Are these the leaders of tomorrow?

Monday, May 07, 2012

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We hope that by now the University of the West Indies (UWI) students who protested against being barred from examinations last week would have reflected on their boorish behaviour and are feeling some sense of remorse.

For, as more information is revealed about how they conducted themselves, it is clear that they have no respect for rules and believe that they are entitled to higher education at the expense of taxpayers.

The very graphic account of their protest published in yesterday's Sunday Observer has not encouraged us to believe that among these protesters are individuals who are more moved to dialogue rather than slash and burn tactics.

Storming examination centres and ordering students out, because they made the sacrifice to find the money to pay their school fees, is not the kind of behaviour we expect from adolescents who are among the most educated in the country.

Kicking over desks and chairs to force compliance with their illegal act is even worse. It smacks of barbarism which has no place in a modern, civilised society and has left us wondering if this is how those students will respond to issues when they advance to positions of authority after graduation.

We are not for one minute discounting the reality that there are students at the university who are having a hard time funding their education. However, their response to the university's position cannot, and should not be to disrupt exams, assault their colleague students and damage property.

The UWI, we see, has given those in breach more time to settle the amounts outstanding. Our question, therefore, is why it had to require this nasty protest for such an arrangement to be made?

But even as we pose that question we cannot overlook the fact that the university needs to collect fees in order to function efficiently. The services that it offers are by no means inexpensive. The same is true of other universities, both here and abroad, where strict rules govern students' ability to continue attending classes and to sit exams.

The issue the UWI faces is that the government subventions it receives have been cut, and given the tight fiscal space in which Caribbean states are now operating it is hardly likely that those funds will be increased in the near future.

The upshot is that the UWI has been forced to earn income to support its operations, a job made more difficult with the influx of foreign universities offering similar programmes, some with very flexible payment terms.

The larger issue that, we believe, must be addressed arising from last week's disgraceful student behaviour is who should pay for tertiary level education. It's a tough issue to resolve, we accept.

The late Prime Minister Michael Manley tried free education. As critical as that was for the development of this country, economically, times have changed drastically from the 1970s. We now know that nothing in life is really free. And certainly not education.

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