Existing and prospective Barbadian students of the University of the West Indies (UWI) have been thrown a lifeline.
Principal of the Cave Hill Campus Sir Hilary Beckles today promised that a “flexible payment arrangement” would be offered to those who were in a “desperate situation”.
He said the decision was taken at a meeting of the Campus’ finance committee on Monday.
At the same time, Sir Hilary said he remained hopeful that Government would find a way to pay the approximately $200 million it owes the regional institution.
Despite promises made as recent as March last year that the cash-strapped university would be given the majority of what it was owed by July this year, Sir Hilary said the university was still waiting to be paid by the Freundel Stuart administration.
“There are various strategies that have been used in the past so we are still hopeful that the Government, with its cash flow challenges, might be able to work out an instrument or facility that will enable us to survive because we have obligations to meet and with some goodwill I think we could find a way forward as other governments have found ways forward in the past,” he said.
However, he acknowledged problems in the the domestic economy, saying “in my own judgment I think if the Government had the resources they would have made them available to us, but the fact is that they don’t have them”.
In relation to student debt, Sir Hilary also said: “We have a number of students who are currently struggling to meet their obligation to us. But it is not a challenge that we are overly concerned about because we understand it . . . when our students fall we don’t step on them, we try to give them a leg up”.
Since the Government announced that Barbadian students will pay university fees for the first time come September, as much as 25 per cent of existing students have expressed concern that they would not be able to continue tertiary studies.
So far, applications to the Cave Hill Campus have fallen by about 40 per cent, forcing that institution to reopen the application process and a number of financial institutions to offer students attractive loan packages.
However, Sir Hilary said it was realized that despite the range of loans and other financial assistance, many students would still not be able to access those financing options and therefore would not be in a position to pay their tuition on time.
“The message that Cave Hill wishes to send to all of our students and to all of our potential students, is that Cave Hill is a family and we will never turn our back on our members. Those who will find themselves in great difficulty must come to Cave Hill and speak to us about the facilities that we can put in place to assist those who are in a desperate situation,” said Sir Hilary.
“If you cannot participate in the financial arrangements, if you do not have the capacity to do that, do not give up on your education, do not retreat from your studies. You come in and you will speak to us and we will make sure that every member of the Cave Hill family is protected and taken care of,” he promised.
His assurance came today at a media conference where Scotiabank handed over a cheque totalling $45,000 to provide 15 bursaries for existing Cave Hill campus students over the next two years.
The bursaries will be going to students majoring in Management Studies, Economics or Finance. Ten bursaries will be issued in the first year – five to second year students and five to third year students – while the other five will be issued next year to students who will be in their third year.
Expressing gratitude to the financial institution for its role in ensuring that students were able to continue their studies, Sir Hilary urged all current and prospective students to explore all available financing options.
He added, however, that he hoped with time the various facilities would be made “even more generous with respect to the interest rates and the terms”.