The College of the Bahamas’ (COB) Council may as well put
the fava beans on to cook and pop a bottle of Chianti because it just leveled a
grievous blow to the prospects of many young Bahamians.
If you haven’t heard,
without the consultation of students,
faculty or staff the council voted to increase tuition fees by 50% per credit
for lower level courses and 30% for upper level courses. This
represents an increase from $300 to $450 for 100/200 level courses and from
$450 to $600 for 300 level courses and above.
Let’s put this tuition hike in its proper context. Last
week, owner of the “Everlasting Gobstopper” of construction projects, Sarkis
Izmirlian, suggested that the country’s education system was failing to produce
Khaalis Rolle, minister of state for
foreign investments, seemed to agree, saying that the
government couldn’t “opt out” of reforming this sector and that it had to move
faster to enact this reform. Mr. Rolle suggested that this kind of reform could
not be accomplished by the government alone but had to involve the input and
commitment of the entire community. The college council, however, does not need
That same week, the
Tribune revealed that
50% of Bahamians seeking to register with the government’s job exchange program
lacked basic language and math skills. Just a day before that the
Tribune also reported that
only “1% of the 19,000 public sector workers fall into the highly
skilled/technical category.” This makes
Winston Rolle’s assertion
shortages among high school leavers have resulted in the Bahamas having ‘a
pretty old workforce’ with an average age of 40,” all the more troubling. The
Bahamas has literally become no country for young men.
Now, let’s take last weeks events and frame them with the
overarching socio-economic trends we are experiencing in the Bahamas.
If you have been paying any attention at all to the economic
inequality in this country you have probably realized that it is growing. The
Gini Coefficient measures income inequality on a scale from 0 to 1, with 1
being the highest level of inequality. When Alison Lowe wrote her piece on
growing inequality in the Bahamas in 2013 the Gini Coefficient was at 0.58.
According to the
United Nations Human Development Reports, the Gini Coefficient has risen to
0.789. Couple that
the research on crime which tells us that narrowing economic
opportunity is driving the steady increase in criminality, while 68% of the
inmates at Fox Hill Prison have between a 10th and 12th
grade education only. This suggests that the opportunity to attain tertiary
education may actually be a crime deterrent.
We live in a country where a shortage of skills has created a
large subset of the citizenry that businesses claim are ineligible for
employment, and we’re talking about mostly youth. The civil service has done
its part to absorb some of these people but because of this skills deficit
businesses are left to hire those who are older. Now with more expensive
tertiary education combined with growing economic inequality, those who could
possibly attain the skills to fill that deficit may no longer be able to afford
it. And, with growing inequality and narrowing access to education driving
young people toward a life of crime, we can expect this tuition hike to
exacerbate young Bahamians’ struggle for a better life. What we’re experiencing
is filicide on a national scale.
However, it’s even more obscene than that. Make no mistake about
it—COB needs money. The total operating expenses for COB in 2014 was around
$44.1 million while total revenues were only $42.1 million, leaving a $2
million dollar deficit. This is partially the effect of reductions in
government subventions in 2013—the result of budget cuts because of increasing
government debt. In fact, COB was asked to cut some $6.25 million from its
budget over two years “without any reduction in quality and level of services
to the public.” If the pictures of hand soap in large Wendy’s cups floating
around on social media is any indication that has been difficult for the
college to do.
Dr. Nicolette Bethel has argued, given the history of tuition increases at
COB, for a long time students have benefitted from the low cost of education,
while the college expanded its resources and services. This new increase may
bring tuition in line with the cost of operating COB but there is a fundamental
question about how we as a society value an investment in the education our
The thing about investing in education is that like all
investments you spend now to add value in the future. And since we’re talking
about investment, only 11% of the Bahamian government’s budget for education
goes to tertiary education. Compared to Jamaica’s 20%, Trinidad and Tobago’s
22% and Barbados’ 40%, government spending is lagging. COB, its faculty and
students, add value to the Bahamian economy and that our government spends more
per inmate in Fox Hill Prison than it does per student at COB should give us
The truth is that the college has recognized for sometime that
it needed to diversify its streams of revenue. Even before that there have been
discussions about how inefficiencies at the college are creating substantial
costs. How does an institution with a program focused on sustainability not
take serious action to curtail its approximately $10,000 a day electricity
Yet, none of these things
are the fault of the students who will be enrolling this fall or the students
who’ve come before them. What we are witnessing is the shifting of the cost of
a lack of vision, innovation and decisive action by administration and
political elites on our young people. The hopes and dreams of young Bahamians
have become fodder for an unsustainable system—we are cannibalizing our young
to maintain the status quo.
Can Bahamian youth do anything to resist the mounting
pressures that threaten their future and that of the country?
When the government of the United Kingdom proposed increases
to tuition across the country in 2010, almost 50,000 students and their allies,
including university faculty and staff and labor unions, marched on Central
London. They occupied university buildings, administration offices and political
headquarters. Unfortunately because of the action of some protestors the
movement was tarnished and the cuts were approved anyway.
If this discourages angry COB students they shouldn’t let
it. I was a part of those protests and I can tell you that the student movement
in the UK laid a foundation of solidarity and political awareness that shifted
the composition of student unions throughout the country and feed the
anti-austerity protests that came after it.
Student movements have historically led to massive social
and political changes. Though culminating in violence, the strike and
occupations of French students in May of 1968 represented a turning point in
French history. In November of 1973 students at Athens Polytechnic went on
strike and the events that followed put an end to unpopular policies of the
government of the time and eventually led to a new democratic government.
Columbia, Chile and Amsterdam are all modern day examples of student movements
that are alive and powerful.
But this is not just a student issue; it is an issue of
national importance. If it is the job of labor unions to protect workers then
how will unions respond to policies that make it more difficult for laborers to
equip themselves in a competitive job market? Nationalists and unionist alike
cannot complain about an influx of foreign works while ignoring an increase in
the cost of local tertiary education.
Failing to see a connection between the two is a failure of purpose.
In the end, COB students must realize that it is their
tuition that keeps the lights on, the water running and even provides the room
in which the college council meets. This alone gives them more power than they
can imagine. Moreover, a college is not just a grouping of academic building;
it’s not just a campus. The college is a community built for their advancement
and benefit. If there were ever a time to remind those who govern the college
of these truths it would be now.
Joey Gaskins is
a graduate of Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY with a BA in Politics. He was
born in Grand Bahama Island, studied at the London School of Economics
and Political Science (LSE) where he attained his MSc in Race, Ethnicity
and Post-Colonial Studies and begun a Doctoral Degree in Sociology.
Joey lives in Nassau and is a former part-time lecturer at College of
the Bahamas, restaurant owner and a principal at the communications and
policy consulting firm, The Consortium Group (www.tcgbahamas.com).
You can reach him at
The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his/her
private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of