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COBUS: "Would like an apology from the Speaker of the House and Royal Bahamas Police Force"
Apr 21, 2013 - 8:03:11 PM

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Nassau, Bahamas - The College of The Bahamas Union of Students (COBUS) held a press conference today, April 21st where opening remarks were given by Alphonso W. Major, Executive Vice President & COBUS 2013-2014 President-Elect; and remarks by Donovan Harding, COBUS Deputy PR Director & COBUS 2013-2014 PR Director-Elect; and Ernesto G. Williams, COBUS 2012-2013 President.

Opening Remarks - Alphonso W. Major, COBUS 2012-2013 Executive Vice President & COBUS 2013-2014 President-Elect

We extend humble greetings this afternoon to members of the Media, COBUS Executives and members, and all others. Today, we as a united entity stand firm and resolute, conscious and transparent, educated and profound, to provide the public with updated facts regarding the recent activities of The College of The Bahamas Union of Students in response to the implementation and increase of non-tuition fees at the College of The Bahamas.

To date, this long standing tertiary institute that should operate on the principles of knowledge, truth and integrity, has been much desensitized in their efforts to uphold its core values of rationalism, diplomacy, and altruism towards the future operations of this College and it’s most influential and affluent stakeholder: the students. According to the College’s Strategic Plan, The University's Mission is to serve the nation, its citizens and indeed the world, by advancing novel solutions to problems through:

1. Building excellence.

2. Respect and care for students.

3. Responding to national needs.

4. Identifying competitive advantages.

5. Supporting innovation and initiatives.

6. Empowering people and creating effective teams.

7. Focusing on goals, results and the long term.

8. Demonstrating transparency and accountability.

9. Engaging the country.

However, having received correspondence that they were to submit a financial plan that reflects reductions in the College’s subvention by 10% for the 2013/2014 year, and then by complete 25% for the 2014/2015 year,the College’s Senior Team proposed fiscal recommendations that included an increase in tuition, whilst rejecting the many suggestions proposed by the College’s stakeholders. Following COBUS’ successful campaign against this tuition increase, the Senior Team found other alternative mechanisms to increase and create non-tuition fees to cushion the subvention cut.

On April 4th, 2013, COB Senior Administration made a presentation to the Unions at COB outlining the fees and supposed cuts in travel expenses, food and electricity at the College. No accurate figures or feasible prospects were offered, with the exception of following fees to be tabled and sanctioned: a $50 parking fee, effective Fall 2013; a $50 library fee, effective Fall 2013; a $100 Capital Facilities Development Fee, effective Spring 2014; and an increase in the Technology fee from$100, to $120, effective Fall 2013.

At that time, the Unions at COB rejected the proposals and offered even more suggestions, hands, time, and resources to find sensitive and efficient ways to respond to the financial cut, declaring the new proposal to be too burdensome on students and autocratic. These suggestions were NOT taken into consideration, but according to COB Senior Administration, were submitted to the Ministry of Finance the following day.On April 10th2013, the increase and introduction of said fees where included on the Agenda of the Council meeting. Despite the opposition brought forward once again, it was taken to a vote and passed with the COB President as the Student Representative and the UTEB President as the faculty representative being the only individuals on the College Council who opposed its passing.

"Or is the crux of the matter simply that any time a group of educated College students assembles to stand up for something within this country, they are immediately perceived as a threat that must be contained."

In efforts to sit and observe the proceedings of the House of Assembly on Wednesday April 17th, 2013, COBUS Members were denied access to Parliament due to allegations of security threats that they imposed,along the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas claimed to know nothing of the fee increases.The following day, due to knowledge of a Press Conference being held by the College Senior Administration and Council Chairman who still had yet to address the student body, students gathered outside the Boardroom of the M. H. Eldon Complex to ask questions and voice concerns. Only the Council Chairman addressed the student body, but the COB President and the VP of Student Affairs refused to do the same. By encircling her, the COB President had her Security Officers force her through the body of students and run her to her office, where she then later fled the premises due to the onslaught of students who followed her requesting she address them. She was in no way harmed or touched by the student body, despite the irresponsible reporting that followed the event.To this end, COBUS takes notice of the following:

1. The Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas stated in early March that no budget cuts would happen for COB, and that “all we’ve been saying to the College of the Bahamas is that if you are able to streamline and cut out excesses, but not budget cuts. We’re not going to compromise education at all”.

