Outgoing Principal of the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Professor Sir Hilary Beckles has told Prime Minister Freundel Stuart that his criticism of the Government’s new tuition fee policy is nothing personal.
Speaking yesterday at his final media conference at Cave Hill before taking up his new Mona, Jamaica-based appointment as UWI Vice Chancellor from this Friday, May 1, Sir Hilary also made it clear that the discussion on the contentious issue was not about Stuart either.
Sir Hilary insisted that he was more concerned about the more than 4,000 students who are currently being deprived of a university education because they cannot afford to pay the tuition fees to pursue studies at Cave Hill.
Sir Hilary’s comments come against the backdrop of a recent tongue-lashing from Stuart who accused the Cave Hill principal of trying to run an alternative Government to his ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) from Cave Hill.
The Prime Minister had also described Sir Hilary as disrespectful.
The incoming UWI Vice Chancellor told reporters he would not be distracted by “these kinds of conversations” because he has a university to run in the same way that Stuart has a government to run.
“None of this is about Hilary Beckles. I have no interest in having any discussion about Hilary Beckles. My concern is with the four-and-a-half thousand students who are not within our community anymore…how to get them back here to complete their education. My concern is making sure that the UWI’s enterprise in Barbados, serves this country and the region, maximum capacity,” Sir Hilary said.
He added: “This is not about Freundel Stuart. He is the Prime Minister of Barbados. He has a country to run; he has a government to take care of. I do not wish or do not enjoy any conversation about personality.”
The prominent academic, who succeeds Professor E. Nigel Harris, noted that a time will come, when “we’re all old and retired and then we can speak about our personalities”. But right now, he added, there is work to be done.
“Right now, we have a lot of work to do. We have a campus to put back on its feet. We have a country to drive out of recession. We have a region to help focus. The university has a lot of work to do and this is my concern… my concern is about the items that are in front of me and I can tell you this, I will not be distracted by these kinds of conversations, because we need to rebuild this university.”
Sir Hilary contended that the combined energies of the university and government leaders ought to focus on pulling the local and regional economies out of their sluggish state. He suggested that the UWI must work with the governments and private sector to enhance the betterment of Caribbean peoples.
This, he said, has to be the university’s strategic focus. “It has to be our focus, day and night…day and night, until we get this region where we want to have it.”
However, Sir Hilary pointed out that it would be irresponsible of the UWI if it did not highlight that the impact of the tuition fees had resulted in over 4,000 students not being able to pursue their studies.
He said when one analyzed the background of these students, one would discover that more than 70 per cent are unmarried women with at least one child.