Minister of Commerce and Industry Donville Inniss has again defended the decision of the Freundel Stuart administration to stop paying for the tertiary education of Barbadian students, saying the move has saved Government about $50 million in tuition fees at the University of the West Indies (UWI) alone.
The policy was announced by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler in his August 2013 Budget presentation in which he said the move would result in a reduction of about $42 million in the transfers to UWI per year.
Sinckler had further revealed at the time that between 2007 and 2008 the annual contribution required from Government had increased from $79.3 million to $120 million.
Responding to concerns raised in several quarters that the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) had abandoned its founding father Errol Barrow’s legacy of free tertiary education, Inniss was very dismissive of the critics, especially those within the Opposition Barbados Labour Party, saying: “All of the individuals who have criticized the Government in its stance in relation to tertiary education have said we did such a horrible thing, but none of them have been able to come and say what they would do had they been faced with this dilemma.
“I invite the Opposition party to come to Barbados and say that they will reinstate a policy where the Government pays all of the tuition and economic costs for all of the students, and please at least at the same time say how you would do that,” he added.
Addressing a St Michael South constituency branch meeting on Sunday, Inniss also responded to a reported decline in UWI enrollment arising out the education policy shift, saying: “The Government did not go after UWI.
“The Government sought to address the rising cost of education at the tertiary level in particular and we took a decision where students are now required to pay a small percentage of the tuition cost at the university. Now today we have been able to bring the expenditure to UWI from a high of [about] $150 million down to about $100 million. It is not just about the numbers, it is how do we sustain these things.
“We could not, as a nation, continue to pay the full tuition and economic cost at the university,” Inniss insisted.
In further defence of the changes, he said Government had to take “a very frontal approach” to dealing with its expenditure, pointing out that a range of systems were in place to assist those who still could not afford to pay for their university education.
Though the decision was not an easy one to make, he said” it was certainly made in the interest of the country”.
“We are going to have to continue to defend these decisions as we go forward,” he said.