2. The College Senior Administration has formulated these non-tuition fees without justification,support, or data. The only justification seems to be that they are being implemented because of the subvention cut.

3. The chain of suggestions offered to the College Senior Administration & College Council from students, staff, faculty, middle managers, and has not gone forward. The suggestions rendered are those solely of those two bodies.

4. The College of the Bahamas is unique in its design, structure, culture, and representative bodies. In such, it is poor and unfair judgment to compare this higher education institution to colleges and universities abroad that exist in economies of different demographics than ours, and to compare this higher education institution to private secondary and tertiary institutions.

5. The increase and implementation of these non-tuition fees do not signal an improvement or advancement in the already decrepit and insufficient services and resources at the College of the Bahamas.

6. The subvention cut, along with the increase and implementation of these non-tuition fees, are not conducive to our recessive economy. Austerity measures of cutting across all departments and ministries with increasing taxes hinder national growth and development for small-developing nations.Quite the contrary, strengthening & solidifying systems, processes, and investments open doors for efficiencies, opportunities, and operating on maximum capacities.

7. The College Council and Senior Administration had yet to meet and address the various College Stakeholder communities about the second proposal created. It took the student movement during the College’s Press Conference to garner answers from the Council Chairman, yet the President still has yet to address the student body.

Also on Thursday April 18th, 2013, the Ministry of Education has requested a meeting with the College of the Bahamas Union of Students Administration on Monday April 22nd, 2013 at 11am, of which has been confirmed and will be attended. COBUS will continue to fight for the collective voice of the student body in what the College states is for “the future we all are building for The Bahamas and the opportunities we are creating for bright, hopeful, energized young Bahamians to actively participate in it”.

On April 17th, 2013, a group of about 15 College of the Bahamas students arrived in Downtown Nassau in peaceful dispositions to sit in the gallery of the House of Assembly. As these students approached the entrance of Rawson Square, they were greeted by over 25 police officers with barricades. The Assistance Commissioner of Police informed the students that as a result of security concerns they could not enter the House of Assembly.

He stated that an investigation into the matter was taking place, and until the investigation was completed,COBUS would not be allowed to proceed any further into Rawson Square. COBUS takes great exception to this, as we had no intentions whatsoever in causing any disruptions: we only wanted to sit within the chambers, observe the proceedings, and then leave.

"We must build on the 21st Century learning skills with the technology and resources that are needed to move the country’s level of education from the bottom of the list to the top with Barbados, Singapore and Finland."

We have many questions about what that transpired that day: what laws gives them police such authority to pick and choose who enters into the House of Assembly? How exactly were we a threat? Who exactly was in danger? Or is the crux of the matter simply that any time a group of educated College students assembles to stand up for something within this country, they are immediately perceived as a threat that must be contained. Even if there was intent to disrupt the proceedings which we maintain we did not have, Members of Parliament disrupt each other all the time within the House of Assembly - why aren’t they being denied access to the proceedings?

Is this still a democratic nation that we live in where fundamental rights apply?The College of the Bahamas Union of Students would like an apology from the Speaker of the House and Royal Bahamas Police Force for the perceived mischaracterization of our Student Union being a threat to anyone.

Speech 2 - Donovan Harding, COBUS 2012-2013 Deputy PR Director & COBUS 2013-2014 PR Director-Elect

Being students at the College of the Bahamas really affords us as individuals a real, hands-on perspective of why this higher education institution is inefficient, and where great improvements can be made. Not only are these inefficiencies wasting time because of the mismanagement of our resources, they’re costing the college more money, the government more money, our parents more money and with the implementation of these new fees,are now costing students more money – money which some students unfortunately do not have.

