Tuesday 4 August, 2020

Bunting, Terrelonge plead with UWI to stop quoting tuition fees in USD

Terrelonge (left) and Bunting

Terrelonge (left) and Bunting

The administration of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona is facing backlash over its decision to continue quoting tuition fees in US dollars, a scenario that will see some students faced with huge increases come September.

Students in the faculties of medicine, film, nursing, engineering and law could see up to $100,000 added to their tuition fees for the upcoming academic year. They are particularly peeved that the increased fees come in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that has severely limited face-to-face in-class sessions. Some students have taken to social media to vent and to implore the university’s administration to reconsider.

They are being supported by both the Minister of State in the Ministry of Education, Alando Terrelonge and the Opposition spokesman on education, Peter Bunting.

“As a major seat of learning, UWI should make sure they're on the right side of the issues that will define the debates and write the history of the post-COVID era. They need to make sure that they do not become willing partners to the disenfranchisement of our students, robbing them of their education, by adopting financial regimes that only benefit the privileged,” said Terrelonge in a statement on Thursday.

“I would like to believe that those days are part of a past that UWI is not trying to resurrect. The primary focus of our tertiary institutions must be centred around youth engagement, education, and empowerment. A greater balance must be achieved between tertiary institutions as ‘business operators’ and, tertiary institutions as repositories of higher learning and ultimate empowerment of our youth and nation,” Terrelonge added.

The junior minister said he understood the need and rationale of the UWI to set its fees against the backing of a so-called international currency to account for fluctuations in the Jamaican dollar, as well as to standardise fees for international students. However, he said “I am confused as to why the fees cannot be set in local currency and still achieve the same effect”.

He is appealing to the UWI administration to desist from quoting fees in US dollars and for said fees to be adjusted to reflect the conditions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, Bunting has warned that any increase in tuition fees will only exacerbate an already dire predicament for many students and parents. He has expressed concern about what he said is the absence of a comprehensive plan to treat with the commencement of the 2020/2021 academic year

Bunting noted that enrolment levels would inevitably fall as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but he believes that the figures will be greatly exacerbated by the heightened tuition fees.

“It is unconscionable for students to be expected to cough up hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional expenses, just days ahead of the start of their respective programmes. Educational institutions should be acutely aware of the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy generally, and more specifically, on the pockets of Jamaican families,” said Bunting.

He added that “Even without the pandemic, many persons are stretched financially to keep students enrolled in school. Now, persons are facing unemployment, are on furlough, or are otherwise uncertain as to when they will see another pay cheque. It is not right for the UWI or any educational institution to hold students at ransom for wanting an education”.

Bunting also warned that in economic terms, raising school fees does not bode well for the institutions.

He said: “When you consider the price elasticity of demand, increased tuition fees will mean fewer students enrolling because they simply cannot afford it. This, in turn, results in an overall loss of revenue for the institutions, and threatens their survival. We must do our best to ensure that all Jamaicans have equal access to all levels of education. If this unjust tuition hike is dumped on trying Jamaican families, the consequences will last well beyond the pandemic”.

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