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Barrow’s Social Contract and UWI Fees by Hilary Beckles

For Release Upon Receipt - Monday, September 16, 2013

Our honorable Prime Minister has rightly called for an open dialogue on his government’s decision to introduce into the UWI system a charge upon Barbadian students of 20 percent of the cost of their undergraduate degree. The objective is to cut 42 million dollars from Cave Hill’s operational budget and to transfer that amount to students and their families. Government’s current contribution to Cave Hill’s operational budget currently stands at 62 per cent; down from nearly 90 per cent 12 years ago. As a nation we have answered the PM’s call.

My intervention is to the discourse that locates the issue of publicly funded tertiary education within the terms and conditions of the ‘Social Contract’ forged by former Prime Minister the Rt. Excellent Errol Barrow with the nation as he sought to create ‘The Just Society”.

As founder of the DLP, the Cave Hill campus, and the nation, he called me to assist with refurbishing his party’s ideological and intellectual image and vision as he sought to regain the government in 1986. He was keen to integrate into the DLP political language my thesis that his tertiary education policy was key to the long term economic enfranchisement of the masses.

His vision for publicly funded tertiary education emerged from his creative imagination that informed and determined his fiscal and monetary policies.

He was an artist as much as he was an economist. This combination enabled him to see the empowerment of the poor and dispossessed, and the rich with capital to invest, as equals within the nation. It was for this reason that we named UWI’s Creative Arts Complex in his honor- The Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination.

Barrow believed that publicly funded tertiary education was a social right invested in the masses for centuries excluded from the economic ownership structures of the society. He was anxious when the Tom Adams government set up a commission under Sir Roy Marshall to examine the alleged 'financial burden' of Cave Hill on the economy. The Marshall Report argued that the campus was in fact under-funded and was therefore challenged to deliver upon its national mandate. The Adams government accepted the report, and Cave Hill was given additional resources. His vision was left intact.

Barrow explained to me that his Social Contract with the nation on tertiary education was contextual:

1.    That on assuming political leadership of the country he was deeply distressed by its extreme mal-distribution of income. An estimated95% of the wealth generating assets in the country was in the hands of less than 5% of the population.

2.    That he was determined to enfranchise with tertiary education the majority population who had no real chance of functioning as equal economic citizens.

3.    That he had considered a radical policy of nationalization of land and property appropriation but opted against that route to wealth redistribution in favor of fiscal policies to raise revenues for publicly funded secondary and tertiary education.

Prime Minister Stuart and Principal Beckles are Barrow babies; born in his vision and baptized in the fiscal measures that assured our precarious survival. Are the thousands of children being raised by maids in our nation today ready to be weaned from the nipple that nurtured us? No, they are not.

Barrow indicated that there were two aspects of the Social Contract; one between the government and the wealth owning community; and another between the government and the masses.

Both aspects of the social contract were honored by all political parties in government and by the wealth owning classes. The contract has informed 50 years of the national economic planning, and the social coherence of Barbados as a unique nation state.

Michael Manley tried to implement the Barrow Social Contract in Jamaica. He told me that the wealth owning classes of his country rejected it. Jamaica suffered the consequences. What separates Barbados is this legacy, this identity as an educated place, a sophisticated nation. The social contract is a Barbados brand.

This tertiary education provision of the social contract survived and was strengthened by the 1970s oil crisis and the early 1990s financial meltdown. After each recession the country experienced economic growth and enhanced social well-being. It is not sufficient to say that this recession is the worst yet, and hence we should dismantle the fabric of the nation. We need more scientific planning and less financial punishing.

We should be guided by the two examples set at the Mona and St Augustine campuses with the 20 percent fee imposition.


The government of Jamaica funds two major universities, with over 25,000 students to consider. This is a massive and commendable undertaking. The Barbados government funds 6,500 students. The Jamaican fee model at Mona is considered by most policy experts a failure. The student loan fund has run out of cash; the campus is now carrying a massive student debt as rising numbers of non-financial students are at risk of being de-registered; the number of working class students has fallen.

St Augustine:

The Manning government introduced the 20 per cent fees in order to reduce the deficit. It did not achieve the fiscal goal. The black poor were unexpectedly disenfranchised. The St Augustine campus saw diminished numbers from the black working class. Government quickly reversed its position not because its fiscal position improved but because it had made a massive blunder.

Why should Barbados follow these paths that have failed all parties concerned?

What is required at this time is not an abandonment of the Social Contract. It can survive this recession as well. There are many choices available to us. We can creatively workshop the numbers and help the fiscal deficit. Let’s explore all option before we fall victim to the desire of a few who wish Barbados returned to the “Barbarity Times”, a term used by the enslaved to describe the slavery part of our history.




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