EDITORIAL: Free education’s potential gains now in jeopardy
GIVEN THE HISTORICAL and political legacy of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP), the policy of calling upon students to pay for tertiary level education must rank as a political game changer.
Less than 50 years ago, this country escaped from the hand of the colonial master and Errol Barrow set about to build a nation. The most productive manner in which to do so was to build up the people, for colonialism was at best a system of benign neglect and at worst the crass exploitation of a country and its resources.
And our people, being our best resource, did not escape such exploitation. However described, the task facing the DLP was considerable.
That party and its major rival the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) have performed heroically in modernising the network of cane fields and cart roads into a country that can challenge any of the developing countries in the world.
In many respects our infrastructure, both physical and social, approaches First World standard, and in some cases has attained that standard.
In fact we were famously reminded that our country though small was punching above its weight. That was a compliment to both our political parties and to the leaders which we had so far produced.
There are signs on the horizon suggesting that the gains so far attained may now be in jeopardy.
Unbridled access to education has long been seen as the ladder upon which our social, financial and even political ability could be attained, and the establishment of a campus of the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill immeasurably enhanced the lives of thousands of Barbadians.
The country may be experiencing major fiscal problems and some adjustment may be necessary; but what is now the emerging middle class is the first wave of those who have escaped the raw poverty trap of postcolonial Barbados, through free secondary and tertiary level education.
They are precisely those who may now have to carry the burden, as parents, of paying their children’s tertiary level tuition fees, since their circumstances of pay cheque to pay cheque prosperity may exclude them from securing bursary assistance.
We fully appreciate the difficulties facing the Government, but social policy is not like instant coffee.
The policy on education cannot be distilled in a moment, and the picture presented of the current policy on tuition fees suggests a certain sense of haste which has not permitted the careful study of all its implications.
We are particularly concerned about the impact of this new policy on those who have started a degree programme, and coming as they did from straitened circumstances will have started the course mainly because there was no obligation to pay tuition fees.
The imposition of fees in midstream may cause some of them to abandon their studies.
Proper study of the policy would have unearthed that swathe of uncured poverty which still stalks this land and from which those trapped therein can only escape with assistance from the state.
No student of promise and qualification who wishes to study at the campus should be prevented from so doing or, worse, from continuing to study and being allowed to wither on the vine simply because that student and his or her parents are too poor to afford the payment of tuition fees.
Whatever the current financial stringencies, the Government is better able to handle these burdens and there seems to be some merit in the suggestion that, at the very least, those who enrolled under the free system should receive special consideration.
We support this idea, and call for some kind of lifeboat to be lowered to assist those students whose expectations may have been so cruelly dashed.