Uneasy Calm at the UWI

The University of the West Indies Student Guild is gearing up for a Caribbean-wide campus demonstration against the Barbados government’s decision to impose tuition fees at the university.

In its 2014 Budget presented to parliament last week, the Barbados Government said it will remove subsidies on tuition fees for UWI students effective next year September, rocketing cost to Barbadians from an average BDS$900 for registration to between $5,600 and $62,250 annually for attending the university.

“We will be seeking regional support that we do not already have. We have our sister campuses standing in solidarity with us. Mona and St Augustine as well as the Open Campus have expressed themselves as supporting the Cave Hill Campus. They have already indicated that they will also rally behind us in their home countries,” Guild President Damani Parris said.

Parris said he collected some 1,000 verifiable signatures for a growing petition Sunday at a mass rally called by the political Opposition to protest the budget measures, including imposition of tuition fees.

“The other campuses are extremely perturbed and upset at what they detect to be a direct attack on regionalism, especially as it relates to the Barbadian public furnishing those campuses with students who essentially add to the whole notion of integration of these individual campuses,” he said.

UWI has three regular campuses, Cave Hill; St Augustine in Trinidad and Tobago; and Mona in Jamaica; and an open campus spread across the region.

A Barbados Nation newspaper report Tuesday confirmed Parris’ claim about a spreading resistance across campuses to the move by government. The paper quoted President of the Guild of Mona Campus, Terron Dewar, saying students there are ready and willing to show support. “We believe the increase is too sharp. It will affect the number of Bajans who come to Mona. I am foreseeing a fall in the number of Bajan students and all the diversity and positivity it brings”.

The Jamaican student leader said he expects a drop in the number of students attending the Barbados campus. “The fall-off may not be a drastic one, but it will be a notable one,” he said.

An estimated 7,000 of the 9,000 students enrolled at Cave Hill are Barbadians.

Parris on the other hand told a weekend public forum, held to discuss the budget and its effects, that statistics from UWI admissions department shows that Barbadians account for 84 per cent of the students from working class families at the Cave Hill Campus. He therefore expects a 70 to 80 per cent drop-off in attendance in 2014, “because most of these students will not be able to afford to come to Cave Hill.”

For this reason Parris made an apocalyptic forecast for the university’s future, if the Barbados Government stays its course, “Many students like me in the [academic] year 2014 will be withdrawing from the campus”. He added, “It is the Guild’s estimation that the Cave Hill Campus will have to close at the beginning of the [academic] year 2014 because of a severe reduction in student roll”.

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