A step backwards and a victory for the enemies of free education.
That is how social activist David Comissiong has reacted to official statistics that show an almost 30 per cent drop in total student registration for the 2014/2015 academic year, following Government’s decision to discontinue paying tuition fees for Barbadian students attending the University of the West Indies (UWI) from this month.
The attorney-at-law said it was shameful that the people that inherited the legacy of Errol Barrow who introduced free tertiary education – the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) – have now delivered a victory to those who are against it.
“Those enemies of free education that always existed in the society, that felt that the national acceptance was so strong that they had to remain closeted, have now been handed a victory on a platter by this current DLP administration,” he said in an interview with Barbados TODAY.
“However, I want to warn the current administration that it will only be a temporary victory. The Barbadian people will not accept this development. This will
be seen as a temporary setback to be rectified as soon as possible.
“I would like to inform the current administration that whenever the people get a chance to express their opinion at the polls it will be severely punished. I can
tell them there is a penalty and it is coming and the people wished they could deliver that penalty now,” Comissiong warned.
Dismissing an earlier position expressed by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart that Barrow never intended free tertiary education to continue in perpetuity, Comissiong said there was no evidence that Barrow saw free education as a temporary feature and the argument that he saw an end to Government funded education was “ludicrous”.
“I think that is ridiculous because you can go back to several speeches by Barrow, including one made just about two years before his death in 1987, where he made it clear that this was part of our national arrangements,” Comissiong insisted.
“Politicians say what is convenient to say. They wanted to dismantle this social programme and sought to justify it by any means necessary. But the historical record is clear in several speeches; Barrow made his permanent commitment to that policy very clear.”
Comissiong argued that when free education was established in the 1960s, the Barbadian economy was much less developed and had fewer resources than currently exist.
“So to suggest that the infant economy that we had in the early 1960s could underwrite free education, but the much larger and more developed economy of 2014 cannot shows how ludicrous that argument is. It shows it is a question of priorities,” he contended.