By DANA SMITH
Tribune Staff Reporter
AFTER some 14 college students were denied entrance into the House of Assembly last week, Education Minister Jerome Fitzgerald said he has since apologised to the students over the incident.
Speaking yesterday morning outside Cabinet, he also addressed the looming non-tuition fee increase of $70 for the Fall semester – rising to $170 for the Spring term – for full-time students.
Mr Fitzgerald explained the college council is only trying to “balance the finances that are available”, given the financial state of the country, but he added the government will review the situation to see if they can “offset” the fees with further additional subvention.
“I also apologise to them for what happened at the House of Assembly,” he said.
“I was off the island but when I heard about it, I thought it was most unfortunate. I told them, I hoped that had I been here – it would not have happened, but unfortunately it did happen.
“They have come into the gallery before when I was there and I wouldn’t have anticipated they would have had any intention of causing any disturbance, whatsoever.”
He added: “I don’t think it’s a reflection of the government’s position, clearly not the minister’s or the prime minister’s position in dealing with COBUS executives.”
The group of students – also barricaded from gaining entrance to Rawson Square – were angry about the recommended fee increases at the college. The College of the Bahamas Union of Students (COBUS) is leading the widespread student unrest.
Mr Fitzgerald said during a meeting yesterday morning with COBUS, the student union expressed its concern with regard to the technology and facility fees, specifically.
“They also were concerned because they felt that the (college) council could have met with them further and listened to some of the ideas they had with regards to streamlining operations, cost savings at the college,” the minister said.
“I spoke with the chairman who agreed to meet with them this week to hear some of the thoughts they had.”
However, Mr Fitzgerald said, the fees will remain.
He explained “there has to be an understanding” given the situation the Finance Ministry finds itself in, in addition to the fact that the college council is “struggling” to make sure services offered to students “do not in any way suffer a detrimental blow because of the financial constraints they are faced with”.
“And so I think,” said the minister, “they did a balancing act and this is all about trying to balance the finances that are available and the state the country finds itself in.”
Mr Fitzgerald added that his ministry will now have to sit down with the college council and the Finance Ministry to determine “whether or not that we are in a position to essentially give a further additional subvention to COB and are able to offset this”.
“For now (fees) will stay the same but we will review it,” he said. “We will talk about it today in Cabinet, we will meet with the Ministry of Finance.
“I’m having the council send to me what the actual amount of revenue they plan to raise through these fees to see whether or not it’s something the Ministry of Finance is prepared to offset.
“That’s really where it is, right now and I said to them (COBUS) that we will continue to look at these things, but they have to appreciate that education is a priority for us but we have a lot of balancing and conflicting interests that we have to also consider.”