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IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: Selfish Bajans hurting student loan scheme


IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: Selfish Bajans hurting student loan scheme

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BY NOW ANYONE WHO KNOWS ME knows that I have a huge problem with the decision of the Government to make Barbadian students studying at the University of the West Indies pay tuition fees.

This, however, is not to suggest that I don’t acknowledge that the country has grave financial challenges and it would be folly to believe we could all continue with business as usual. My problem is that if Government felt it necessary to introduce tuition fees, then it should have been done with ample time for students and prospective students to plan.

Introducing such fees for the first time is not like raising bus fare or adding a few percentage points on VAT. As Government spokespersons have themselves acknowledged, planning for higher education when the recipient is expected to pay takes years. Parents have to put aside funds monthly, plan for loans, or put insurance coverage in place or invest with the intention of cashing in when the individual starts education at that level.

I also hold the view that there was another far less disruptive and more fundamental approach that could have been taken. A major capital injection into the Student Revolving Loan Fund (SRLF) and an adjustment of borrowing criteria could have led to an even larger burden being lifted from the Government’s shoulder and students being asked to pay an even larger percentage than just the tuition fees – yet with far less disruption to students and pain to UWI.

But all of that is preamble to my main point, which really is about the SRLF. This is a mechanism that has been supported well by both political parties and has been a virtual saviour and dream maker for countless Barbadians. We know that one traditional black eye of the fund has been its inability or failure to collect a substantial amount of money from largely dishonest Barbadians who have benefited immensely from its support.

As far as I am concerned, despite this not so pretty side of the fund’s profile, the facility has been well managed. The fact that it is still solvent and continuing to lend money in the face of a too-large number of ungrateful beneficiaries, while buffeted by an economic climate that has left many entities in the public and private sectors reeling, must speak to the quality of leadership.

And why am I going on about this matter? In a handbook from the Society for Professional Journalists (SPJ), it advises reporters that the surest way to protect the identity of a source is not to tell anyone in the newsroom. The message is essentially that reporters will talk. So I hope my North American correspondent, Tony Best, will forgive me.

Just over two weeks ago, Tony promised a particular story for the Sunday Sun, but was unable to deliver. When I asked him why, he explained that one of the subjects of the story, a settled, high-income, successful Barbadian doctor living in the United States had changed her mind because she had borrowed money from the Student Revolving Loan Fund, had not paid back and felt, on reflection, that if she got the publicity they would be able to find her.

That’s why I am ranting. There are too many successful professionals who are earning high incomes and building huge reputations on the back of the SRLF, and who are in a position to repay with little to no disruption of their standard of living but are just plain “wuffless”.

In my opinion they are selfish, unpatriotic and have little regard for other Barbadians who are now setting out on a journey to gain a tertiary education and make a name for themselves. I have no idea how much money is owed to the SRLF by way of arrears, but I am absolutely sure that if it was paid the folks at the Elsie Payne Complex would be able to do so much more for so many more.

There is also another case of which I am aware where two friends of mine signed as guarantors, on my recommendation, for another Bajan who headed off to the US more than a decade ago to study. That individual acquired her bachelor’s and master’s degrees and never returned home and is now practising in her chosen profession, owns her own home and is raising her family.

Last month, however, through the local courts the SRLF enforced an order that now compels the guarantors to repay $30 000 each in agreed monthly instalments. For doing a good deed their pockets have been squeezed while the beneficiary lives comfortably in North America.

It is this kind of behaviour that will make younger Barbadians less trustful and respectful of those who came before them. It is also why so many Barbadians hold the view that those who have made it to the top have no problem kicking down the ladder behind them. It is why the explanations from the Government over its UWI decision ring so hollow.

Every day in households and organisations people in leadership roles have no choice but to make hard decisions that cause pain. How those decisions are arrived at and how they are communicated often make the world of difference to how they are received by those who will bear the pain.