By MORGAN ADDERLEY
Tribune Staff Reporter
CONFUSION is still swirling over how the University of the Bahamas’ recently announced tuition and fee increases will be reconciled with the government’s long-promised vow that tuition for fall 2019 would be free for all students who meet certain criteria.
When asked yesterday how these seemingly disparate initiatives will coexist, Education Minister Jeff Lloyd acknowledged UB’s announcement but firmly told The Tribune the free tuition initiative is “still on the table” and first-year students will “essentially feel no effect from this”.
When asked if the government will still be subsidising tuition for all Bahamian UB students starting this fall, Mr Lloyd replied: “Details will soon be announced. But, yes, there will be a tuition free initiative at UB this fall.”
He added: “However, please know this, the actual formula for this tuition free initiative is still being calculated with (the) Ministry of Finance. And as (the prime minister) said, details will be announced later. Like around budget speeches.”
During a press conference yesterday, UB president Dr Rodney Smith said the new financial structure, which includes a 15 percent tuition increase for all first-year students, is “necessary for the fiscal health of the university”.
Last June Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said: “Beginning in September 2019 all full-time Bahamian students who meet certain entry requirements will receive free tuition.” Dr Minnis reiterated this promise during a recent Family Island town hall meeting.
Dr Minnis also announced during his budget speech last year that “qualifying students” from Family Islands will be given $500 per month as an accommodation allowance next year, because many of them cannot afford housing in New Providence.
When asked yesterday how this grant will help Family Island students if there is an increase in the fee structure, Dr Smith replied: “I really can’t comment about the government’s proposal. I will have to leave that to the government to make those comments.”
During his remarks, the UB president also said: “Beginning Fall 2019, all new first-year enrolled students will pay a moderate 15 per cent increase in tuition with increased charges only on those fees which have not been adjusted since the institution’s inception in 1974 and some without adjustment since 2008.
“Current and continuing students will see absolutely no increase in either tuition or fees, as long as they are students at the university,” he added.
When asked how this increase will fall in line with the Minnis administration’s promises for free UB tuition, Dr Smith replied: “What I would say about that is that the university has been working very, very closely with the government over the past several months with regards to the tuition grant initiative and these increases were also calculated into all of those figures as well.”
He added he does not think the increase will result in less students applying to the institution, noting UB’s vice-president of administration has done projections of “enrolment increases over the next several years.”
Dr Smith also provided the context within which the board of trustees made this decision.
According to the UB president, in December 2016, the former Council of the College of the Bahamas approved tuition fee increases for all students in the amounts of 20 percent for Fall 2017, 15 percent for Fall 2018 and 12 percent for Fall 2019.
This would have “amounted to a collective 47 percent increase” by Fall 2019 for all students.
“But this was never enacted,” Dr Smith continued, adding after this current Board of Trustees was established, the decision regarding the previously approved increases was rescinded, and a “revised tuition and fee structure was approved for new, first-year students for Fall 2019 only.”
“I must emphasise that for approximately 20 years, tuition has remained unchanged, despite the rising operational expenditures necessary to meet the needs of our multi-campus and growing academic community.”
Dr Smith said as of Fall 2018, the cost of attendance per student was between $26,810-$30,810 annually. This is projected to increase to between $29,180-$33,780 by Fall 2019.
“Today, according to our data, UB students are paying only 20 per cent or one-fifth of the true cost of attendance at UB, compared to the 38 percent which students are paying, on average, at other insertions around the world.
“It is imperative that our operating budget and in particular our revenue generation and cost-reduction reflect that growth trajectory. Retaining the current rate of tuition and fees without adjustments to reflect our current realities is an untenable position.
“This new tuition and fee structure for new students is necessary for the fiscal health of the university. We are on a decisive path to improve our fiscal position which includes stimulating a robust pipeline of private giving; growing our sponsored research and grants; and solidifying public-private partnerships to achieve our mission and strategic goals.”
Regarding student reaction to the increase, Dr Smith said conversations with student leaders have been “very supportive,” adding they date back to 2015.
However, he said he could not answer queries about whether incoming students feel misled by the announcement, adding no conversations have been held with new students.
Dr Smith was also asked to respond to Union of Tertiary Educators of the Bahamas President Jennifer Isaacs-Dotson saying they were not consulted about the matter.
“We have a board of trustees which is the governing body for this institution and the board really does not have to consult with the union in making its decisions,” Dr Smith said. However, he added these announcements were made at a general faculty meeting where “several union executives were present,” although the UTEB president was not.
“Since then we’ve had some conversations, actually we met yesterday (Wednesday), and she’s been brought up to date,” Dr Smith added.