The Barbados Community College (BCC) is being told to stop complaining about the lack of Government funding and become more innovative and “start making bricks from straw” in order to help fund its operations.
This recommendation has come from Minister of Education Ronald Jones in response to a plea from acting Principal of the BCC Cheryl Weekes for more financial support for the tertiary institution, which she said was underfunded and in a state of deterioration.
“The college continues to be underfunded and this has resulted in the deterioration of the physical plant, which needs to be urgently addressed . . . Your success here this evening despite limited funding, is testimony to the hard work and dedicated staff who have learned the art of making bricks out of straw,” Weekes told the 44th annual BCC graduation ceremony at the Wildey Gymnasium on Saturday evening.
“I want to say, however, we will be able to do significantly more if only our funding is increased. I therefore take this opportunity to appeal for greater funding during the next financial year,” she said.
During the 2016/2017 financial year the college spent a total of $2 million in upgrades of its two campuses – Erie campus and the hospitality institute.
Continued upgrades of about $1.1 million are on the cards for the 2017/2018 financial year, with work scheduled to begin this month.
However, while acknowledging that the institution could do with more funding, Jones said the Freundel Stuart administration is in a financial dilemma of its own and simply could not satisfy the college’s request at this time.
He said it was therefore critical that the learning institution looked within its various departments to see where it could become more innovative and come up with ideas that could help generate some income.
“I heard the words of the acting principal and I took a bit of time to reflect as I sat there. She wants more. She wants more money . . . we want more of everything because we want to give more of everything. I can appreciate that,” said Jones.
However, he said in an analogy, “making bricks from straw is a reality. It calls on the college and its faculty or divisions to find the right straw to make bricks. The innovation is what we seek. So if you can produce the bricks from straw that can withstand the hurricanes you can sell bricks made of straw to the world”.
Jones revealed that every year he has been requesting an increase in budget allocation for the college from Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler, whom he said has always been denying that request after “careful evaluation” and the fact that Government’s “already stretched and scares resources” had to be shared among other learning institutions and sectors.
However, lamenting that government’s budget was not growing as the demands increased, Jones gave the assurance that education, which gets the largest slice of the expenditure pie of about 20 per cent, would continue to be a priority area for the Democratic Labour Party administration.
He noted that even in times of plenty Government has been unable to meet all the demands, even when it borrowed.
“In this country for a long time we have not been cutting the cloth to suit our size. Errol Barrow, the Right Excellent as he is called, refers to it as champagne taste with mauby pockets. Really, the department of science and technology with some fermentation process can turn mauby into champagne. I am not picking on the faculty of science and technology. Turn mauby into champagne and we can sell it to the world – [this means] more foreign exchange, more resources to be used in our schools, in our hospitals, on our roads, providing shelter for the poor and the disadvantaged,” explained Jones as he used several analogies during his presentation.
With the college set to celebrate 50 years next year, the education minister, in a firm but calm presentation, said the institution was old enough to stand on its own and it was therefore time for it to solve its financial problems instead of complaining.
“This college has become of age. It is not a college in the 1960’s or the 1970’s . . . It is not a college of the 1980’s. You now must also lead and not follow. Help to solve national problems and not simply complain. Don’t join the chorus line that is so easily and constantly heard in Barbados. Rise to the occasion and do not wilt under pressure,” Jones told the BCC staff and graduating class of 2017.
Jones went further to challenge the Howell’s Cross Road institution to come up with solutions to help solve the country’s economic and social woes.
Using the department of science and technology as an example, Jones said he believed the college should position itself to help the country realize “robust” economic growth through areas of renewable energy and robotics while helping to solve the “perennial problems of potholes” and come up with methods for post hurricane recovery.
In her report for the 2016/2017 academic year, the acting BCC principal pointed out that despite a range of challenges the institution was able to achieve some of its goals, which included the registration of the college with the Barbados Accreditation Council and the introduction of four new bachelor of science degrees.
Student enrolment climbed to 3,697 during the academic year, from 3,491 the previous year. Of the increased number, males accounted for about 34 per cent or 1,289 students, while there were 2,408 females. There were seven retirements during the year under review.
This year 1,019 students graduated. The valedictorian was aspiring theatre educator Malique Marsh of Antigua and Barbuda.