EDITORIAL: Fee debate, a welcome step
THE STATEMENT by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart that he and his Government are prepared to consider any viable alternative views about the payment of fees by students attending the Cave Hill Campus is an important step in the right direction.
This is how democracy works best, when leaders are prepared to listen and consider the views of the people.
In this context the exact words used by the Prime Minister may be important because he spoke of any “more credible, more sustainable, and more viable solution” than the one proposed in the Budget by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler.
It seems clear then that while the Government is prepared to consider other options that these options must be superior to the one proposed and this should cause any of those persons or groups intending to make alternative proposals to put their thinking caps on.
It will obviously not be a matter of just simply making a blanket proposal that fees should not be paid. We interpret the Government’s position as making the point that its proposals are on the table and that any counter-proposals must meet the Prime Minister’s qualifying criteria if such proposals are to replace those currently in place.
We think most Barbadians will agree that counter-proposals must be serious attempts at some sort of a workable solution, but we fear that some people will be opposed to the idea that any tuition fees of any kind should be paid, and this may fly in the face of the reality that budgetary considerations may disqualify such views.
Nevertheless the Prime minister has left the door ajar by pointing out that since the measure did not take effect until some time during the academic year 2014/2015 there was enough time to go back to the drawing board.
The fact is that it is only 50 years since the provision of free tertiary level education was available to our citizenry, and there can be no question that the country and families and individuals have benefited enormously from this facility. Nor can it be denied that there are still too many Barbadians whose parents cannot afford to pay the proposed proportion of the fees likely to be charged for tuition.
The stark poverty which assailed this country when it attained its Independence drove the far-sighted Errol Barrow to quickly recognize that education, health and housing were the greatest needs of the soon-to-be-independent nation and he moved with unyielding speed to correct the wrongs wrought by generations of neglect by our colonial administrations.
But we fear that there are still too many of our people mired in the poverty of their generational situations or one generation away from such poverty who need to consolidate their fragile upward social mobility to the middle class.
These are the groups likely to be hurt most by the need to find even the lower end of tuition fees, and we commend the Prime minister for signalling his willingness to listen and consider because a case can be made and has to be made for these vulnerable groups.
We have a small country about which many have on occasion remarked that we “punch above our size”. That is a compliment to our people, who have seized opportunities, but it also proves the truth that strong societies are best grounded in strong economies.