The University of the West Indies (UWI) has been around for a few decades and is the pinnacle of tertiary education for the region. Its Motto, Oriens Ex Occidente Lux, Latin for, A Light Rising in the West, has become a reality for those seeking higher education.
Another view exists however; namely that studying abroad attracts greater values and benefits and that education is of a higher quality and standard. While this assertion may be a developing attitude towards studying outside of the region, there are advantages to studying at home. It is understood that other institutions may exist locally and the course of study to be pursued is offered outside of the region. In addition, considering this is the technological era, persons may choose online study which may present its own challenges. However, my focus is primarily on those students who opt to travel overseas for education purposes.
The UWI may be considered as one of the first natural options when thinking of pursuing tertiary level education. Since its establishment in 1948, the UWI has shaped local minds and developed Caribbean leadership. Though the approach to education by regional governments may be slightly different, one such country that has a strong commitment to education is Barbados. This has been underscored by almost every successive government and has served as empowerment for its people. Education has been further championed by the government’s commitment to funding by covering the economic cost and tuition fees for every local student enrolled at the UWI. This has allowed students to pay minimal fees, thus making it an attractive option for tertiary level education locally. No other government internationally, perhaps outside of Cuba, has been known to offer potential students this type of educational package for tertiary level education.
The preparation for university life can be very daunting and for the Barbadian student this transition only takes place from one local institution to another. For Barbadian students, studying locally may provide greater advantages over their counterparts who choose to study beyond Barbados and the region’s borders. Enrolling locally provides a comfortable and familiar environment to study and also capitalizes on economic benefits which may include not having to pay for housing or accommodation and other costs of living. It also reduces the stress of having to search for the ideal residence near the campus and negates questions about accessible transportation and general security of the area.
The support of friends and family is critical at this point, particularly when the pressure of academic life becomes intense. New students are faced with adjusting to the new environment and its associated challenges. Culture shock creates nostalgia and creates doubt, making one question choices made. The closeness of family members and the physical presence of friends and loved ones can make the burden of academic life much more bearable. This can never be experienced by those persons who are far away. The closest contact may be yielded through a WhatsApp video call, Skype, or any other means of staying connected. A warm hug and a tender touch sometimes may be months away. Indeed, relocating to a new territory can become an emotional experience. The thought of leaving best friends, family and significant others behind can be heart-rending. Further thoughts of having to begin the journey ‘solo’ without having that close emotional contact can be depressing at the start of a new journey.
Studying locally already comes with an acquired knowledge of the environment and acclimatizing oneself to the new academic environment would not take long. Additionally, one will not be faced with the challenge of having to try new foods, understanding the currency conversion rate, trying to figure out where the nearest Western Union is and all other complexities associated with studying abroad. Moreover, any problems encountered can be solved quickly and home is always a twenty minute drive away, if an emergency arises.
Many have borrowed from local funding agencies to facilitate overseas study and have failed to repay and make a valuable contribution to Barbados. In contrast, students who study locally are more inclined to make a greater contribution to Barbados and the region. According to Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, Robert Bermudez, “the responsibility of the UWI… was to produce nationals who understand the important role they had to play in the region’s development.” He acknowledges the difficulties that Barbados and the region face in retaining those persons. The issue of brain drain is a complex one in small economies such as ours. Certainly, locally trained persons are more inclined to remain at home, contribute towards tax collection and can be compared to the burden that international students can create in the form of the extended financial courtesies.
Lastly, local graduates of the UWI have the opportunity to become a part of the UWI Alumni’s Association and continue to develop the region’s single University. Normally, persons who have lived overseas don’t have this opportunity and often times their contribution is to their adopted countries.
In essence, studying locally empowers and allows for one to make an impactful contribution economically, academically and socially. In retrospect, the benefit of studying locally outweighs that of international study, truly making one, A Light Rising in the West.
(Don Roach is an undergraduate student at the Cave Hill campus, currently pursuing International Relations in the department of Government, Sociology and Work. Email: (firstname.lastname@example.org).