A survey of 702 Barbadian undergraduate students was conducted to examine the personal (financial) adjustments students were planning to make to address the demands associated with the tuition fee payments at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus.
The survey project also examined possible strategies that current students could utilize to continue their education at UWI, as well as possible strategies for prospective students to fund their education at UWI. Finally, this survey project offered some possible solutions to students, UWI, and financial/lending institutions to consider.
In a similar survey conducted last year (September/October 2013), approximately half of the sampled Barbadian undergraduate students indicated they would not able to continue their undergraduate studies at the campus due to the required tuition fees. Hence, the current survey provides an important follow-up to the issue of tuition fees at UWI and associated recommendations.
This current survey, which was conducted in the middle of March 2014, comprised 76 per cent of female students and 24 per cent of male students, which is largely reflective of the gender distribution in the undergraduate student population at UWI.
The largest percentage of students fell into the 21 to 29 age group (49 per cent), followed by the 16 to 19 age group (19 per cent), and the 30 to 39 age group (16 per cent). The remaining 16 per cent comprised students of 40 years and above.
Based on the current survey results, students indicated that they were willing to make the following personal adjustments to cover tuition fees. The top three suggestions are listed in order of popularity:
1. Increase personal savings and cut unnecessary expenditure.
2. Find additional (part-time) employment or other revenue-generating options.
3. Secure affordable loan arrangements with banks/credit unions
Students also made some important suggestions for Government and/or UWI to consider in light of the situation. The top suggestions are listed in order of popularity:
1. Introduce and increase tuition fees incrementally on a yearly basis.
2. Provide affordable loan arrangement options or payment plans for Barbadian students.
3. Remove the fee payment requirement for students already in the UWI system and implement this requirement for students of the new academic year.
4. Require all students, new and continuing, to pay only a portion (for example, 20 to 25 per cent) of tuition costs.
5. Implement a student admission cap (quota system) in which Government will agree to cover all costs for a certain agreed upon number of students by faculty each year to control their expenditure to the campus.
Furthermore, the survey assessed how much students would be able to afford, if they were given the opportunity to pay their tuition on a monthly basis.
The results revealed that approximately 74 per cent of students indicated they would be able to afford up to $300 a month to cover their tuition on a monthly basis.
A further breakdown of these results revealed that 30 per cent indicated they could afford $100 to $150 per month, 24 per cent indicated $151 to $200 per month, and 20 per cent indicated $201 to $300 a month.
A follow-up question revealed that over 50 per cent of students would be willing to pursue a loan arrangement that required the aforementioned, affordable monthly payments (a possible market for financial/lending agencies?).
Overall, the findings suggest that students might be willing to continue or pursue their UWI studies once they are provided some ease in tuition fee payments, perhaps through the availability of affordable payment plans or loan arrangements.
Clearly, the major goal of this survey project is not only to provide solutions for Barbadian UWI students, but also to present commercial opportunities to relevant financial/lending institutions. Financial and other lending institutions (for example, banks, credit unions, and so on) can benefit significantly through the provision of affordable “student-centred” loan arrangements, perhaps, a “UWI Student Loan Package”.
However, these institutions would realistically put measures in place to secure successful repayments and reduce the risk of default, including the use of special payment plans, sureties and other mechanisms. Special student loan payment plans may allow students to access or draw down loan funds on a yearly basis, rather than accessing the full amount covering the total academic period of three years for full-time studies, to permit lower monthly loan repayments.
Hence, UWI will be able to require students to make their full yearly or semester payments for academic study, and students will be able to complete their studies without the heavy financial burden of “paying out their pockets” for the full year.
Effective access to loan funds yearly may be linked to students’ successful completion of courses in each semester or academic year.
In light of the current economic situation in Barbados, a possible grace period might be suggested where students would start loan repayments after completion of their studies. Although an unpopular suggestion for some lending agencies, it is worthy of careful thought. Moreover, the University of the West Indies should work closely with selected financial/lending institutions to develop and implement these student-based loan programmes effectively and efficiently.
It is not expected that every student or prospective student will qualify for these programmes, but such opportunities will help substantially increase the number of students seeking enrolment at the University of the West Indies.
I believe that wisdom should prevail in finding solutions to the situation facing the University of the West Indies and such wisdom requires careful planning, consultation and action.
My next project concerns the OECS students at UWI and possible strategies to improve the undergraduate student applications from the OECS region to UWI.
(Dr Dwayne Devonish is a lecturer in management studies in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill.)