A top official at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill today trashed all questions about the survival of the institution amid its ongoing financial problems and a dramatic drop in student enrollment.
“There is not the slightest chance that the university that your and my forefathers dreamed of is headed for the dustbin of history,” Chancellor Sir George Alleyne said resolutely during one of two graduation ceremonies held at the Sir Garfield Sobers Gymnasium.
The university, which has been struggling to meet overhead costs, had an almost 30 per cent decline in student registration at the start of its 2014/2015 academic year.
But the chancellor said despite recent public discourse suggesting that the institution has been weakened, this was not the case.
“. . . Universities are durable institutions and ours is no exception and by all the indicators of scholarship, service and research your university is serving well the purpose for which it was created,” he said.
“. . . Of course, it has changed and will change and I charge you as alumni to follow that change. But it is because of our ability to change but still remain faithful to the core of our pristine purpose and keep the commandments of quality that we are durable.”
Despite his assurance, though, Sir George was quick to note that the university was facing several threats.
“There is the problem of funding the enterprise; there is the challenge of the technological revolution that is affecting all, I repeat all aspects of our lives and finally we have to accept that the speed of social change means that formal learning is not the peculiar province of the young. Learning and training may begin later in life and also will be a lifetime preoccupation,” he pointed out.
On the issue of the rising cost of university education, he said it was clear that government contributions cannot keep up with cost increases, pointing to a six per cent drop in contribution to 50 per cent between 2002 and 2012.
He was clear, though, that 50 per cent still represents a tremendous contribution from the Caribbean public purse, adding that the university has also been making serious efforts to reduce its operating costs and find new sources of income.
As it related to students paying tuitions fees and financial assistance, the chancellor said these issues must be carefully weighed.
“I accept that there will always be students with the ability but not the means to benefit from university education and I understand that measures have been put in place by the Government of Barbados to ensure that needy students are not denied university education. In addition, I acknowledge the validity of the position that changes in such important items as educational fees need longer rather than shorter lead times. However, I also believe that any form of subsidy that is allocated without differentiation as to means is inherently unfair. Aristotle’ philosophy on equality was summed up in in a comment which he was supposed to have made. “There is nothing as unequal as the equal treatment of unequals”.