by Norman Girvan

Commentary

An item in Jamaica’s Sunday Gleaner (August 16, 2009) reports on the decision of the UWI Mona’s Law Faculty to turn itself into a “self-financing entity”. The majority of Jamaican students admitted to study Law will now have to pay almost the full economic cost of their education, amounting to US$10,000 per year (presently J$890,000, but this will increase as the Jamaican dollar depreciates). A minority will access the programme at the subsidised fee of J$201,000/year.

In addition, Jamaican law students wil no longer to the UWI’s Cave Hill (Barbados) campus to do years two and three of their degree. The cost of this is US$16,800 per year per student, and the UWI Mona cannot afford it.

This is a signficant development. It is a futher sign of the impact of the global economic crisis on Jamaica. One of the results has been a 9 percent cut (J$700 million) in the Government of Jamaica’s financial subsidy to the UWI Mona Campus.

There are several implications that are worth noting:

(1) The further erosion in Jamaica of the principle that “education is a right”, and extension of the principle that “ediucation is a privilege”, or better still, “education is a commodity to be bought” (the Gleaner article notes that the decision mirrors one taken by the UWI Mona’s Medical Faculty six years ago),

(2) the further reversal of opportunties for upward social mobility in Jamaica, law education being one of the principal historical means by which individuals from the lower social strata have moved upwards (only 80 high performing students/year will be admitted annually at the subsidised rate, which is still a hefty J$201,000 year)

(3) tendency for the reproduction of traditional patterns of class/colour stratification in Jamaica–only the economically privileged wil be able to afford fees of close to J$1 million/year

(4) removal of one of the sole remaining elements of regionalism in the UWI student experience–Jamaican law sudents will no longer be going to Barbados,

(5) further implantation of an individualistic, mercenary culture, amongst the professional elites, particularly the legal profession; and

(6) further differentiation within Caricom (and the Caribbean) in the availability of social services to the general population. In Babados and in Trinidad, tertiary education is either free or highly subsidised to all students gaining acceptance to the relevant institutions. In Cuba, education at all levels is free.

Commencing in three years time, when the first batch of graduates from the commercialised UWI Mona law programme begin to come on stream, we can look forward to the accentuation of a parochial, individualistic culture in the Jamaican legal profession, with a social composition that reproduces existing hierarchies in the society. This is a trend that may already be underway with increasing numbers taking their degrees from UWI competing institutions, as the Gleaner article points out. In other words, UWI is being forced to adopt the model of competitor institutions.

None of this, by the way, is to criticise the UWI officials who have made these decisions. It follows logically from the system in which we are a part and from the “rules of the game”. One of those rules is that payment of the public debt is the first charge on the fiscal budget. Debt service absorbs over 60% of the Jamaican budget. When debt service trumps all; social services must bear the adjustment. Ultimately it is the poor and the less privileged in the society who will be made to pay the social cost of the global financial crisis–a crisis provoked by the greed and irresponsibility of Wall Street and the City of London and of the governments that not only permitted, but encouraged, this.