Education and social justice

Students of The UWI Mona are already coming to recognize some critical issues connected to housing in tertiary education and tertiary education financing. This has been amplified by the email correspondence from the Office of the Campus Principal and by extension the principal of the Mona campus inviting us students to make an application for one of the 576 single bedrooms that will become available in August 2015, and also the nostalgic anticipation of increased tuition for the 2015/16 academic year.  Inclusive of these issues are: the increasing student numbers; soaring tuition costs; suitable and affordable housing and social inequality (the poor), its impact and accessing tertiary education.

PhD candidate, Aldeam Facey concludes UWI’s new hall is not for the lower class. The indicator of this is the “whopping” $45784JMD or $395USD for a month’s rent (as at current foreign exchange rate at the Jamaica dollar to the $USD). Another Mona student, Well Read Robin commenting on the housing development cites, Professor Archibald McDonald, Principal of UWI, stating that the new student accommodation partnership represents a new direction in tertiary education funding. The blog credits Archibald saying that an increase in the enrolment of international students who can ‘pay their own fees’ will offset the burden so that the university can offer grants and scholarships to Jamaican students who cannot afford university.

Robin questions the value  of the UWI, Mona  degree and the ability  of the university  to attract a large number of international students to realize  such a dream, and  the  pronouncement of  increased funding or revenue  to  assist Jamaican students? Robin dismissed the idea of the The student questions the partnership between the UWI and 138 student living calling it counterproductive with the Mona auguring greater financial losses in the long-term.

Housing development it seems is a part of strategic plan to fund government fall-off, as there was already news of renovation of the Gerald Lalor postgraduate flats and the demolition of the 50 year old Irvine Hall to be reconstructed by 2017 and the possibility of similar development for the other more affordable traditional halls. The investment in tertiary accommodation is nothing new: globally the student accommodation market has become a substantial mainstream global investment category, attracting increasing interest from investors, developers and private operators. Globally, investment in the student housing sector has more than doubled over the period of 2007 to 2013. A 2014 report from international real estate adviser Savills details that student housing was one of the best performing sectors during the global economic downturn and is becoming a significant asset class in the world stage.

Purpose built student housing produces reliable rental income flows derived through short tenancies, which is secured by depth and stability of demand. The growing demand from students, combined with low levels of competing supply in many world-leading university cities, is creating new opportunities for investment in premium purpose built accommodation (Savills, 2014). The UWI, Mona has caught on to the trend it seems.

While the approach to funding tertiary education is innovative; yet, it does have some attendant challenges in developing countries: and the Jamaican context is no different. Regular students, who are perceived as the mass –student loan beneficiaries and struggling middle class- are unable to afford these types of accommodation. And  as such  the UWI, Mona  is on a path  of exclusion and  exclusivity  for  the  expanding  lower  class  from tertiary education (Robin, 2015)  as was the UWI’s past.

There are signs of this occurring already. The UWILEADS Social Justice and Change investigated earlier this semester some challenges associated with student housing in particular homelessness of tertiary students at the university. For this particular vulnerable group the collection of interviews after analysis indicates that homeless students face significant challenges such as resting and sleeping in a safe secure place, bathing and changing of clothing nutrition, storage of personal items and mental anxiety.

For sure  these are serious  problem to be  fixed,  and  the cant be  fixed overnight. Who will  lead the challenge? What will the advocacy on these issues look like? Is it even important really? So many questions  are to be answered? Who will answer them is  even are question of greater importance.

What  is promising is  the Guild of Students, in  particular  the Guild President  has the  fortune to start addressing some  of the challenges  before it becomes a present problem  that students face, to ensure  that  the most vulnerable, the poor  and those  particularly more vulnerable  like  the homeless are  protected. These elected representatives and the others to follow in the coming years have to opportunity to have students, at least some, experience social justice.