I will not be a hypocrite and condemn the Ministry of Education’s scholarship intervention to approximately 400 CAPE students on a yearly basis. Indeed, I have gained social mobility through access to a government scholarship, several years ago. This investment in my education benefited the local employers that I worked for.
Nevertheless, it is irksome to acknowledge that many CAPE scholarship winners have avoided paying back the Government for its investment, while they accepted work abroad.
According to the Auditor General’s Report, $ 26 million is owed by an estimated 70 scholarship winners, from 2012 to 2019.
Rather than criminalising the scholarship delinquents, do we really know all the reasons why payments have been dodged by these scholars?
Firstly, the scholarship unit lacks the capacity to effectively manage the files of a large number of scholarship-recipients.
From 2000 to 2019, the number of scholarships has increased from 50 to almost 400. But the personnel to manage this section has not significantly expanded to a corresponding rate.
I concede that public sector modernisation has occurred at the Ministry of Education. But there has been no major plan to provide institutional strengthening of the scholarship unit to proactively manage the files of scholars. In some instances, follow-up with delinquent scholars is not sustained. Hence, some scholars “free-ride” the system, and they are not scared of the consequences.
Secondly, an apparent free-riding occurs by a few returning scholars, because of a breakdown in communication with the Ministry of Education and affiliated Government agencies, to find “suitable employment.”
Indeed, some scholars return to Trinidad with high expectations of contributing to the nation in their specialist area. However, they encounter inertia by scholarship placement officers to adequately find them relevant jobs.
A main reason for the inertia is neither incompetence nor lack of concern by the placement officers. Instead, a bureaucracy of rules hinders the recruitment of skilled scholars in relevant ministries.
For example, upon returning to Trinidad with credentials in industrial relations and human resource management from the London School of Economics, my placement officer tried her best to find me a job as an industrial relations officer or a human resource officer. But I was barred from these positions, as they were prioritised via internal recruitment, based on seniority.
Another hindrance lies in the fact that statutory agencies are not traditionally targeted to provide employment for returning scholars.
For example, a trained doctor is not easily placed in a hospital, if the jobs are administered under the regional health authority—a statutory agency. Or a Robotics Engineer is denied placement at Bureau of Standards or science-driven Niherst, which are statutory bodies.
Thirdly, some delinquent scholarship recipients deliberately default from returning the exorbitant money paid to them, because of perceiving a culture of “populist” social policy. This sense of entitlement is being emboldened by a euphoric cult of “prestige-schools” and their affiliated religious-bodies, exerting pressure on the State to offer scholarships.
Successive Governments have obliged in this extremely subtle form of political patronage, to pursue the mantra of human development.
Paradoxically, these famous schools and their associated religious denominations do little to encourage scholarship recipients to provide pastoral care to the national community.
In an era of globalisation, it is inevitable that CAPE scholarship recipients may form a flow of the “brain-drain” to the North. But various state agencies must work together, so that “seniority recruitment” is negated and statutory agency job-placement is optimised.
In the absence of this suggested policy, I controversially predict that we will discover more cases of Trini emigrants owing the State unrecovered sums of cash.