Hundreds of students at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, are livid after learning that they will have to pay as much as $128,000 extra for tuition. This UWI Fee Hike will be effective this upcoming academic year despite an earlier pledge that fees would be frozen amid the coronavirus pandemic.
While tuition fees remain the same as last year, the amount required for students in some faculties will be higher because costs are quoted in United States dollars. Students in the faculties of Medical Sciences, Law, and Engineering will be primarily affected.
The Jamaican dollar closed on Wednesday at $147.71 against the greenback but The UWI pegs its tuition rates at J$141. Last academic year, the university assessed its rates at J$138.
Some of the students took to social media to air their grouses while representatives from the Guild of Students spent the better half of Wednesday locked in a meeting with senior members of the university’s management team, hoping to get them to reconsider.
President of the guild, Sujae Boswell, said that the decision to calculate fees based on the current foreign-currency index would not be in the best interest of the students or the university.
“The reality is that we are in a pandemic, and this pandemic has had implications for not only the university, but also the students themselves, and so this is really a challenging time for students,” Boswell said.
“Students may have to opt out of continuing education come September, which would see some form of lower enrollment rate in the programmes affected, and so we don’t think it would be in the best interest of the university, at this point in time, to increase those UWI fees.”
Relief Then UWI Fee Hike Grief
Students were relieved when pro vice-chancellor and principal of The UWI, Mona, Professor Dale Webber, announced earlier this month. He announced that undergraduate tuition fees, as well as those for halls of residence operated by the university, would be frozen for the 2020-2021 academic year.
It, therefore, came as a shock to many that the university’s existing policy to charge in US dollars for some programmes could derail their efforts to pursue higher education through this UWI Fee Hike.
“We are in Jamaica. We have most of the population being students from Jamaica, and so to price in US dollars, it is something that perturbs the students on the campus because this is a local space,” Boswell argued.
Representative for the Faculty of Medical Sciences, Rajay Smith, said that the students are devastated. Those pursuing studies in medicine and dentistry will have to pay an additional $128,000 while nursing students will have to fork out $30,000 more. Those enrolled in the pharmacy programme will have to pay an additional $60,000.
“They are disgruntled, and many are saying that due to the current situation, those who used to go on the work-and-travel programme cannot afford it,” Smith said.
Many of the students who signed up for the work-and-travel programme in the US were prevented from doing so this summer because of restrictions imposed by the Trump administration.
Representative for the Faculty of Law, Jhenelle Small, said that UWI fees there have increased by $60,000.
“The university’s strategic plan speaks to the pillar of access to education, and this will not only just affect students, but, inherently, the university itself. At least 10 students from last night who spoke with me will have to take a leave of absence because of the increase in fees,” she said.
Representative for the Faculty of Engineering, Nile Anderson, said that the fact that its students are not sponsored and generally find it difficult to obtain scholarships will make 2020-2021 even more challenging.
“One particular girl that I have assisted in seeking scholarships, she said that when she saw the price increase due to the US exchange rate, she had tears coming into her eyes, literally, because she couldn’t fathom how she would be able to find $60,000 more when she was already struggling to find the initial $1.35 million that she had to find previously,” Anderson said.
Registrar for The UWI, Mona, Dr Donovan Stanberry, said that the pricing of courses at J$141:US$1 meant that students were already “ahead of the game” because the open-market exchange rate was even higher.
“The students have raised the issue of the UWI fee hike through their guild president, and the principal has committed to have senior management look at it,” Stanberry said.
Former principal at The UWI, Professor Archibald McDonald, had lobbied for a change in the policy of quoting fees for non-sponsored students in US dollars.
“They (university officials) disagreed with me. Let me be blunt. The management of the university and the campus said no, keep the fees in US dollars because it’s too much risk (to quote in Jamaican dollars),” the former principal disclosed during an interview with The Gleaner in 2018.