The top trending stories this week seem to go hand in hand. After Barbadians were put on notice by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart that they will have to carry more weight going forward, within days University of the West Indies (UWI) students appeared to be among the first to bear that additional responsibility with the news that they will have to pay higher tuition fees from the next academic year.
Stuart’s comments, at a ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) event, were in relation to the next 50 years of Independence and the need for Government to reduce spending on social services in light of current budgetary problems. As he sees it, Barbados has reached a stage in its development where citizens can now be weaned off many of the social services provided by the state since Independence from Britain in 1966.
He said: “The first 50 years of Independence were years of entitlement, but the next 50 years of Independence cannot again be years of entitlement because we have now built a middle class in Barbados.” The comments drew harsh criticism from many readers who took them as evidence that Stuart is out of touch with the reality facing Barbadians.
One person commented: “After this lot took advantage of a free tertiary education system, free health care, subsidized transportation, state collected garbage, low water rates etc, present and future generations will now be asked to dig deeper into depleted pockets to pay for social services that are paid for by our taxes.”
“Govt revenues from taxation are higher than at any period in the country’s history, and at a time when taxpayers are burdened by a greater incidence, they are at the same time being asked to assume a greater responsibility for services provided by the state. ….this act by a beleaguered government is nothing short of criminal.”
“Since the Government hasn’t pulled its weight for the last seven years to ensure Bajans have jobs and education and otherwise for any form of economic growth, this man needs to stop talking. Every time he opens his mouth, he just insults people, but then again he got up in the Estimates and stated there is no crime, our education system is great and Bajans feel safe and ain’t got no problems. SMH,” another reader remarked.
One person came to Stuart’s defence. “We can’t generalize the entire country but the reality is that at least 1/4 of the adult population doesn’t pay NIS or TAX as there are many youngsters living at home with parents who encourage their reckless behaviour living on the street corners, many self-employed persons not making contributions and even some companies making deductions but not paying into the system.”
The person went on: “Taxes are high for one obvious reason and that is due to it being the strongest money earner for Government to meet their obligations. Pastors building mansions and driving the biggest cars around but the congregation still going faithfully every week and paying tithes but wanna want to crucify the politicians for trying to advance themselves. If you have an issue with how they living while in office, you the people can change that. Society is so brainwashed, so many lack the ability to think for themselves.”
Days after the Prime Minister’s remarks came an announcement from the UWI that tuition fees, which Barbadians started paying for the first time from the 2014-15 academic year, will be going up in September. The reaction was swift, especially from several students, who predicted a further drop in student enrolment.
Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) Shadow Minister of Education, Edmund Hinkson, sought to pin blame squarely on the shoulders of the Stuart Government, saying that had it kept its promise to pay a $200 million debt to the university, there would be no need for any hike in tuition fees at this stage.
“The situation would not have been so dire,” Hinkson told Barbados TODAY. “One of the problems, of course, is that the Barbados Government owes the university close to $200 million and that figure has been so since I got into Parliament four years ago.”
Reader responses were mixed to the announcement. Said one person: “For UWI to get numbers, which equates to the paying of fees, it needs high student enrolment. How is increasing fees going to help? The Government of Barbados who finds it easy to give away so much free money and have it unaccounted, according to Auditor General reports, should find the same ease in clearing their $200 million debt to UWI. I cannot help think that the DLP is on a mission to cripple the island…”
Another person, who was critical of the UWI Cave Hill campus, contended that the university needs to come up with a new financial management plan. “The UWI at Cave Hill needs to look at cutting its cost. Every time these Govt funded institutions run out of money or carry up its expenditures, they look to Govt to cushion them.”
The reader went on: “I anticipate that now that they have increased the fees, that the quality of service they provide will improve. One can never call or go to them and ask a question and receive a definitive answer. If one calls UWI Mona or St Augustine, the reception is totally different.
“The amenities fees are a total scam. Ask anyone doing medicine and paying these fees how they benefit from the use of the buses when they are moving around between polyclinics? The consultants telling them they must be on time which, we all agree with, but try moving from Wildey to St Philip in half an hour without your own vehicle. Students have to call taxis after paying the amenities fees as well as increased fees . . . .
“It must be remembered that there are some ‘bright’ children who are very poor. There are some students who are barely eating. The questions being asked to access the required funding is equivalent to walking around naked. It is atrocious. UWI can do much better at cutting cost. Since Govt is funding it, the Auditor General or some other Govt appointed auditor needs to go in and investigate.”