Jamaica Gleaner / Each year, there is a public dispute between university administrators and tertiary students over the non-payment of fees. While government responses have ranged from mediation to expansion of grants, and most recently, bailout, there has been a growing call for a reform of the financing of tertiary education in Jamaica.
A first step was therefore to answer this question: How much does an undergraduate degree actually cost? The Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI) set out to do so in its 2017 report Estimating the Cost of Tertiary Education in Jamaica .
Education is arguably the most important step towards economic and social development. Public benefits of a country’s investment in human capital include an expansion in the knowledge base of an economy, which drives productivity and technological innovation.
For individuals, attaining a higher level of education enables better employment prospects, higher salaries, a greater ability to save and invest, and a better opportunity for social mobility. These benefits have shaped the continued decision by the Jamaican Government, private donors, parents, and individuals to invest in tertiary education.
Beyond the catalogue cost
CAPRI’s recent study, undertaken in partnership with the Jamaica Tertiary Education Commission, aimed to determine the extent of the cost barrier to accessing and attaining an undergraduate tertiary education in Jamaica by looking at three institutions: The University of the West Indies’ Mona Campus (UWI), the University of Technology (UTech), and the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts (EMC).
Research revealed that the cost of tertiary education is significantly higher than what is advertised in the catalogues of tertiary institutions. Accounting for books and supplies, tutoring fees, cost of living, institutional subsidy, and other degree-related costs that are not covered in the catalogue, resulted in a significant increase in the cost of pursing an undergraduate education. For example, the total degree cost on average for a UWI student is over $3.4 million compared to the advertised cost of approximately $1 million, UTech $2.7 million versus catalogue cost of $1. 4 million, and EMC $4.4 million, compared to advertised catalogue cost of $1.1 million.
Additionally, the study highlighted the fact that a majority of the cost of tertiary education is borne by the student and their family. Accounting for the cost of books, supplies, and tutoring associated with pursuing a degree adds another 17-18 per cent of the cost of the degree for UWI, UTech, and EMC students. Going a step further by adding the cost of living results in a further increase of 46 per cent. As such, it costs the average student 64 per cent more to complete an undergraduate degree than is advertised in the catalogue.
Institutional subsidies by Government vary across institutions. An EMC student receives five times more than the amount of subsidy than a UTech student receives, and a UWI student, four times more than the same UTech student. The basis for this is that the cost of educating a student at EMC and UWI is considerably higher than at UTech, due to low enrolment rates and the nature of the programmes offered, for EMC, and the cost of research associated with UWI.
Towards alleviating the burden
Ascertaining the full cost of providing an undergraduate degree in Jamaica is critical for students, tertiary institutions, and policymakers. For students and parents, greater educational planning will have to occur to take on the additional costs associated with pursuing an undergraduate degree. Institutions can help with this by providing estimates of the full cost of a programme.
Where institutions are concerned, high dropout rates could be the result of socio-economic factors rather than academics. Indeed, a student needing to meet the daily cost associated with getting a degree might struggle to allocate sufficient time to their schoolwork, which in turn manifests as poor grades. As such, universities should further develop income-generating schemes and place greater emphasis, within the support system, on assisting the neediest students.
Finally, funding through subsidies, grants, and its institutions, while laudable, is inadequate. The majority of the cost of tertiary education is not covered by either subsidies paid to institutions, grants or loans through the Students’ Loan Bureau (SLB). The SLB only covers the catalogue cost (tuition) advertised by tertiary universities but does not cover miscellaneous fees, living expenses, and programme-specific necessities such as books and supplies, which are needed while pursuing a degree.
Grants such as the Grant-In-Aid programme available through the SLB does not keep up with the demand for tertiary education and is not available to part-time students. As such, the Government will have to revisit not just how tertiary education is funded, but also the support provided to students and their households.
Estimating the Cost of Tertiary Education in Jamaica is available to consult and download on CAPRI’s website, capricaribbean.org .