A Short and Very Casual Essay To and On Behalf of COB Students

This article is a contribution to the discussion about COB’s new fees written by Dr. Carlton Watson, Assistant Professor in the School of Mathematics, Physics & Technology at the College of the Bahamas.

1. COB and the Art of Selective Progressivism

People are saying, “Well, the students should expect to pay more.” The question is why? I guess ’cause that’s the new thing now – more fees. It is interesting that folks would make this statement without seeing COB’s financials. Is COB making a profit or loss? Or are we just breaking even. Who knows?? Why won’t admin make the books available to the public? Quick story: in 2008/2009 I started inquiring about how lab fees were being spent for the School of Sciences and Technology. I was basically told, “Don’t worry about that, you’re getting your fair share.” After many many requests I finally saw the figures. Come to find out less than 20% of the collected lab fees were actually being spent on lab equipment. The take away from this is I love my institution, but most COB administrations have not had a good track record when it comes to funds appropriation (to be clear, I’m not accusing anyone of stealing but of just not being concerned about basic accounting).

I have too many stories about COB’s bookkeeping to ever trust anyone on blind faith… nor should I have to. If the college wants to raise fees, it should justify in very clear terms how those fees will be spent. It should also give full financial reporting to those who pay those fees. Where did those numbers come from? Are they based on the president’s dream book? To me it is funny that the college now wants to be all progressive and university-like about charging these very specific fees (’cause I guess that’s how they do it in the “states”), but when it comes to being progressive and university-like in its transparency, accountability and reporting to its stakeholders, it has no problem falling perpetually short (can’t get away with that in the “states”).

So until COB can get a grip on this thing call basic accounting and appropriation I say NO NEW FEES. Until COB is willing to demonstrate that every single penny of the technology fee is being spent on technology for students… I say NO NEW FEES! Until COB is willing to demonstrate that every single penny of the student activity fee actually benefits students… I say NO NEW FEES!

2. Race To The Bottom – 242, We Gat Dis!

The major justification for the new fees is based on the decrease in government subvention. The question is, why is the government cutting the subvention? They say we’re really broke so we must cut back. We jus een gat it, they say. Really? Well this broke country’s government plans to spend $2.223 billion this year. Some of that money comes from taxes and revenues. Some of it comes from debt. By the way, students: guess who’s going to have to help pay off that I. O. U? Yup! Y. O. U. So the question then is not one of not having money to spend but prioritizing how we spend. How can we decide what is reasonable. There is no rule of thumb but it might be useful to get a feeling for what our neighbors are doing.

Based on our total expenditures, for every $100 OF OUR MONEY that the government spends $1.10 is allocated to direct funding of tertiary education in the Bahamas (not counting UWI). That number drops to under $0.90 if the subvention is cut. Is that enough? Who knows? I say no. What about Jamaica how much on tertiary education do they spend per $100 of government expenditure? $1.80. You mean Jamaica with all its high debt and interests on debt, etc prioritizes education (in monetary terms) 63% more than we do. WOW! How about Trinidad and Tobago? – $2.21 and Barbados? – $4.10 ! If how we spend money as a country is a true reflection of our priorities, then that means that tertiary education is 270% more important to the people of Barbados than it is to the Bahamian people.

In fact I suspect, we prioritize less money on education as a percentage of total expenditure than most countries in the region (so much for being a regional leader). What do you think is the long term position of a country that spends relatively less money on tertiary education than its neighbors? Not good!

In terms of expenditure on all education (K-12 + tertiary) the numbers don’t look much better either. And generally they get even worse when scaled by GDP or GDP per capita or GDP per capita per Student or GDP per capita per number house or any other kind of metric that you can dream up. The bottom line is, based on our spending habits, education is not important to us. It has never been.

So students the next time someone tells you about all that money government spends on education and how you should be grateful for the money they give COB, politely tell them thank you. But realize that you are probably talking to someone who has not given serious thought to the problem or to someone who is not well informed. I know some people will say that money is not the answer to everything. I agree, true it isn’t… and I say in those cases then don’t spend money… but if you are going to spend $2.223 billion, shouldn’t it go to the things that matter most… like education, health, security, you know the little things that are most important for the long-term health, peace and prosperity of a nation?

