The Guild of Students at the three campuses of the University of the West Indies (UWI) are heading to Prime Minister Freundel Stuart with a deal that, if accepted, would save Barbadian students from a tuition fee hike in September.
And while president of the Guild of Students at the Cave Hill campus, Kai Bridgewater is keeping details of that proposal close to his chest, he disclosed that it would involve regional governments paying a portion of the approximately $105 million which they are said to collectively owe the UWI.
Encouraged by the Jamaican government’s move last month to provide J$100 million (BDS$1.5 million) to the Mona Campus to help students facing hardship, the presidents of the three guilds will be taking a proposal to the Stuart administration and other governments that owe the university.
Earlier this month, the university announced that effective September 2017, tuition fees at Cave Hill campus in the Faculty of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education, and Science and Technology would move from $5,625 to $6,000 annually, while tuition fees in the Faculty of Law will move from $8,808 to $9,000. Fees for programmes within the Faculty of Medical Sciences remain unchanged.
The hike comes four years after the Democratic Labour Party administration stopped paying tuition costs for Barbadian students.
“We are trying to have this increase in tuition fees taken off the table,” a guarded Bridgewater said at a press conference this morning, stressing that they had only recently initiated discussions with the Barbados government.
“I don’t want to speak specifically to the proposal but it entails no longer having the tuition fee increase because the governments are going to make a down payment on their debt to that amount. That is what we are hoping for. But, as I said, there is nothing concrete. So we can’t say for sure [it will work], but that is the proposal we are going to bring to the table.”
That proposal, according to the guild president, would see the financial burden shift from the students to the governments.
“At the end of the day, they owe us the debt and we need to engage them, because the sustainability of our university is being threatened . . . . We need to outline to the governments that the students are an investment and it is this same university that has produced numerous scholars, doctors, Heads of State [and] ministers. This is a very important institution and its sustainability should not be threatened,” he said.
Bridgewater also revealed that he made contact with Prime Minister Stuart this week – and is likely to hear back from him next week with a date for their meeting –, and had also met with Opposition Leader Mia Mottley.
Bridgewater, who received favourable responses from both, said he is also expected to send a proposal to the Ministry of Education sometime next week.
The decision by the Guilds of Students to try to broker a deal with regional governments was taken this week at Inter-Campus Guild Council (ICGC) meetings, where it was decided that the students representative bodies needed to engage their respective governments more, and create a more holistic approach to help students in their development.
However, Bridgewater said the Guild of Students at Cave Hill would not be sitting back and waiting to hear whether the proposal is accepted, and would be implementing its own initiatives.
President of the Guild of Students at the Mona campus, Mikiela Gonzales pledged her support for her Barbadian counterparts, saying that Jamaican students understood what it was like to be unable to pay tuition fees.
Meantime, President of the Guild of Students at the St Augustine campus, Jonathan St Louis-Nahous said more Barbadian students could end up pursuing their studies in Trinidad and Tobago since the tuition fees there were more affordable.
“I think if the tuition fees increase here, you are just going to have even more students leaving the Cave Hill Campus to come to study in St Augustine,” he said, though noting that the main concern for Barbadian students in Trinidad was living expenses.