Expect a further drop in student enrolment come September!
That was the reaction today of several students who are currently pursuing degree programmes at the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI), following a decision taken by the UWI Council at its annual business meeting held at the campus last Thursday to increase the amount paid by students in tuition fees.
At the same time, Shadow Minister of Education Edmund Hinkson sought to pin blame squarely on the shoulders of the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP), saying had it kept its promise to repay its $200 million debt to the university, there would be no need for any such hike at this stage.
“The situation would not have been so dire,” Hinkson told Barbados TODAY Wednesday afternoon, explaining that “one of the problems of course is that Barbados Government owes the university close to $200 million and that figure has been so since I got into Parliament four years ago.
“The Minister of Education said in Parliament in the Estimates speech of 2013 that Barbados was going to pay $40 million every quarter to the university to reduce that debt. However that certainly has not been the case even though Mr [Ronald] Jones made that commitment on the floor of Parliament,” he said.
“So if a government of the Caribbean owes you $200 million consistently, it puts you under pressure. So that is one of the reasons why the university has now sent up tuition fees.”
In a release issued today, the university revealed effective September tuition fees in the Faculties of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education, and Science and Technology will move from $5,625 to $600, an increase of 6.67 per cent; tuition fees in the Faculty of Law will move from $8,808 to $9000, an increase of 2.18 per cent; while fees within the Faculty of Medical Sciences remain unchanged.
Concerned about the move, today several students told Barbados TODAY that they already finding it hard to cope with their tuition costs.
Therefore, they said any addition would be tantamount to the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Some students argued that while the cost may appear to be negligible to an individual student, the increase could not be viewed in isolation, given that Barbadian students have been required since 2013 to meet their own tuition payments.
“As it is now it now it is already hard for students to pay the tuition fees because you move from only having to pay amenities to now having to pay tuition. So for me I have to now find new ways to meet my financial obligations in order to push myself through school,” said Brandon Blackman from the Faculty of Law.
He also pointed out that “with the economy as it is now, it is hard to even get a part time job or some other means finding the resources”.
The outspoken Barbadian student also said based on the feedback he was getting from his UWI colleagues they too were finding the going quite tough.
“It is really tough already to pay the fees, so as a result of this increase we may see some students dropping out, which may be the most unfortunate route that we may have to take, but it may be a necessity for some people seeing that they are already struggling to meet the bar,” he added.
The increase in tuition costs has also not gone down well with some non-nationals studying at Cave Hill.
Tobagonian student Celantra Allen expressed concern that the cumulative cost for struggling economies such as Trinidad & Tobago, which still meets the tuition fees of its students, would quite substantial.
“In a time such as this where many governments are already struggling to provide students, like for us Trinbagonians, GATE [Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses] is being cut back on. So this increase will result in even more of a reduction in enrolment within this institution from Trinidad and Tobago,” she said.
However, other students appeared to take the increase in stride, describing it as only marginal when compared to tuition costs at universities in the United States and the United Kingdom.
“The reality is that we are getting a bachelor’s degree at a fraction of the cost that others pay at any other university. The increase is just a fraction more than what we are already paying. Sure there are some people who would not be able to afford it, but you still getting value for money,” argued one Barbadian male student, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Since the Government ended its policy of free tertiary education back in 2013, students have been required to meet their tuition costs while the Government continues to meet the economic costs for Barbadians.
This has led to a significant fall off in enrolment, which dropped from over 8,700 in 2013 to 5,507 this year.
However, speaking during this year’s Estimates debate, Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler expressed optimism that the situation was beginning to “stabilize”.
In fact, Sinckler had said at the time Government was on course to realize its prediction that the number of students entering the institution would start to return to previous figures within a four-year period.
Speaking in Parliament back in March, as the Estimates debate shifted to the education sector, Sinckler also admitted that the decision to ask students to pay was a “painful” one.
However, he said it was better than limiting the number of students for whom Government would foot the entire bill, adding that his administration took the decision after “wrestling with all the ideas” of how to address the high costs it was faced with.
“Yes, some people have fallen through and we have to find a way to get more of them back in. I believe the numbers are beginning to stabilize and you are beginning to see them now come back up a little bit. We expected that it would take about four [or] five years for that to settle down and I think we are on a trajectory where we can improve that,” Sinckler said then. firstname.lastname@example.org