By foisting the payment of tuition fees on the backs of the 7,000 odd mainly working-class young Barbadians who attend the University of the West Indies, the Democratic Labour Party governmental administration has committed an horrific act of political injustice against the people and nation of Barbados!
Without having consulted the Barbadian people in any way whatsoever, the governing DLP administration has dismantled the intrinsically Barbadian system of having the costs associated with educating the young people of Barbados borne by all of the citizens and taxpayers of our nation, and instead, are instituting a new system in which the tuition costs at UWI will have to be borne by the young students themselves!
Thus, working class families that are now struggling to put food on the table and to pay their utility bills, will now be required to find thousands (and in some cases tens of thousands) of additional dollars if their children are to have a university education at the UWI.
Furthermore, a system of education that has done wonders for the economic, social and cultural development of Barbados is being casually dismantled.
If this is not an act of political injustice, then what is?
The political injustice is amplified by the fact that Barbados has just gone through a General Election, and at no time during the course of that campaign did the DLP indicate to the Barbadian people that they were proposing to institute such a drastic severing of the fundamental social rights of the people of Barbados.
In fact, they did just the opposite — they suggested that it was the Barbados Labour Party that was threatening the social rights of the Barbadian people, and that a vote for the DLP would be a vote to preserve such social rights as the right to “free” education at the UWI!
Furthermore, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and the vast majority of his ministers have all benefitted from “free” education at the UWI!
Stuart himself was born into a poor working-class family and was raised by a single parent — his mother — who worked as a maid. But Stuart was fortunate to come of age in an Independent nation whose founder/leader, Errol Walton Barrow, had had the good sense to accord the right of young Barbadians to education from the primary level to university level, the status of a de facto fundamental human right, and to put a system in place whereby the cost of education was collectively borne by all taxpayers, rather than being left on the shoulders of the individual student and his or her biological family.
As a result, Freundel Stuart was able to pursue no less than three different university degrees at the Cave Hill campus, as well as the legal education course at Hugh Wooding Law School — all at the expense of the taxpayers of Barbados! Now, however, this man who used the “free” education system to pursue the equivalent of four degrees, intends to close off the opportunity for the current generation of young Barbadians to pursue even one degree without having to bear the tuition costs themselves.
Surely, Barrow must be rolling over in his grave as he witnesses this repudiation of all that he stood for! Surely his soul must be in anguish over the fact that Prime Minister Stuart and his colleagues have carried out the long-standing agenda of the elitists and snobs of our society who were always hostile to his progressive programme of free university education.
Stuart and his DLP colleagues need to listen to the voice of Errol Barrow! Barrow may be dead, but he still speaks to us from the pages of the many speeches and essays that he has left behind.
Listen, for example, to the statement written by Errol Barrow in 1985, a mere two years before his death, and published in the DLP booklet titled 30 Years And Onward:
“I have always thought of myself as a Socialist in the general terms of the British Labour Party … Democratic Socialism is about planning and equality of opportunity.
“It has always been fundamental to our basic philosophy. We have tried to ensure, so far as possible, that every child born in Barbados has the opportunity to develop the talents with which the Lord has blessed it, regardless of the family circumstances into which it happened to be born.
“That is why one of the first things we did when we won the Government was to decree that secondary education (and subsequently tertiary education) would be free of charge… The success of that programme has been proven for all to see — some of the beneficiaries are now amongst our most vociferous critics.”
And if that statement is not clear enough for Messers Stuart, Sinckler and Jones, then perhaps they should listen to the lecture on Democracy And Development that Barrow delivered on Friday the
25th April 1980:
“The distribution of largesse … cannot be development. Conspicuous consumption by politicians … is not development. The construction of office buildings … is not development. The purchase of warships and armoured cars is not development.
“Gambling is not development…
“It stands to reason that any political party seeking to fulfill the expectations of the populace for Equality, Job Security, the ending of Privilege and so on, must set out to accomplish these objectives in a planned and organised manner, working along with the people…
“The record of the DLP in fulfilling these objectives has made it possible for real human development to take place. The elimination of the inequalities of the school fees system and text books, the provision of hot meals, the introduction of National Insurance and Social Security … training in the hotel industry and in the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic, the Community College, the provision of free university education… All of these … illustrate that our living has not been in vain.
“Let us conclude by summing up democracy and development in my terms… The people must tell the (political) representatives … what they expect of our political and economic system. Particularly the young must be made to feel that someone is prepared to listen to them. They are tired of being told what they are expected to do. It is time we ask the young people of Barbados how best do you think you can develop as a person. How best can we help you to be creative and to realise to the maximum your human potential.”
So there you have it! In spite of whatever difficulties Barbados may be facing as a nation, the very last thing that Errol Barrow would have contemplated doing as a response to those difficulties is to eliminate the provision of the university education for the young men and women of Barbados! And certainly not without first consulting the young people of Barbados!
In fact, Barrow would never have believed that the jettisoning of free university education could ever be considered the appropriate response to an economic crisis! On the contrary, he would have asserted that it is when faced with an economic crisis that more than ever Barbados would need to devote its collective resources to the education of its young people!
Messers Stuart, Sinckler, Jones and their other colleagues seem determined to undo the good work that Barrow performed for this country, and reduce Barrow’s life to a life that was lived “in
vain”. They seem determined to create a situation in which the number of young Barbadian school-leavers entering UWI will decline, leaving many such school leavers to fend for themselves in a society that is currently devoid of job opportunities.
The DLP Administration seems determined to throw away the Barbadian advantage of having its young adult population occupied in constructive tertiary education programmes — the critical prerequisite for any future national economic development programme. Indeed, they seem determined to start Barbados on the same road to social decay that countries like Jamaica trod when IMF imposed conditionalities created restrictions on access to education.
Well, it is up to us to stop them!
The people of Barbados never gave the DLP Government any mandate to dismantle the system of “free” university education. Let us therefore raise our voices and demand that they put this issue to a vote by all of the people of Barbados in a nation-wide referendum!
We, the Barbadian people, must be permitted to have a say in something as fundamental and serious as this!
* David Comissiong is president of the Peoples Empowerment Party.