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EDITORIAL: Barbados’ lesson for New York


EDITORIAL: Barbados’ lesson for New York

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NEW YORK WOULDN’T admit it, but chances are the best known state in America may have learned something from tiny Barbados.

The lesson: if you can afford it and are determined to give the poor and the middle-class a chance to climb the economic and social ladder at a fast pace, provide young people with tuition-free tertiary education at taxpayers’ expense.

That’s what New York is about to do, more than 40 years after Barbados became one of a few countries in the world to offer citizens tuition-free university education. Undoubtedly, we have reaped some marvellous dividends from it.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed into law a bill ushering in an era of free tuition at schools of higher learning, making New York the first state in the United States to take such a bold step. Hurrah!

Interestingly, thousands of Barbadians, Guyanese, Trinidadians and other West Indians who call New York home-away-from home will benefit from the plan, provided they are attending colleges of the State University of New York and the City University of New York.

Another reason why we hail the giant step is that Barbados has seen the rewards which a society receives from putting the emphasis on education. We have benefited significantly from the bold vision of Errol Barrow, Sir James Tudor and others in the Government in the 1960s who launched the initiative. We also must say thanks to successive leaders such as Tom Adams, Sir Bernard St John, Sir Lloyd Sandiford and Owen Arthur for carrying it on.

Sadly, free university education ended recently in Barbados for a simple reason: we can no longer afford it. Today, Barbadian students must pay a mere 20 per cent of the tuition at the University of the West Indies (UWI). That’s not too much to ask of Bajans during these very difficult national financial times. Just the other day we ran a story about the $200 million debt Barbados owes the UWI. It was incurred because we were too cavalier in meeting our financial obligations on behalf of the students who weren’t paying any tuition.

The truth is that the Stuart Administration rushed the implementation of the tuition plan, instead of carefully introducing it over time. It shows that it isn’t always what you do but how you do it.

That brings us back to New York’s scheme. It contains some important caveats that Barbados could have introduced decades ago but ignored.

For instance, New York limits eligibility to students of colleges of the State University of New York and the City University of New York whose families earn US$125 000 a year or less. Next, students must agree to live in the state for four years after graduation. If they don’t, they must pay back the money. Just as important, they must graduate in four years.

Should a future Barbados Government re-introduce free tuition, it should consider certain caveats.