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WHAT MATTERS MOST: Tragedy in Govt cuts

Dr Clyde Mascoll

WHAT MATTERS MOST: Tragedy in Govt cuts

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Never was the saying ‘Where there is no vision the people perish’ more relevant than in the Government’s decision to make Barbadian students pay part of their tuition fee. In essence, the conscious struggles of the last 50 years have been severely compromised by the short-sightedness of a backward Government.

This short-sightedness started when the current administration completely abandoned the fiscal model that brought Barbados from obscurity to a country described as punching above its weight.

The post-Moyne Commission journey was conceived with the country’s limited physical resources in mind, but ever mindful that there was no limit to the capacity of its human resources.

The circumstances leading to Barbadians having to pay tuition fees are indicative of how lost Barbados has become – when we cut the legs of the ladder upon which we climbed economically and socially to get the numbers right without reference to the damage done to the soul of our nation.

Now that information is available on the student enrolment for the current academic year 2014/2015, it is possible to better assess the Government’s decision to make Barbadian students pay a portion of their tuition cost.

The Moore et al study on the University of the West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill’s economic impact on Barbados is a very helpful source of information.

According to the study, the Government contributed $123.3 million of the campus’ income of $208.8 in the academic year 2012/2013. With a total non-Barbadian student roll of 1 615, the Barbadian student roll was in the region of 7 000, which is a convenient figure to work with. 

In August of last year, the Minister of Finance presented a 19-month Fiscal Adjustment Programme which included cutting the Government’s payment for producing students at UWI by $42 million in the fiscal year 2014/2015. The Barbadian student roll was still in the region of 7 000.

Therefore, the convenience of the number suggests that the Government was seeking to extract an average of $6 000 in tuition fees per student. Perhaps it was not contemplated by the minister that enrolment would decline and if he did contemplate a decline, the problem would have been his inability to calculate the magnitude.

However, economics students know that changing the price of a good/service has both a substitution effect and an income effect. Therefore, both the quantity demanded of the good and the demand for the good are affected.

In the case of university education, the former is not possible but the latter was always possible. In short, in pursuing a degree, a student cannot reduce the amount of courses taken and still qualify and so he/she either continues or drops out of the programme, thus affecting the demand for university education.

It is therefore not surprising that having to pay the tuition fee has reduced student enrolment from 8 713 in 2013/2014 to 6 187 in 2014/2015. The effect of the reduced demand is that the Government will cut much more than the intended $42 million in the current academic year. What a tragedy!

On average, the enrolled students would contribute in excess of $32 million in tuition fees. However, based on the recent historical data, approximately 82 per cent of the 2 526 or just over 2 000 Barbadian students who have not enrolled would save the Government all of the economic and tuition costs when compared to the previous year. This translates into further cuts of about $34 million for the Government in the current academic year.  

There are costs to university education but the benefits outweigh them. The economic benefits were very well presented in the Moore et al study and, equally importantly, the methodology was outlined. A group of eminently qualified professionals made up the research team, yet it was believed in some quarters that it was a self-serving exercise. What rubbish!

Between 1937 and 1966, the period of decolonisation, the preconditions for an economic system to be led by an emerging middle class took root. At the same time, changes to the process of parliamentary democracy paved the way for a new political class to born out of the emerging class. These parallel developments gave birth to a new confidence among the working class, who became involved in party politics in the hope that the future of both classes could be inextricably linked.

The creation of the post-colonial state in Barbados is still a work in progress but unfortunately, its main artery has now been severely damaged by a regressive Government.

• Dr Clyde Mascoll is an economist and Opposition Barbados Labour Party adviser on the economy. Email [email protected]