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EDITORIAL: Important not to misfire in tuition debate

BEA DOTTIN, [email protected]

EDITORIAL: Important not to misfire in tuition debate

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The debate on education and the payment of tuition fees by students continues apace, with many citizens making their contribution to the debate and not least among these comments are those of Minister of Education Mr Ronald Jones and principal of the Cave Hill Campus, Sir Hilary Beckles.
Debates on social issues are important because they provide some evidence of the real power in the society. Ultimately, those in the halls of power, and in this we include the Opposition, are seeking to persuade the voters – who have and exercise the real power in our political system – that their policies are better than those coming from the other party.
Very often, in the voluminous crosstalk, the real substance of the debate is lost. This must not happen in the present situation. For if it does, then we would have learnt nothing and tomorrow we will face a similar situation in other areas of our national circumstances.
We cannot fail to wonder at how we have repeated the mistakes of the early 1990s, and therefore clear analysis is critical not only to burrow our way out, but to make sure that we don’t end up in a similar condition in the future.
It is remarkable that no one seriously thought or talked of charging fees for tertiary level education at that time. Perhaps we were too close to the quagmire of post-colonial poverty to even dare think of it as part of a way out; or perhaps proper analysis of the issues then suggested that the real problem was located elsewhere.
Superficial analysis will not help us at this time. When it suits them, some politicians tell us that all our problems are due to local mismanagement when they are in opposition, whereas they blame external factors for the same problems when they are in power. This should not happen!
If certain problems are systemic, the citizens of this country – as the ultimate owners of this rock in all its facets – must be truthfully informed. And they must be engaged in helping to shape policy that is acceptable to the society, which will carry it to fruition in tandem with the Government of the day.
We cannot solve any problems by engaging in scare tactics when sensitive issues like privatization and tertiary level tuition fees are raised for public consideration. Such action will return to haunt both the politicians and the society.
As we sort our way through the undergrowth of these issues, two other realities have to be faced. If the Government and the University of the West Indies were collaborating on campus expansion plans, as Sir Hilary said, then did someone drop the ball on the question of financing of the campus?
This is one of the questions that must be rationally examined and answered. So, too, must be the relationship between our current revenue and the growth in current expenditure. These are key aspects because, in order for us not to make a third mistake, we need to understand how revenue and expenditure have behaved in the run-up to this crisis.
Hindsight is often said to be 20-20 vision; but if we are able to understand why we got here in the first place, we will be better able to avoid returning here in the future. We owe ourselves that much.