UWI tuition fee: in search of compromise
AMID THE ONGOING controversies over the surprising announcement that Barbadian students at campuses of the University of the West Indies (UWI) across the region would pay tuition fees from academic year 2014, there may yet be opportunities for compromise in the quest for an enlightened solution.
First, since both Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and Opposition Leader Mia Mottley have separately declared their interest in structured dialogue, they should perhaps refrain from further public squabbles and schedule a meeting with their respective teams of high-level advisers.
Such a meeting should, of necessity, bear in mind that the decision to make Barbadian students pay tuition fees, which account for 20 per cent of the cost of their university education, while Government continues to cover the economic cost, the other 80 per cent, came in the 2013 Budget without any prior official notification.
Therefore, should the Government prefer to remain adamant in implementing this measure, given the context of the prevailing economic challenges – some of its own making – then consideration could perhaps be given to phased implementation over two or, possibly, three years.
Prior to the structured Government/ Opposition meeting on the tuition fee issue, there could well be separate meetings between a representative delegation from the private sector and Prime Minister Stuart and, subsequently, between them and Opposition Leader Mottley.
Ideally, all three – Government, Opposition and private sector representatives – could meet at the same time. The intention, after all, is not to score political points and end in gridlock. Rather, it’s to embark on an honest quest for practical solutions. Regrettably, we do not live in an ideal world.
Nevertheless, should such a broadly-based meeting occur, perhaps the very experienced and widely respected vice-chancellor of the UWI, Professor Sir Nigel Harris, could well be invited as a special guest to share his own ideas. He is due in Barbados on a business visit shortly.
A pertinent reason for possible involvement of private sector representatives is the laudable contributions made over the years, in particular by some of our more high-profile entrepreneurs, in complementing the heavy costs incurred over the years by successive Governments to make a reality of the impressive transformation of what proudly exists today as the UWI Cave Hill Campus.
Finally, serious consideration should also be given to a separate meeting between a delegation of the student body with the Prime Minister and his advisers and, subsequently, a similar meeting with the Opposition Leader and her advisers.
A core issue for a meeting with UWI student representatives could be a phased introduction – over two, if not three years – for the payment of tuition fees.