In the absence of substantiated data, it is our goal to bring these inefficiencies to your attention, and to show all that a solution can be found through our critical assessment and assistance by providing practical, logical solutions, not as idealists: rather as students who recognizes the direction where we as a College should beheading and who wish to insure our futures within the nation as a whole, even before we consider transitioning to University.

We will do my best to mention the most important inefficiencies with the most beneficial and cost saving solutions that we as a Student Union have looked at. We have had no access to any operational budgets nor have any of the college’s financial records, which speaks wonders for our Administration as I personally question these records and budgets more than I’ve had to question the existence of religion; that’s just me.Electricity Consumption – I need not tell you how high the cost of electricity is in this country as we all face electricity bills substantially higher than many other countries, but I will ask you this. Why is it that as a country that experiences a minimum of 18 hours of sunlight each day, we are still reliant upon oil which is imported from other countries? Why, since I am sure this has been raised before by students and faculty with no action being taken by Administration, so why is it that students at the College of The Bahamas are being forced to pay more to absorb the burden of substantial energy costs? We have our own renewable energy source all year round – no costly oil to import, no importation of the lowest grade of bunker oil andno harmful emissions. Why haven’t the College and even the Government started to utilize it, as both of their investments into this is pivotal? We even have skilled faculty who teach this: we need to take all of this seriously. Our country is one of the top 10 countries in the world that will face challenges of sea level rising as a result of climate change, and yet we’re taxing students as well as citizens for electricity that speeds this devastating process up? What message are we sending to our future generations? Surely we aren’t saying we care, perhaps we’re saying that they should learn to swim, as that may be the only way we’ll survive in the Bahamas. Cost savings alone should be enough to persuade the implementation of solar &even wind technology, but climate change demands that we get serious. If the Government doesn’t see the importance, then I urge the College to be the initiators of this change to cleaner energy like we students are, and then we wouldn’t have to increase fees for already struggling students.

"Being students at the College of the Bahamas really affords us as individuals a real, hands-on perspective of why this higher education institution is inefficient, and where great improvements can be made."

Poor Electrical Wiring – This College’s wiring has come under question many times by students and it leaves us with no doubt that it is costing us. Some lights around the campus simply cannot cut off, while others flicker from on and off infinitely on their own. So, we’re forced to pay energy costs for using the room even when it is not being used. Old wiring on top of old wiring that uses more electricity to relay currents are all over this campus and adding to our high energy costs. Shouldn’t things like this be changed to lower energy costs rather than increase students’ fees? Should we put sensors on our lights so that they detect when no one is in the room and turn off automatically? This removes the reliance on staff to turn them off manually and it guarantees that we don’t pay for classroom operating costs when we’re not using them.

Disconnect of Information Between Colleges - Students, faculty and staff at one point have all voiced their frustrations with disconnect among the college’s various schools and departments. Students especially experience this: for example, when a particular school or department requests a student’s transcript for a course exemption or scholarship request, or even institutional application, they are required to go over tothe Records Department to print their transcript {which they pay to be printed), then walk back over to the School or Department to submit the transcript with the accompanying forms, and then wait for a school official to process the exemption. All of this consumes too much time for all College stakeholders. Wasted time in these cases have a cost, both financial and moral, and only adds to the frustration for students,faculty, middle managers, and staff. The solution is simple: better information technology services with access by various Departments and Schools of the College. With a better information technology structure,all departments that need student information should have access to see student information. No lines, no fees, no wasting time, no having to hire staff for manual labor anymore. With our newly appointed CIO, yes another hiring without our involvement, it is hoped that this will be the first thing on his list of things to do, and let the College be reminded that there are CIS student majors & educators in COB who could definitely lend and gain invaluable experience and support from information systems like these.

