Given the limited availability of natural and other forms of resources generally in the Caribbean, it is almost impossible to imagine that our countries could have performed so relatively well over many decades on several fronts – socially, legally, politically, culturally, and economically – without serious commitments by our respective governments and private sector interests to maintaining and increasing where feasible investments in training in particular and education in general.
Although serious efforts would have to be made for Caribbean people to fully appreciate and quantify the returns on those investments – requiring empirical studies, for example – it is safe to infer that the level of socio-economic growth and developments that have taken place across the region is to a large extent a reflection of our significant financial injections into the expansion of educational opportunities for a wide cross-section of our various populations.
Accepting that premise, it is therefore mind-boggling that a small and vulnerable country such as Barbados with nothing other than its human resources to hold onto could even contemplate asking students to pay tuition fees to attend the University of the West Indies from academic year 2014/2015.
No one can deny that the government of Barbados is facing unprecedented fiscal challenges. However, an appropriate response to that scenario can never be efforts to cut public expenditure through the abandoning of payment of tuition fees for its citizens to attend the University of the West Indies.
Therefore, the news from Trinidad and Tobago that the Prime Minister and her government have committed verbally and publicly to continue the policy of payment of tuition fees for Trinidadians to attend the University of the West Indies is uplifting, progressive and consistent with the burning desire of ensuring that tertiary education continues to play its pivotal role in that country’s economic growth and development.
That decision by the government of Trinidad and Tobago is certainly not far-fetched. In a recently published scholarly co-authored paper on the relationship between education and development in the Caribbean, we observed that “the fundamental importance of investing in education because of its impact on growth and development” has received a tremendous amount of attention in the economics literature from both theoretical and empirical perspectives. Even though the results are mixed, sufficient evidence does exist to make one feels comfortable that the huge budgetary allocations year after year to education in various Caribbean countries are monies well spent.
Going forward, it is important that Caribbean countries focus their creative energies on developing and implementing the right educational policies in order to ensure maximum impact on our socio-economic growth and development. For example, in our paper, we cited the case of China where a chronological course of action that allocated priority to primary education, secondary education, and then to tertiary education, in that order of priority, was executed with significant gains in economic growth and enhancements of productivity.
As the old adage goes, “the taste of the pudding is in the eating.” Every Caribbean country’s development has benefited significantly from its massive investment in education. Why roll back our monetary injections into the education of our citizens now?
(Dr. Brian Francis, the former Permanent Secretary in the local Ministry of Finance, is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics at the Cave Hill Campus in Bridgetown, Barbados of the University of the West Indies)