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"Hard times call for hard sacrifices"
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"Hard times call for hard sacrifices"

Ariela St Pierre-Collins 2

For the first time since independence, the Government of Barbados decided to charge tuition fees to its tertiary students, starting in September 2014. Ariela St. Pierre-Collins, a 15-year-old Commonwealth Correspondent from Barbados, examines the arguments arising from the decision.

Two weeks ago, the Government of Barbados made a decision that led every news item in the country: effective September 2014, present and prospective students would have to pay tuition fees at the University of the West Indies.

The measure was announced by Minister of Finance Christopher Sinckler, and was outlined in the Budgetary Proposals for 2013 as part of an overall strategy to tackle the country’s USD$200 million debt. Sinckler asserted the decision would save USD$15 million for the government.

Many Barbadians attend the University of the West Indies’, Cave Hill campus (often referred to as UWI Cave Hill) which is the sole university in Barbados. It is part of a public West Indian tertiary educational system, with the other main campuses located in St. Augustine, Trinidad and Mona, Jamaica.

By the next morning, the entire island was in turmoil. Many opinions were voiced and both current and prospective students of Cave Hill were outraged. A close family friend had just been accepted to the University’s faculty of law for this year, but with the knowledge that tuition will be increased next year, she feared that she won’t be able to afford the USD$4,404 per annum to finish the three-year programme.

Many Barbadians hold the belief that our nation as a whole benefits from the free university education, which is the driving force behind our improved standard of living and rising Gross Domestic Product. Without it, it is argued, many deserving people may not be able to afford the fees. Furthermore, since jobs are hard to come by on the isle, some Barbadians may not get a proper education and subsequently the careers of their dreams. This serves to create both distances and tension between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’.

Another circulating opinion, especially among expatriate locals, is that university education should not be paid for by the government as it is a drain on the public purse. Additionally, taxpayers of Barbados are tired of paying for ‘lazy, lifelong students’ who change majors constantly.

There is also an issue where people who earn less than USD$14,003 annually do not have to pay taxes to the government, so the taxpayers pay for the education of their children. This causes some taxpayers to become resentful. A loan system is in the works to help fund the education of people who cannot afford it, so that they no longer have to “sponge off others”. According to this line of thinking, the loan scheme would be one way of bridging the desperate divide between those who can afford the expense of tertiary education and those who cannot.

I met a young woman a few days ago who said because of the establishment of tuition fees, she and many of her friends planned to discontinue their education. In my eyes, that is inconceivable, as I’ve always dreamed of going to university. If I were in that position, I would do anything possible to get there, even if it meant working in a gap year or taking out a student loan.

It’s been repeated many times since the budget was announced: something earned and paid for is treasured more than something given for free. Perhaps having to pay for university education will make the students treasure and desire it that much more. After all, hard times call for hard measures and hard sacrifices.

photo credit: Vicky Hugheston via photopin cc

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About me:
I am a Barbadian-Canadian and the founder of ‘Youth For Epic Change’, a charity aimed at raising funds for causes both locally and globally and inspiring teens in Barbados to be the catalyst for positive change. View my personal blog at www.unleashthepowerofone.tumblr.com.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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