Reliance on Paper – As I just mentioned, we at COB seem to love the idea of paper. Paper for handouts,paper for assignments, paper for marking, paper for forms, and the list goes on. Shouldn’t we be moving away from all this paper that adds to high operating costs? Even printers and other supplies like printers,ink and toner have to constantly be replenished due to the constant use and dependency of paper.If we’re serious about cutting costs, we need to move forth to making our campus more digital. How many trees have we killed as a result of all this paper use? Let handouts, and assignments be emailed to students.Let students submit work electronically. Make it so that the only time we use paper will be to print a diploma at the end of the day. (I’m exaggerating to some extent, but I’m talking sense). It will be less trees we kill, less paper and ink we have to buy, less filing we have to do manually which takes a lot of employee’s time that the college is paying salaries for and less frustration when you’re told that one of your documents have been lost. Going this avenue of cutting extraneous costs also creates opportunities for partnerships with technology companies and financial institutions to finance a digital revolution on campus, since the knowledge and capacity are there. We are in the digital age and we as students welcome a leap into 21st Century culture rather than the way grandpa used to manage.

As productivity is necessary to escape our debt, let’s put in the resources necessary to improve our college by eliminating efficiencies and adapting to the technological age rather than making education for our future unaffordable in a respectful, inclusive, open and transparent manner, which surely cannot happen when the chief CEO cannot even face students!

Speech 3 - Ernesto G. Williams, COBUS 2012-2013 President

The myriad of issues currently being faced by the College of the Bahamas Union of Students, particularly in regards to increased fees & tuition, are simply not conducive to the development of students at the College of the Bahamas. Members have attempted to address these issues in a diplomatic fashion with requests for meetings and information ignored by many entities, specifically the College Council who has introduced &passed several fee increases effective immediately.

But we are left to question the following:

Why is our higher education institution, which makes up the most valuable institution in our country, having its subvention cut? The White Paper on Education notes, “education is essentially a continuing process and its benefits tend to become more widespread, and its evolution more natural and sound”(White Paper, 2). According to the Department of Research and Planning for the College, the single biggest obstacle to economic development in The Bahamas is a lack of an educated workforce – World Bank report, 2011. Any institution which helps educate the workforce is good for business in the country. The Mean annual earnings of a person with an AA degree is $31,609, and COB adds a value of $19.7M per year. The mean annual earnings of a person with a BA degree is $45, 866, and COB adds a value of $40.3M per year. However, the Bahamas spends less on higher education than elsewhere. COB’s subvention is typically 13% of recurrent expenditure on education (Department of Education). In Barbados, the figure is 30.2%, Jamaica, 20%, the USA 26% and Canada 36%. According to Chair of the School of Social Sciences, Mr. Stephen Aranha, “revolutions occur when our economic conditions become unbearable, when our material survival is being threatened”. Within the University Transition Secretariat College-wide Survey on Core Values that surveyed 487individuals, the majority of participants state that the philosophies, beliefs, and values of the College are not being adhered to – whole-person education, care and respect for students, etc.

Having purveyed the entire matter with an out-of-the-box perspective, COBUS sees the following that needs to happen:

1. That the subvention offered to the College of the Bahamas be maintained. No country should outsource the higher education of its citizens, so increase education funding and not decrease it.

2. That the new non-tuition fee prices at the COB be reversed, rescinded, and refunded contingent on if there is not an installment of improved, substantial services and resources relative to each fee offered.

3. That the efficiencies of the College of the Bahamas be maximized and exercised effectively with all College Stakeholders

4. That the College of the Bahamas adhere to and uphold the principles, philosophies, and values of effective leadership and good governance: accountability, transparency, owning up to mistakes,inclusion and collaboration, respect, care and devotion to the people, and research and informed decision-making.

5. That the financial documents of the College of the Bahamas be made available to the College Community and the general public at large.

Let us build a University together one where students are afforded a quality education at low to no cost! We must build on the 21st Century learning skills with the technology and resources that are needed to move the country’s level of education from the bottom of the list to the top with Barbados, Singapore and Finland.

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