Newly elected President of the Guild of Students at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Cave Hill Campus, Christian Attong has welcomed Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s announcement that students attending that institution will no longer pay tuition fees from September.
He told Barbados TODAY the move should result in more students being enrolled at the learning institution and a return of the “buzz” that quickly faded when the former Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration implemented its controversial policy back in 2014, requiring Barbadians pursuing studies at all the campuses of the UWI to pay tuition fees, while Government continued to foot their economic costs.
This was met with an immediate outcry from university officials and students, with enrolment numbers instantly taking a plunge to 1,468 new students for the 2014 academic year, compared to 2,240 at the start of the academic year in 2013.
It is expected that some 1,164 new students will enroll at the campus this year.
However, leading up to its victory in the May 24 poll, the Mottley-led Barbados Labour Party promised to restore free tertiary education for Barbadian students attending the UWI, a pledge that was echoed at the opening of a new session of the House of Assembly on Tuesday.
Delivering her Throne Speech, Governor General Dame Sandra Mason said, “my Government is committed to safeguarding our future generations and empowering them to have the best quality of life our country can give them. From next semester in 2018, therefore, it will pay the tuition fees for Barbadians to attend the University of the West Indies”.
Responding to that announcement, Attong told Barbados TODAY “the Guild of Students under my leadership can safely rely” on those words, while disclosing that “unofficially, I have been in conversation with Government officials about the reinstatement of the ‘no tuition’ policy”.
“As the President of the Guild of Students, I will always be in support of any Government, regardless of the party, that creates student-friendly policies, especially with tuition grants for Barbadian students,” Attong said.
“We believe the more people enrolled in the university will always be more beneficial, not only to the Barbadian economy, but beneficial to the wider Caribbean region . . . . By adding more students to the campus, this will bring the buzz back to campus life, that was diminished in 2014, and Barbados at large,” he added.
The student representative explained that it would also result in more activities on campus with the student clubs, societies, and associations’ events being better patronized.
“In essence, these social interactions are critical for the development of our Caribbean region as it lays the foundation for inter-regional relations,” he stressed.
Attong said he would be seeking to meet with the new Prime Minister as well as the Minister of Education Santia Bradshaw “regarding further discussion on the policy in which the Guild can give suggestions and recommendations for improvement”.
“We also hope to build a strong working relationship with the Government in order for us to outline our expectations of each other,” he added.
However, Attong, who was recently elected president of the Guild, said despite the restoration of the policy, the Guild would continue to assist students who were facing economic hardships in the form of scholarships.