BLP DISTRESSED OVER SIGNIFICANT DECLINE IN UWI APPLICANTS
The Barbados Labour Party is extremely concerned and disturbed to have received confirmation from the Principal of the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus that he “anticipates a sixty per cent decline in students attending the campus in the next academic year” when, for the first time in its 50 plus year history, Barbadians will be forced by their Government to pay their own tuition fees at this institution.
This revelation by Sir Hilary Beckles gives absolute credence to our Party’s consistent public criticism of the retrogressive DLP’s new educational policy announced during the August 2013 budget presentation of the Finance Minister.
We have constantly warned the Government that its decision will result in thousands of our citizens either withdrawing from the University of the West Indies or opting not to enter the institution, simply because they cannot possibly afford to pay tuition fees ranging from between $6,000.00 and $17,000.00 each year for full-time students in order to obtain a tertiary degree. Indeed it is now questionable whether any Barbadian from a working class background will be able to pursue medical studies at the University of the West Indies without the benefit of a scholarship since this degree will cost $180,000.00, according to Sir Hilary, for the first three years of the course.
In one fell swoop, the Stuart/Sinckler/Jones administration has destroyed the worthy aspirations and ambitions of many poor Barbadians. These persons comprise 80 per cent of our citizens attending the University of the West Indies campuses throughout the region. Their only sin has been to dream that their full potential can be realized by a university education which will lead them, their families and extended communities out of poverty and into better economic circumstances. The DLP has even unconscionably dismissed our Party’s suggestion that those already undertaking studies at our universities be allowed a reasonable period within which to complete their degrees without having to pay their own tuition fees, since they would have entered these institutions with a reasonable expectation that the status quo would have continued. Furthermore, they have failed to even consider our proposal to waive those tuition fees of eligible persons with disabilities, who are generally among the most vulnerable individuals in our country.
Minister Sinckler on 13th August last year announced that “the Ministry of Education will provide further details on a Means Testing Mechanism to ensure that no deserving person is denied access to university education because of the means of their parents”. He went on to further state that “adequate access to loans with attractive repayment terms is available while the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs will in the coming week work with local finance houses to establish a National Registration Education Savings Plan with appropriate tax allowance provisions for savers” (see page 64 of the 2013 Financial Statement and Budgetary Proposals).
We have however heard not one single word from any policy maker in Government from the Prime Minister down on any of these issues since the Minister of Education in his contribution two days afterwards, in what we strongly believe was a knee jerk, thoughtless reaction to our criticism of the new policy during that debate, stated that Government would guarantee these student revolving fund loans. This statement, from the official with cabinet responsibility for ensuring the education of our population, makes absolutely no political sense. If that is indeed the intention, the Government could as well continue to pay our citizen’s tuition costs, as we in the BLP have urged it to do. Instead it appears that the fundamental viability of our University of the West Indies in the immediate future is in jeopardy.
The only initiative which has been so far announced to assist in the funding of these fees by persons who cannot afford to pay has been that taken last month by the banks, credit unions and other financial agencies. The Government needs, with urgency and without any further delay, to announce to the public the details of a loan scheme for university students with low attractive interest rates, with other favourable terms and conditions and without burdensome penalties for contractual breach. These loans must be equally accessible to all Barbadians regardless of class, colour, creed or political persuasion.
In the meantime, all of us BLP Members of Parliament and constituency caretakers know of many constituents who have decided to drop out of university after this academic year ends next month due to their inability and that of their families to raise the necessary finances to continue their respective education. We all know of other constituents who, having previously considered attending university, have now not even bothered to apply for admission before the stated closing date due to the same reason. Furthermore, their employment prospects are slim, at a time when Government has fired thousands of public sector employees and has sent thousands more back to their substantive posts. Additionally, consideration has to be given to the 5,000 odd young people who will be completing their secondary education in the next two months, a significant amount of whom are already contemplating a dim future in all of these circumstances.
In the meantime, we hear Minister Jones recently hint at an impending social amenities tax, if he gets his way with his cabinet colleagues. Furthermore, only this week Minister Senator Darcy Boyce proposed a new tax to facilitate lower income housing. These new tax initiatives, following on closely from the recently introduced Consolidation tax and the Municipal Solid Waste tax, are being proposed at a time when Barbadians are already taxed beyond capacity while receiving less social, educational and health services from the State.
EDMUND G. HINKSON
Saint James North M.P and Shadow Minister of Education