Government has pledged to increase the qualifying household income threshold for students requiring state-funded tuition fees to attend the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI), it was revealed Friday.
Principal Professor Eudine Barriteau disclosed that Minister of Education Ronald Jones had approved her request to raise the threshold from $25,000 to $35,000, paving the way for many more Barbadians to pursue a university degree.
“The point is if you come from a household with income of $25,000 right now and you are Barbadian, the Government pays the whole tuition fee, but this is not widely known. I wrote to the Minister of Education and asked to raise the threshold to $35,000 and he indicated this morning that it is approved,” Barriteau told the media following Friday’s meeting of the Campus Council.
In a bid to cut subventions to UWI by an estimated $42 million a year, Government announced in 2013 that beginning the following year it would no longer pay tuition for Barbadians attending the university.
This led to a 21 per cent drop in first semester enrolment in the following two years, and a dramatic drop overall in the number of students pursuing both graduate and undergraduate studies.
“At the beginning of the 2013 academic year, the total enrolment at the Campus was 8,711 of which there were 1,285 graduate students and 7,426 undergraduate students enrolled. At this same time . . .when the policy was first introduced the enrolment of the Campus stood at a grand total of 6,936, of which there were 1102 graduate students and 5, 834 undergraduates,” Barriteau had said at the Campus’ 2015 matriculation ceremony in August 2015, adding that at the time there was total enrolment had fallen to 4,772, with graduate enrolment plummeting from 1285 students to 266, while undergraduate numbers had stood at 4, 516.
“In two years the effect of the policy is dramatic and I urge the Government on behalf of Barbadian students to investigate ways to make it possible for students who wish to earn a degree at the Cave Hill or any other UWI Campus to be able to do so,” she had stated.
Friday, she welcomed the news of the increased threshold, even as she sought to explain why so few Barbadians were aware that despite the policy, Government had still pledged to cover the tuition costs for those who simply could not afford to do so.
“Part of what happened is that we believe that there was some degree of psychological scarring when the tuition fees were being introduced because free education has been a defining characteristic of Barbados’ social system in the post independent era. So once potential students heard that fees were being introduced they felt they couldn’t pay. It was introduced suddenly and there was no preparation for it.”
Barriteau also stressed that Government’s $180 million debt to the institution still posed some fiscal challenges, and as result the campus had incorporated technology to roll out more accessible and affordable learning platforms, including the Smart Campus, which allows fully enrolled students the option of digitally interfacing with the university.
“We are offering multiple modes of accessing a university degree and in the process of accessing the modes the cost would change. However the residential experience, health care, gym etc, will have a cost to it, but as we go further into the Smart Campus those cost will go down,” the Cave Hill principal said.
The institution has also incorporated other cost reduction measures, such as the freezing of positions, rationalization of course offerings and a reduction in the number of replacements for staff on leave.