That’s why I say… #NO NEW FEES

* The figures presented are approximations based on a quick analysis of the countries’ 2012/2013 budget estimates and have not factored in the subvention that regional countries send to the UWI system. The Bahamas figures also do not factor in the new borrowing for this fiscal year; which makes the relative numbers worse.

3. COB: A Game of Shadows

Even in the wake of my demonstration of how education in the Bahamas is severely underfunded, relative to our West Indian bredrren, I know there will be some who continue to argue that the impending budget cuts are still necessary. Once again they are not! In fact in the last few months most of the global economic data has pointed to the dangers of budget cuts but I know some folks think that if it sounds good to them and make sense in their own heads, even if it isn’t based on anything real, then that’s all that matters. Don’t get me wrong cutting waste is good but indiscriminate budget cuts (and fee/tax increases) – very bad.

Anyhow, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that these cuts are so ‘necessary’ – can we expect that the other 73 departments/budgeted heads of the national budget will also be cut? Will there be 10% and then 25% cuts to the Ministry of Finance (MoF) and the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), The Ministry of Grand Bahama (whatever that is), etc.? It is interesting that COB received a negligible budget increase (~ 1% ) for the year 2012/2103, but the two units that fall under the direct purview of the prime minister, OPM and MoF, received budgetary INCREASES of 27.7% and 39.4% respectively – how convenient. Students you should demand that the OPM, MoF and all budgeted unit heads share the burden of these ‘necessary’ cuts. YOU SHOULD ACCEPT NOTHING LESS! Furthermore, you should insist that their cuts be based on the 2011/2012 budget and not the selectively inflated 2012/2013 budget.

I sometimes hear some folk say they don’t want their tax dollars being used to support COB. They’re not necessarily saying they want to pay fewer taxes but rather they just don’t want you benefitting from them. See dey een ga no problem paying the full cost of twelve years of primary and secondary education for 50,000 students enrolled in our public schools (even if dey chirren does go to private schools). They just gat a major problem helping to defray the cost of less than 5 years of tertiary education for 5,000 students. In fact they don’t mind paying $23 million to house 1,600 inmates up Fox Hill but $25 million to educate you and roughly 4, 999 other students – not their good tax dollars! If you want their full financial support, it seems you gat-to burse someone in dey head and get sent up Fox Hill fa dat (please do not try at home, school, the president’s office or anywhere for that matter). They would rather their money be used to help promote Atlantis than help you get promoted in life. They would rather their money be used to pay consultants from the UK to produce a couple sheets of paper (even if they don’t know exactly how much they paid them… or exactly what’s on the sheets of paper… or if there were any papers to begin with) than help you become a productive citizen. They would rather… I think you get the point – they’re just not into you. I know their thinking seems a bit cold and maybe even a little crazy, but thank God that you’ve got a president, council and government that’s got your back from mean-spirited, short-sighted, clowns who don’t mind doing you in and who think that the first place to start cutting from a national budget is your education.

Yeah, I heard about the recent fee increases (sorry ‘bout dat) but you caann really blame the government, council or the president for dat? You see the prime minister say een know what ya’ll talkin’ bout – so you caan blame him; and the minister of education, well een no one tell him – so you caaan blame him; and what about the council chairman? Well, he say he was traveling, and he say he een know wat gone down – so y’all DEFFFFINITELY caaaaan blame him. So it mussie Betsy fault then? Not really ‘cause they say y’all shouldn’t blame that poor woman, she’s just the president. She was probably only taking orders from one of those people who een know what gone down.

Yeah, I know! This wursa than “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.” It seems like no one’s to blame for ya fee increases so you misewell just go ahead and blame yourself… and while you’re at it, blame yourself for thinking that this country of yours should devote more tax dollars to ensuring that you not only get an affordable education but that you do so from a decent and well-funded world-class institution. Well that’s jus the definition of a freeloader: hoping that society will pay your college fees so you could get a good job and contribute to society and make lotsa money and pay lotsa taxes, some of which might be used to help some other young person become a freeloader by getting a good quality, affordable, maybe even free, college education… so that they could get a good job and contribute to society and make lotsa… just like you! Well, I hate to spoil it for you, the world don’t work that way, so I suggest you stop dreaming and get back to reality. Bey, where you tink you was, mussie in Barbados aye!

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