UWI ‘here to stay’
The University of the West Indies (UWI) is not headed for the “dustbin of history”.
This assurance was given yesterday by UWI Chancellor Sir George Alleyne, at the first of two graduation ceremonies held by the Cave Hill campus at the Garfield Sobers Sports Complex.
Sir George said the tight finances at Cave Hill might have conjured up the image of a weakened institution, unable to discharge its pristine function of contributing to human development in the Caribbean.
“But, as I have said here before, universities are durable institutions and ours is no exception . . . . There is not the slightest chance that the university that your and my forefathers dreamed of is headed for the dustbin of history,” he noted.
Cave Hill has been hit by reduced student numbers as a result of a cut in direct funding by the Barbados Government, which now requires local students to pay their own tuition fees. The Government has also built up a large debt.
The honorary head of the university said there was almost universal agreement that the business model that sustained universities for generations had to change.
“That model was predicated on majority public support for the higher education enterprise that focused on presential teaching and education, predominantly for the young,” he said. “There are now three threats. There is the problem of funding the enterprise, there is the challenge of the technological revolution that is affecting all, I repeat all aspects of our lives and finally we have to accept that the speed of social change means that formal learning is not the peculiar province of the young.”
In relation to public funding of universities, Sir George said the current dilemma was that university costs were rising and government contributions in the Caribbean could not keep up with the increases.
“Governments, especially in this time of financial constraint, have difficulty in funding the institution to the extent we believe they would wish. Professor Downs, pro vice-chancellor for planning, tells me that the government contribution to the university has fallen from 56 per cent in 2002/2003 to 50 per cent in 2011/2012. But let us be clear that 50 per cent still represents a tremendous contribution from the Caribbean public purse.
“Our strategic plan acknowledges this and the university has sought strenuously both to reduce operating costs as well as to find new sources of income. But let me make it clear that we continue to value and be grateful to governments for their manifest support.”
In reference to students being required to pay their tuition costs, Sir George said: “I wish to divorce this tendency for reduction in government financial support from the payment of student fees. Our University Council recommended recently that student contribution to the economic costs should at present be pegged at 20 per cent. I have on more than one occasion stated my position on the funding of tertiary education, starting with the thesis that the university provides both public and private or positional goods.
“The graduate benefits materially from university education, so to that extent enjoys a private good and as such should contribute to the cost of the education . . . . What has been difficult is to find a good formula to establish on the basis of some objective criteria what should be the relative weights of the private and public goods in monetary terms.”
He added that there might be good social reasons for absolving the student from contributing that have to be examined as social conditions change.
“I accept that there will always be students with the ability but not the means to benefit from university education and I understand that measures have been put in place by the Government of Barbados to ensure that needy students are not denied university education. In addition, I acknowledge the validity of the position that changes in such important items as educational fees need longer, rather than shorter, lead times. However, I also believe that any form of subsidy that is allocated without differentiation as to means is inherently unfair.”
Yesterday’s graduating class was close to 2 000 – the largest for the past five years. (MB)