should be free at the point of delivery.
In these difficult economic times, and even in better times, the point has been made that a small developing island can hardly afford these “entitlements”. Now that our national human resource profile has reached the stage where we are producing large numbers of highly trained people, we should introduce some form of means tested payment regime without disadvantaging gifted but poor students.
It will be a very brave Government which changes the present model.
But at the same time, there must be a good case for reallocating some part of the national revenue towards those skills which are immediately required to propel what has been called “the new economy” which if it is successfully implemented, may in and of itself produce the kind of economic benefits which can assist in the growth of the economy with obvious spin off benefits for social services like education.
This country does not any longer rely on the traditional skills to build its economy.
Sugar has given way to tourism and to international financial services, and while all education will benefit the society, high class educational skills in the theory and application of studies such as tourism management, international finance, taxation, forensic accounting, corporate governance, international trust management, foreign language studies, intellectual property and the like, may merit greater immediate preference where finances are scarce.
It may be a question of facing the harsh reality that while every student deserves to benefit from tertiary education, the cost of providing it suggests that all may have to pay a little in order to keep the door open to all.
And yet, the scales may have to be further tilted in favour of those areas of study where the national cost benefit analysis suggests that the skills are urgently required.