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EDITORIAL - How much is a degree worth?

Published:Saturday | May 5, 2012 | 12:00 AM

While there may be sympathy for university students barred from taking exams because they owe fees, the majority of well-thinking Jamaicans dislike civil disorder and chaos.

Attention-seeking students at the University of the West Indies, Mona, would have lost much of that sympathy on Monday morning when they barged into an examination centre and deliberately interfered with students who were writing a test.

We strongly condemn such antics and think it is extremely irresponsible. We also believe that the Guild of Students and other student leaders should condemn the action unless, of course, they were the masterminds, in which case they should publicly apologise for their actions.

University funding has been a hot topic over the last few years as regional governments have decreased subvention and support for the UWI. This has meant that some of the university services cost more to make up for the shortfall. With drastically reduced budgets, the university has found it impossible to help needy students, with the implication that the mission to prepare Jamaicans for future development has been greatly diminished.

Meanwhile, some students are also finding it difficult to access funds for their education. It is estimated that currently, some 1,600 students have not been able to honour their financial obligations. It is a fact that many students appear to be struggling.

Early warnings

These indebted students, many of whom come from low- or moderate-income households, seem to feel the university has turned its back on them, leaving them with few options to complete their education. For in justifying their protest on Monday, they used words like "unfair" and "unreasonable" to describe the university's action. Albeit since the start of the semester, students who were in arrears were denied access to certain resources. There was an early warning that delinquent students would be barred from sitting their exams.

But the huge puzzle is, why did the protesting students direct the greater part of their anger at their fellow students who were writing their exams? The thuggish behaviour displayed on Monday is highly unacceptable, and many persons have been clamouring for disciplinary action to be taken against the students. Indeed, many will be watching to see how the administration will deal with the issue.

The debate on funding tertiary education cannot be ignored any longer. At the core of Monday's highly charged protest was a plea for discussions on public tertiary education to begin in earnest. The problem has to be examined in a critical debate in the hope that new ideas will emerge to make tertiary education more affordable. It is essential for the well-being of the country that more people acquire tertiary education to expand the ranks of the middle class.

How does a country stabilise funding for tertiary education? If a country believes that a public university must respond to the critical needs of the community and the economy, and that it should train a workforce to meet the requirements of employers, our Government should do more to actively encourage, seek and engage partnerships to fund education. It seems the benefits would spread all around.

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