PURELY POLITICAL: Alternative UWI funding?
The liberalization of tertiary education systems as part of the services economy has exposed the sector to aggressive market forces like any other. In developing countries, especially, a principal policy tension, with intense political implication, has emerged between the conception of higher education as a public good and its financial treatment as a commodity. – The Beckles Commission On Higher Education, 2012.
ARE YOU PERSUADED that Government exhausted all viable alternatives for funding tuition at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) before taking the drastic step of eliminating what it praised as a “piece of social engineering”?
Government’s case for what it termed “a major shift in policy” was pretty much made on the back of numbers it laid out showing that the commitment to Barbadians in the 1960s has been becoming increasingly expensive and responsible for a disproportionate chunk of its education budget.
But I ask you: is it not part of a Government’s remit to find ways of meeting its obligations to the people it rules without doing unspeakable violence to their dreams and aspirations and possibly blunting an avenue for social mobility and national development?
I ask, because it is to my certain knowledge that Government had before it several proposals for meeting those dues to UWI, only one of which included an element of cost-sharing that would marginally increase students’ contributions.
But this cash-strapped, spendthrift Government in its all-out hunt to optimize its revenues with apparently little concern about the social costs, set aside crucial elements of its Barbados Growth And Development Strategy 2013-2020 and everything else that might have affected its fierce determination to abandon this policy.
The late Joe Brome, as astute a political journalist and commentator as there ever was, once told me to “watch what politicians do, rather than what they say”.
Government’s rhetoric has been that it is fully committed to, and supportive of, increased access to tertiary education for Barbadians.
“While remaining committed to providing continued access to university education, the Government cannot continue to preside over a situation where the growth and development of the non-university component education system is severely retarded. The country needs to be able to build capacity at all levels.” – Budget 2013.
Forgotten is the pledge to reduce spending to the UWI and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) “through the use of special mechanisms that will help these agencies to be more self-efficient in terms of their financing. Such mechanisms can be in the form of a special education and health fund to be financed by Government and the private sector”.
Government said it recognized the need to generate additional revenue to fill the financing gap caused partially by the shortfall from the traditional revenue sources and high expenditure.
“To ensure financial aptitude,” the strategy document said, “the Government of Barbados should therefore explore the option of using innovative sources of financing over the medium term as a means to augment revenue. Various non-traditional funding sources, instruments and mechanisms can therefore be tapped to secure additional funding.
“These include, among others, climate change-related instruments and mechanisms (please note that Guyana, for example, is to get US$250 million in cash over a five-year period for protecting its forests), diaspora bonds, enhanced technical and financial cooperation with development partners, counter-cyclical loans, and south-south cooperation.
“While it is not possible to fully quantify the additional revenue from these innovative sources, the expectations are that it can be significant.”
The Beckles Commission identified alternative funding models that it believed would continue to make tertiary education affordable and accessible to all citizens.
Among them is a recommendation for a revision of the current model of financing to meet policy imperatives set out 50 years ago into a “shared-costing model” in response to the need for the continuation of that vision and policy.
It would see an 85 per cent contribution by Government inclusive of a Higher Education Levy; ten per cent by the private sector and five per cent (up from the current two to three per cent) by the consumer (students).
“It is now properly recognized that while the tertiary funding model remains relevant,” the report said, “it is necessary to make adjustments in order to reflect the benefits of past decades. This report therefore suggests the need to make some adjustments without in any way subverting the general integrity of the model.”
We have already heard the cries of currently enrolled students who fear they might not be able to finance completion of their degrees, and the anguish of aspirants to tertiary education.
I do not believe that it is too late for Government to roll back this decision and work a little harder to raise the funds and not simply take what seems to be the easy, way out.