The London based Commonwealth Students’ Association (CSA) is backing a call for Caribbean governments to clear debts to the University of the West Indies.

In a statement from the CSA penned by Benjamin St. Nicholas Fraser
Regional Representative for Caribbean and America, the University of the West Indies is a 70-year-old institution that has grown tremendously from strength to strength conquering the tides of multiple global recessions, severe natural disasters and outliving foiled attempts at regional integration.

The UWI has shown resilience through consistent succession of leadership, strategic planning, partnerships and financial adaptability.

However, the sustainability of the UWI may be jeopardized by a failure of governments to honour their obligations under the UWI 1972 Charter, para 24(i): ‘the contributing countries (15 in total) should ― undertake to contribute to the revenue of the University on a continuing basis.”

A collective debt of US$200 million is alarming. We acknowledge that issues such as climate change and economic recession demand intense financial investment, but we must never lose sight of the importance of improving access to education in a region that has endured centuries of exploitation and underdevelopment.

While the UWI boasts a graduating population of 120,000 up to 2012, thousands of Caribbean households have yet to experience the pride of seeing their sons and daughters attain a degree. The acceptance rate for UWI (offers to applications) in 2010/11 was 58% and in 2011/12, 45%. The data highlights an unmet demand for tertiary education.

While this situation has improved in the last six years, the University’s capacity to service the population has weakened over years of arrears in contributions.

The CSA supports the call of the Vice Chancellor Nigel Harris and recommends that the debt owed to the UWI be cleared as a priority in the next CARICOM Heads of Government Meeting.