Offer interest-free loans to cover UWI fee hike – Thwaites
The Students’ Loan Bureau (SLB) has been urged to extend interest-free credit to students of The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, to cover incremental movements in tuition fees caused by recalculations based on the greenback.
Hundreds of students raised alarm last week after learning that they will have to pay as much as $128,000 extra for tuition this upcoming academic year despite an earlier pledge that fees would be frozen amid the coronavirus pandemic.
While tuition fees remain the same as last year, the amount required for students in some faculties will be higher because costs are quoted in United States dollars. Students in the faculties of Medical Sciences, Law, and Engineering will be primarily affected.
Ronald Thwaites, former minister of education, said that his reading of the crisis is that the SLB can find the funds to tide over the shell-shocked students.
“I believe the universities are in real trouble and there is this presumption that certainly at UWI, that the Government will always step in and do what they have to do,” Thwaites told The Gleaner on Monday.
“I don’t think that the finance minister has that capacity anymore. He doesn’t know what revenue he is getting in,” he added, referencing fiscal uncertainties on tax revenues amid economic contraction during the pandemic.
This call comes amid the revelation by The UWI, in a press statement issued on Monday, which said that only 23 per cent of its students tapped SLB loans.
Registrar of the Mona campus, Dr Donovan Stanberry, confirmed that the 80-20 share-payment model, where Government would bear the bulk of tuition costs, ended 12 years ago.
“What the Government does is to give us a block of funds, I think based on what it can afford. And if you apply it in terms of our total cost, that block of funds now only covers about just about 40 per cent of our cost,” Stanberry said.
Meanwhile, Thwaites remains firm in his conviction that any effective short-term solution to the problem lies with the SLB.
“For those who are intent upon studying and just can’t make this added amount, the SLB should reach out to them, whether or not they have an existing loan or not. That is the only suggestion I have because the university simply can’t do without the money,” he told The Gleaner.
The UWI defended its record on student assistance while restating that its J$141:US$1 peg is seven US dollars cheaper than the open-market value.
“No other University in Jamaica has a more accommodating and liberal approach in terms of facilitating students with financial needs. In fact, over the last three academic years, we have given back to our students approximately J$2.5 billion in scholarships and bursaries, representing approximately 10 per cent of total billings for tuition,” the statement read.
The UWI also said that although the fee for its medical programme is US$28,000, a significant number of Jamaican students are afforded a 50 per cent bursary upfront.