Despite a general reduction in personal and household incomes because of higher taxation, cost of living increases and continuing underperformance of the national economy, interest among young Barbadians in pursuing opportunities for tertiary education abroad is reportedly on the rise, as Barbadian enrollment at the University of the West Indies has taken a dip.
According to news coming out of an education fair held at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre last weekend, there has been a steady increase in the number of Barbadians keen on going to developed countries, especially the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, to pursue undergraduate and postgraduate studies at colleges and universities.
Representatives of 21 colleges and universities participated in the annual event hosted by The Student Centre and the Canadian High Commission. It was an opportunity for them to market their various programmes to prospective students and their parents, provide information on visa and immigration requirements as well as possible scholarships, and recruit those who had made up their minds to go.
“We have always had Barbadians that wanted to go aboard to study,” Legal Counsel and Director of Communications at The Student Centre Kimberley Alleyne-Pinder was quoted by Barbados TODAY as saying. “What we are saying is that it is probably a bit more now [who are] saying . . .’let me just weigh my options more’.”
Agnes Pust, political counsellor of the High Commission of Canada, confirmed an increase in the number of students interested in studying in her country. She attributed this to the dissemination of information from past Barbadian students who immensely enjoyed their experiences studying in Canada. “As the product becomes better known . . , it is easier to sell it,” she said.
Ironically, the education fair was held on the same day as the annual graduation exercise at the UWI Cave Hill. What was particularly significant about this year’s event was the graduation of the first batch of Barbadians who had to pay tuition fees, introduced by the incumbent Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration three years ago as a fiscal adjustment measure. They collected their degrees to officially mark the completion of their studies.
This unpopular move was blamed for the sharp fall-off in Barbadian enrollment that subsequently followed. What does the trend of increasing numbers of Barbadians opting to pursue tertiary education overseas really suggest? Could it be a sign that Barbadians may be overlooking the UWI which has served Barbados and the region well, now that they have to pay tuition fees and are opting for an overseas university education which generally is much more expensive?
These questions are worth exploring. However, comments from readers in reaction to the article may shed some light. After one reader pointed out that the cost of studying overseas is significantly higher than at the UWI, another replied: “If we could spend a big tuition at UWI, we could try abroad as well.” That our people have been psychologically conditioned to see foreign as better than local and regional is another influence that obviously cannot be overlooked.
There is also the perception of the UWI as not being a student-friendly university where some teachers have been accused of making it difficult for students to succeed. One reader commented on this issue: “Enrolling students who can be considered customers and prospective students can give you stories of poor treatment, slackness and unprofessionalism that might be experienced at certain tertiary institutions. The people overseas make life much easier and make you feel important and comfortable.”
Another pull factor for young Barbadians opting to study abroad could also be the fact that doing so can open the door to remaining in the particular countries after graduation where job prospects are seen as much better and then working towards permanent residence or eventual citizenship. Given the prevailing economic conditions and a view being expressed by many young Barbadians that they are no longer feel confident about a future here, studying abroad can be particularly appealing.
These developments suggest that the UWI not only has some perception issues to address but that it also needs to step up its promotion and marketing to convince Barbadians that there are tangible benefits to studying at home or at its other campuses in the region instead of going abroad. UWI has an outstanding track record of service to Barbados and the region. It is a distinct advantage which the UWI can draw on to stand up to competition which it can increasingly expect going forward from foreign institutions in a liberalized global market where consumer choice is the ultimate determining factor.