EDITORIAL: Graduates, honour your debts
There are few things Barbadians cherish more than success in education. This is always evident, given the public adulation offered, particularly when it involves success in higher education. So, to whom much is given, much is expected.
Barbados prides itself on providing easily accessible education for its citizens and the results are evident: a good workforce which has been able to make good economic and social strides.
While the cost of education is continually spiralling, making access to student aid even more critical, investing in higher education is a necessity. It is about this country’s competitiveness, which must not be undermined if we are to compete across the world. It comes with a price.
That is why access to education funding through avenues such as the Student Revolving Loan Fund is so important. It has opened doors for many, some of whom have abused the opportunity by not repaying their loans. The report that the fund is owed in excess of $28 million by delinquent beneficiaries is unacceptable.
The suggestion by Minister of Education Ronald Jones to name and shame those who refuse to pay seems quite logical. Every effort must be made to recover those outstanding funds even if in an aggressive manner.
The fund must be able to work with the Barbados Revenue Authority to intercept any income tax refund to which a defaulter may be entitled. The ability to garnish some portion of the salary of a student loan beneficiary who is in default must also be exploited. Publishing of names, addresses and photographs of those who simply will not pay is not an unreasonable method to employ. Hopefully, current and prospective employers will also take note of the situation.
Every effort should be made to work with credit bureaux to rank defaulters as this will affect their ability to access credit on many levels. This will also send a warning to guarantors to take their obligations seriously and beware of the consequences when signing on to support a loan applicant.
We accept that student-loan default can be a reflection of a poor economy that offers up few job prospects for graduates. The fund has systems in place to work with those unemployed or underemployed students to defer payments and keep them in good standing until they have a job. Most of the defaulters Minister Jones has spoken of do not fall into that category. These are shirkers who seek to avoid their obligations.
Politicians from either side of the aisle, religious leaders and those leading sports, social and service clubs need to speak out on the immorality of not repaying these student loans. The message has to go out that those who benefit from the Student Revolving Loan Fund must remember their payments will benefit someone else.
Failing to repay is totally untenable for high-earning graduates. They must honour their financial responsibilities.