by Carol Williams and Anesta Henry
Government is being put on notice that it will face increased pressure over its decision to make Barbadian students pay tuition fees at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus when the new academic year commences in September.
As early as this coming weekend, members of civil society are expected to select a group to lobby the Ministry of Education and the University on behalf of students who cannot afford to pay the fees.
The initiative is being led by the University of the Independence Square of which David Comissiong is
the chief organiser.
“We are going to propose to the gathering on Saturday that we establish a team of persons with a mandate to go forward to make this case to the Minister of Education, to the authorities at the Cave Hill Campus and to say to the students ‘we are here to represent you, to fight for you and any of you who, come September, find yourself in a situation where you really should be sitting in a classroom at Cave Hill but you are sitting at home for the simple reason that you come from a poor family and you do not have the money to pay, we will represent you because we are not prepared to have a Barbados in which that happens’,” he told Barbados TODAY.
“We are saying that education must be seen as a fundamental human and civil right in Barbados and that no Barbadian must be denied an education at our Cave Hill Campus of the UWI simply because they happen to come from a poor family.”
Meanwhile, President of the Guild of Students at the Cave Hill Campus Damani Parris told Barbados TODAY that while the tuition fee payment plan, which has been offered by the University, will be a help to some, a significant number of students had made it clear they could not afford to pay.
He is standing his ground that there could still be a significant drop in numbers at the start of the new academic year.
The University’s payment plan, advertised in the local media, is aimed at alleviating the hardship of students who have not been able to access funding or have only been able to acquire part of the required tuition fees.
According to the UWI: “Access to the Student Tuition Fee Payment Plan will be available only in the case where there is clear evidence that the student has sought and has been unable to secure the total tuition for the academic year.
“In this regard, the student will be required to provide documentary evidence that efforts have been made to obtain funding from public or private sector agencies, for example, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, the Student Revolving Loan Fund, commercial banks and credit unions,” it added.
Students will be required to make monthly installments to be paid by the 28th of each month, commencing this month, and will be required to be up-to-date with their payments in order to sit examinations each semester.
“We are supporting our principal in his aim to see that every student returns to the Campus in September and that definitely will be the aim of the Guild of Students,” Parris said.
However, he said, the Guild was still very concerned that the University would lose an estimated 50 per cent of its population based on the fact that some students who are dependent on the bursaries and support from the revolving loan fund – both of which would not be available when registration starts next week – may not return to Campus or may be forced to take leave.
“Hopefully, that number decreases but I cannot see it becoming much better than 30 per cent at this point. There is going to be a significant drop off in students as the Guild predicted when this policy first came out. Definitely what I have been hearing from students within the last few weeks is that they are seeking to have leaves of absence for either a semester or a year,” he said.
“I cannot be very optimistic about numbers at this point and as we warned the Ministry the effects of moving this policy [free tuition] were going to be catastrophic. The issue right now is to see how catastrophic it is going to be in practical terms,” he said.