UWI: Bastion of Upper Class Academia

The University of the West Indies Mona is building yet another new hall, a third post graduate residence right beside the first post-graduate residence on Gerald Lalor flats. The multiple high rise buildings are in the same style of Towers (Elsa Leo Rhynie) and New Postgrad (Marlene Hamilton): 6 floors apiece with central staircase. Cookie-cutter condos, I call them, but without the grandeur.

But this isn’t news. September last year, UWI signed a deal with K Limited (parent company of 138 Student Living which is building the behemoths) which would see the university providing land for the company to build housing accommodations on. After a period of time (unspecified) the company would then hand over the buildings to the UWI ‘free of cost’ in ‘good condition’.

This business is disturbing on a number of levels.

First, Professor Archibald, Princpal of UWI, has said that this partnership represents a new direction in tertiary education funding. He’s expecting an increase in the enrollment of international students who can ‘pay their own fees’, hence the gung-ho enthusiasm about ‘world class accommodations’. These international students will offset the burden so that the university can offer grants and scholarships to Jamaican students who cannot afford university.

So he says.

It sounds nice, but how realistic is this pipe dream? How many international students are willing to come to a Caribbean university with very little clout in the global workforce? Is our accreditation valuable when they return home or go further abroad in search of business opportunities? Aside from housing, what else is the university doing to entice international students? I’m not seeing much going on.

Then, will an increase in international students really translate to an increase in the financial resources available to Jamaican students? Maybe I’m jaded by Jamaican bureaucracy but I don’t see that happening. Our academic and political leaders have glib tongues; so good at soothing our ears and lining their pockets.

Third, while the property belongs to UWI the buildings belong to 138 Student Living who will reap returns on the rent paid over. Not that I’m concerned about the state of the university’s coffers (except as it relates to them justifying yet another outrageous hike in tuition fees), but how much of the rent will the university get from this arrangement? Then when the buildings are turned over to the university after an unspecified length of time I doubt they will be in anything resembling ‘good condition’. This just means more financial losses for the university.

(Memba when Rex did jus buil? Only ten years later, it start to look jus as pop dung as the rest of them. There is no building in the world that can withstand the natural disaster that is the University Student).

One thing that reinforces my distrust is the price tag attached to these new halls. According to Aldeam Facey from Life as a Jamaican, the cost of rent per month is touted as $395 U.S. dollars (~$46,000 JMD). Not even our tuition is quoted in Jamaican dollars these days, sadly. How is the average Jamaican student supposed to afford this cost of living? Those grants and scholarships Professor Archibald was going on about rarely cover accommodation costs and will only help a select few.

According to Aldeam (again), the residence is being marketed to ‘graduate students, medical interns, residents and Norman Manley Law School students’. With a setup painfully reminiscent of hall life (check out the Virtual Tour on their website), I don’t see anyone who’s already been through university clamoring to sign up. Unlike Marlene Hamilton hall (new Post Grad), kitchen and dining room facilities are shared. You only get your own bathroom (a tiny one, it looks like) and the list of prohibited items is extensive. Sounds like undergrad all over again.

And 138 Student Living isn’t stopping at one new hall of residence. They have their sights set on demolishing and rebuilding Irvine hall (notorious for being one of the more affordable halls on campus). And when the Gleaner asked about similar plans for the other traditional halls (Chancellor, Seacole, Taylor), the chairman said he would wait and see.

All this is leading me to conclude that the university is starting on a path of exclusion and exclusivity. Once, not so long ago, tertiary education was the domain of the upper class because of the prohibitive costs. Is history repeating itself? Are we going to reach a point where the ever expanding lower class will be barred from getting higher education (and thus launching themselves out of poverty)?

Tell you what. I’ll wait and see.

The price of physicians

My tuition for the upcoming school year (2013-2014) is $632,000 JMD (about $6,000 USD).

This is after an 80% government sponsorship.

Which makes the actual school fee closer to $3,000,000 ($30,000 USD).

Medical students have to find this money every year, and the price is hiked further and further away from our increasingly smaller wallets. And contrary to popular belief, medical school is not crammed with rich kids. Some people have parents who’ve invested blood, sweat and tears to make sure that their offspring can have his/her life’s dream. Some people have scholarships. Some people are paid for by their governments. And, yes, some people just happen to be rich kids whose parents can fork out $1.5M a year to keep their kid happy and occupied. But it still costs money.

Keep in mind that tuition doesn’t include living expenses, or textbooks. Medical textbooks run in the thousands of dollars. Very few texts cost less than $1,000 USD, and the expensive ones are the essential ones that’ll take you through your entire medical school career. Only, you have to buy two or three of them every year.

One sociological theory (I think it’s Functionalism, but don’t quote me on that) says that the worth of a profession (i.e. how much the professional should be paid) ought to be directly proportional to how much they invested in their education.

You spend all this money on your medical education, and graduate with living expenses to pay up and loans to pay off. You get a job – you’re almost guaranteed a job – that doesn’t pay you nearly enough to live half as lavishly as most of society thinks doctors do. Many interns live at home and fight for extra duty hours at the hospital so they can save enough money to be comfortable . . . eventually. If there is one habit you pick up in medical school, it is investment. You invest in studying to pass exams, in years of education to get a good job, in your career so your family can live comfortably. You get used to delayed happiness. But I digress.

The government of Jamaica is struggling to afford its doctors. It’s fighting to stem the brain drain that we’ve been hearing about since primary school, and which has never been more real since you’ve come face to face with the black hole of occupational opportunities. It’s fighting to keep producing doctors from willing students who just can’t afford university.

On the other hand, the University of the West Indies has made a business of creating doctors, opening their doors to everyone who can afford it. The new Medical Sciences building is the  carrot on a stick for international students, the ones with the money. Because it makes no economical sense for them to cater only to a government (Jamaica) with a running tab that they never pay (that 80% government sponsorship is really more like a giant IOU). You really can’t blame them; they’re just trying to make the best of a bad situation.

Meanwhile the public grabs at free health care with both hands while simultaneously berating the substandard service. They raise hell when doctors “sick out” in response to low pay and bad working conditions. They don’t understand that everything has a price.

But it does.

Everything has a price.


Been away for a while guys, my apologies. Having no internet will do that to you. I’m still not 100% back, but keep looking out for updates, ’cause there’s a lot of stuff I need to rant about.