The Future of Higher Education – University debts and unpaid tuition fees
It is often said that education is the route to success, the way out of poverty and a path that allows one to climb up the social ladder. However, is education accessible to all? Was it meant for everyone? Will universities be able to sustain their future when students are unable to pay high tuition, miscellaneous and accommodation fees?
After reading the blog post by Boroughs (2013) about the effects of unpaid tuition fees on South African colleges, I recalled the research days 2017 at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, February 1-3, where students complained about the rising costs in accommodation fees on the campus. Three years later since Boroughs’ post (2013), the university students in South Africa continue to protest about high tuition fees in 2017 and here in Jamaica the battle continues. This is one of the trending issues across the globe and the quandary between students and universities continue and it begs the question of how will higher educational institutions (HEIs) like the UWI sustain its future if critical sources of funding, the students, are unable to pay their fees. Subsequently, how will Jamaica sustain its future through higher education, if students are not able to access for financial reasons.
Universities as an educational institution are seen as change agents. According to Mulhern, Spies, Staiger & Wu (2015) one of the missions of higher education is to prepare and educate its students to assume productive roles in the working world to contribute to the economy of the nation, live enriching lives and strengthen their communities. Arguably, this is a fair statement that any reasonable person can agree with; however, with students not being able to afford the high fees, they leave the universities and themselves indebted. As such I ask, are HEIs like the UWI, fulfilling their mission of serving the students and the nation as a public good? Is the future of higher education secured when students are not able to fund their degrees?
Unsecured Future for Indebted Universities
Johnstone (2003) posits that the financial problems faced by institutions of higher education are worldwide and the increasing cost of tuition per student continues to be an issue for many. With a significant reduction in government funding at the UWI, the institution has been forced to resort to alternative measures, one of which includes increasing fees for students and by fees I refer to tuition, miscellaneous and accommodation.
Similar to the students in South Africa, the Guild of Students at the UWI can decide to protest violently at Queensway against exuberant fees. In truth, universities are now being operated as businesses, whereby, creating income generating avenues to meet the institution’s expenses. All businesses have to earn to stay afloat and if stagnant funding continues to prevail upon HEIs like the UWI, they might be forced to close their doors like St. Augustine College in South Africa in 2013 or the University of Pretoria that closed and re-opened in October 2016 due to violent protests by students (Redden, 2016).
Therefore, to secure the future of higher education, universities must be able to sustain themselves and as such must have a surplus and not a deficit for the organization to operate. In light of this, the reality is, fees are needed and Jamaica’s economy cannot afford free education. But are fees the only source of funding? What about sourcing more funding for research and seeking more investments. For example, the UWI recently added the Burger King and Bad Dawgs chain to their range of food offerings, for the campus this means additional income from these businesses. Students have already been asking for another healthy restaurant, which opens the possibility having opening doors to another restaurant that serves healthy meals.
Additionally, in December 2016, the UWI on its mission of sustainability, commissioned their own well which removes them from paying high costs for water supply to National Water Commission (“UWI to save $150 m in water bills with new well,” 2016).
Implications of unpaid fees for students
McCaffrey (2010) states “the introduction of variable fees has accelerated a trend whereby students are much more likely to work during term-time (while studying full-time) yet still face greater debt on completion” (p. 272). Many students work pa
rt time on and off campus (for example Sutherland Global call centre) to pay their fees, others receive scholarship or funded by parents/guardians, while some resort to loans. Those that resort to loans end up paying twice or more upon completion of their degrees. We have seen this in Jamaica with the plethora of complaints about the Student Loan Bureau repaying system.
It is within this context that I ask how students will be able to provide and create their own sustainable future if they have to repay such high loans. They graduate, have the degree but spend half the time trying to repay the loan. Sadly, some students have also been asked to leave the university or not able to receive their transcripts or degrees until they have repaid all fees. Graduates socio-economic mobility hampered by high fees.
The Ministry of Education, Jamaica, places emphasis on the phrase “every child can learn, every child must learn.” Is this phrase a true reflection of our society today? If aspiring higher educational students are not able to afford tuition fees, how will we achieve sustained economic growths if a basic need such as education is hard to reach for many?
The irony –> Rise in Cost = More Students
Despite the constant rise in tuition fees at the UWI Mona campus, student enrolment in full time undergraduate programmes has increased consistently between 2010 and 2015, from 8,817 in 2010/11 to 11,403 in 2014/15 (Statistical Digest, 2016). Contrary to popular belief, one can argue that, the reality is fees will increase and since Jamaica has not gotten to the stage of the South Africans, then more students will continue to enrol and still complain about the fees. I will end how I began, education is the key to success, and we have recognized that it is an investment, fees high or low; universities will continue to have more students. Yes, some departments’ numbers have decreased but the overall enrolment rate has increased as stated above.
In Jamaica, the economy does not allow for fees to remain low, our dollar is weak and the inflation rate is high and universities will continue to increase.
Recommendations: Alternatives –> payment options
As a nation, we have to create the policies that will lead us towards a sustainable future. Parents and guardians should be encouraged to plan for college. This planning should begin from before the child is born or while they are at a tender age. Additionally, universities should align themselves with graduates and strengthen alumni association to give back as a means of providing financial assistance to students in need. Furthermore, universities can offset the cost by continuing to explore other business ventures through public-private partnership. Finally the restructuring of the loan systems, such as the Student Loan Bureau’s payment plan, where students should be able to pay when they are employed and without interest or at a reduced interest rate.
Fees cannot be avoided, education is needed and without it we cannot create a sustainable future for all.
Boroughs, D. (2013, December 16). Plague of unpaid tuition afflicts colleges in South Africa. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://www.chronicle.com/article/Plague-of-Unpaid-Tuition/143611/
Johnstone, D. (2003, September). Higher education finance and accessibility: tuition fees and student loans in Sub Saharan Africa. A case study prepared for a Regional Training Conference on Improving Tertiary Education in Sub Saharan Africa: Things that work, Accra. Retrieved from http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTAFRREGTOPTEIA/Resources/bruce_johnstone.pdf
McCaffery, P. (2010). Higher education manager’s handbook. New York: Routledge.
Mulhern, C., Spies, R.R., Staiger, M.P., & Wu, D. (2015, March 4). The effects of rising students costs in higher education: evidence from public institutions in Virginia.
Redden, E. (2016, September 27). Protests continue at South African universities. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2016/09/27/protests-continue-south-african-universities
The University of the West Indies. (2016, April). Statistical Digest 2010/11 to 2014/15. University Office of Planning and Development. Retrieved from http://www.mona.uwi.edu/opair/statistics/2014-2015/Statistical-Review-2010-11-to-2014-15.pdf
UWI offers 2% discount on tuition. (2016, July 25). The Jamaica Observer. Retrieved from http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/latestnews/UWI-offers-2–discount-on-tuition
UWI to save $150m in water bills with new well. (2016, December 16). The Jamaica Observer. Retrieved from http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/UWI-to-save–150m-in-water-bills-with-new-well