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Subsidize Tertiary Education: Should it be FREE? The Case of the University of Belize (UB) Print E-mail
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Thursday, 09 August 2012 00:00

There has been much in the news, because the Government announced, through the Minister of Education, that come January 2013, certain obligations to students will be discontinued. Education is pivotal to the development of our country, but we must be mindful that if we disregard the lower levels, then the foundation will be weak and students in tertiary level institutions will be underdeveloped, where pedagogical, critical thinking and problem solving skills are concerned. The recent budget allocates some 25% of total expenditure to education, but let us not forget that the many expenses that must be incurred to ensure QUALITY education. UB is now 12 years old and since the transition from the University College of Belize, the question must be asked, “How much of its total expenditure is subsidized by government?” Is the cost so outrageous that it excludes many potential students from acquiring an Associate or Bachelor’s degree? There seems to be a level of misunderstanding by students, when it was announced that certain fees will no longer be met. There was nothing said about government no longer subsidizing costs with the $10 million grant per year, which benefits the over 4,500 students, who attend UB. This grant ensures that UB does not have to increase tuition to pay its faculty and staff, develop programmes, or spend on infrastructure development.

Five years ago, the government agreed to absorb the fee increase, because it was determined that the notice period was not satisfactory for students parents to make budgetary changes. There was an agreement that government would pay the increase for a finite period of time (6 months) after which students would pick up the cost. The truth is that present students will still be subsidized, but new students will meet the fee payments themselves. We must be mindful that the government further subsidizes the cost of education through scholarships. This does not mean that the students go for free; government must pay UB for the tuition and cost for those students.

The next step is to look at the tuition cost at UB, as compared to other tertiary level institutions, by credit hour, in Belize in 2009. The comparative analysis is at the Associate and bachelor levels. The tuition cost at the Associate level is below that of junior colleges in Belize and the irony is that the cost of instruction is higher at UB. In economics or finance, any entity operating below cost would cease to exist or would have to downsize. At the university level, it is expected that a certain percentage of the faculty would be trained at the Masters or Doctorate levels, which increases the cost of instruction. At the Bachelor degree level, the tuition at UB is also significantly lower than other bachelor degree granting institutions in Belize.

At the associates level in 2009, at Galen University, the cost per credit hour is $240.00; at SJC it’s $30.00; at Sacred Heart in Cayo, it’s $30.00; at Ecumenical it’s $28/30; at San Pedro it’s $45.00; at Muffles it’s $30.00; at Corozal Community College it’s $30.00; at UB its’ $29.00. It has been established that the cost of instruction at UB is higher than the other institutions, yet per credit hour is less, because it’s highly subsidized. At the Bachelor’s level, Galen is $240.00; at UWI, it’s $160.00 and at UB it is $90.00; in fact Galen has been raising tuition and today, it is around $350.00/per credit hour. At the Bachelor’s level, students at UB pay between 22% and 38% of the tuition cost at Galen and about 56% of the tuition cost at UWI. In essence, the true delivery cost per credit hour, without taking into consideration the cost of infrastructure or use of building and facilities was estimated at $222.00 in 2009. UB charges only $29.00/per credit hour for Associate and $90.00/per credit hour for bachelors. UB students pay 13% of the full delivery cost of an Associate’s degree and 40% of the true cost at the Bachelor level.

After 12 years, the vision and mission of UB has to be towards restructuring for the future and to move closer towards accreditation. This requires substantial investment in infrastructure and meeting other expectations. Many members of the faculty at UB lecture at Galen and UWI, so the level of instruction is the same. Tuition fee has not increased and programmes are still being developed. There has been a greater level of diversification in concentrations; the amalgamated schools are still functioning. UB has reached out to students country-wide through the establishment of Centers as far as the Toledo District. This can be very expensive. If the total expenditure of UB was calculated and the students were to be charged the full cost of tuition, it might exclude many. This is not the case, as more and more students are able to remain at home and acquire a Bachelor’s degree. It is generally accepted that the return on investment in higher education accrues principally to the individual. By extension, it is argued that the individual can be expected to meet a greater proportion of such costs, as compared to lower levels of education. The government’s policy is that it will focus on the primary and secondary levels of the education system, while maintain a reasonably high level of investment in tertiary education. If we fail to soundly invest at the foundation level, the building will not stand.