Wilberne Persaud, financial Gleaner COLUMNIST
Readers of this column may have noted over the years, multiple references to Nobel Laureate Sir William Arthur Lewis, the St Lucia-born former Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI), and Jamaican Thomas 'TP' Lecky, creator of new breeds of cattle specially adapted for our tropical conditions - the Jamaica Hope and others.
In considering the role and financing of tertiary education provided at home, we again turn to them.
Lewis, early in his tenure at UWI made the obvious point: it would be cheaper to have all our qualified youngsters of university age attend foreign institutions to read for their degrees. Infrastructure, including dormitories, libraries, professors, lecturers and their research assistants, support staff, laboratories, equipment - part of a much longer list - plus, in our special case, travel across the region, all amounted to a big burden on the meagre finances of West Indian peoples and governments.
In his 1962 'Memorandum prepared for the Conference on the Common Services' of governments of the West Indies, Lewis pointed out that "since tuition fees charged by most universities are only a fraction of their cost, students who go overseas receive a large subsidy from the countries to which they go; whereas, if they were educated in the West Indies, the whole cost would fall on this community".
To consider only these costs and no spillover benefits, however, would be to miss the central core of the role of a university in society. The local or national university will research issues and problems that confront the society; relevance of programmes becomes an issue.
A "university contributes to society not merely by teaching students, but also by gathering together a group of specialists who play a part in public life outside the university."
So Lewis provided the rationale for spending what in 1962 would have been considered vast amounts of money - let's call this the abstract or theoretical under-pinning. Lecky provides tangible evidence of operating locally - practical proof of the pudding in the baking.
lecky's vision and work
Lecky attended the Jamaica School of Agriculture - then referred to as the Farm School at Hope - admittedly not a university though, nevertheless, an institution of further learning. He later did formal university studies in Canada, but his life's work couldn't have been accomplished in Alberta or Mississauga.
It had to be grounded in his native land - relevance: create a breed of cattle suitable to the needs of small-scale Jamaican farmers.
At home, he had Jamaican-adapted cattle with acquired resistance to tick fever, naturally selected over centuries of adaptation to local conditions since their importation by the Spanish. These specimens he could breed with selected imported animals to achieve desired characteristics.
one for barbados
In Barbados, Errol Barrow had a vision. If Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago could have campuses, why not Barbados? Intensive discussions took place around that same period - early 1960s - when Lewis wrote.
Anecdotally, the story goes that Barrow flew a plane around the island, finally choosing the Cave Hill site. A liberal arts college was indeed affordable; in 1963 the campus breathed life.
Given income levels of the majority population at the time and historical deprivation of the labouring classes, Barrow insisted tuition would be "free". He claimed: "God will provide".
Such provision has existed for half a century: 1963 to 2013! Literacy levels and civic awareness betray its impact to the unsuspecting visitor constantly. Gardener, taxi driver, even the occasional beggar in the plaza understand not only cricket but also the role of politeness in social interaction and the central bank.
Understandably, Barbadians are conflicted, completely absorbed with the implications of a budget presented just over a week ago, by ironically, Errol Barrow's DLP.
I won't bore you with numbers. Let's simply say government debt is out of whack and revenue flow weak, balance-of-payments performance lacklustre, tourism activity suffers drop-off, construction boom ended and the CLICO/BAICO meltdown renders a significant number of persons holding broken thermos flasks - containers of vacuum - instead of bags of money.
The latter is not often listed as one of the big causes of grim times. But it is.
Radio talk shows, newspaper reports, taxi drivers with whom one interacts - the preponderance of public discourse centres on withdrawal of support for tertiary students' tuition fees and the big debt owed to the campus; granted sums are nowhere as large as once existed at Mona.
Principal of the UWI Cave Hill campus Sir Hilary Beckles is widely quoted in the media having remarked that within the Barbados Cabinet, ministers collectively possess a total of 65 years 'free' education provided by the Barbadian people and the Cave Hill campus.
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, lamenting the need for this decision, indicated that he achieved two undergraduate degrees in the arts and law during the reign of government-supported tertiary education, now summarily axed.
It was only his sojourn at the Hugh Wooding Law School that required personal funds.
The bottom line in all this, however, is the likely outcome. The 2013 budget represents a kind of spasm.
Taxes on the unimproved value of land have increased, leading a mid-level banker friend of mine to quip: "I'll soon have to sign over title to the Income Tax Department!"
The population is unaware whether multilateral agencies have called for these drastic cuts. Does the government plan to go to the international market for funding and therefore have to put its house in order post-haste? Did the intervention have to be so invasive, tornado-like in its passage?
On the street, it's claimed Cabinet itself was divided on the matter though taking collective responsibility for what is considered unavoidable.
Contemplating the longer view, however, unforeseen and unintended consequences of implementing these arrangements may yet provide odd or quirky developments.
Wilberne Persaud, an economist, currently works on impacts of technology change on business and society, including capital solutions for innovative Caribbean SMEs.Email: firstname.lastname@example.org