When Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly announced last November that Government had decided to reduce national scholarships allocated to secondary school students from 400 to 100, it naturally caused concern.
In particular, students about to sit the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination for the coinciding period would have been under a bit more pressure to succeed. This is because for the majority of students, scholarships are a way of securing critical funding for the next level of their education.
It is no secret that tertiary level education is an expensive endeavour, with the more popular areas of study, including medicine, law and engineering, costing prohibitive sums for the average individual desirous of advancing their academic careers.
The previous scholarship programme undoubtedly gave thousands of students the opportunity to advance themselves over the decades of its existence. Unfortunately, the economic downturn brought on by falling global energy prices and the effects of battling the COVID-19 pandemic have put pressure on Government’s finances. This in turn forced the restructuring of not only the scholarship programme but the Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE) programme which also assisted anyone desirous of pursuing tertiary level degrees.
Naturally, the failure of some students to acquire scholarships has brought complaints from concerned parents/guardians who believe their child/ward achieved grades which should have afforded them a look-in for a scholarship.
The next hurdle is how the Government proceeds with awarding the 500 bursaries being offered to those students who did not get scholarships. Opposition MP Anita Haynes started that conversation with a call for transparency in the process. Truth be told, this media house is unaware that there ever was such transparency within the programme in the first place.
However, Minister Gadsby-Dolly should at least afford the students seeking to avail themselves of this new facility with a lot more information than is clearly available now. The minister should have been very active with an information drive long before now and we hope she will now be at the forefront pushing to ensure students and parents are assisted in this new process.
On that note, it is also high time the ministry implements measures to ensure the country fully benefits from the investment in scholarship winners. Far too often we hear of candidates who secure under and post-graduate degrees being unable to secure jobs within the government system, as per their contractual agreement under the programmes. This may be linked to the fact that the programme was not providing scholarships in line with the developmental needs of the country. Minister Gadsby-Dolly in one record as saying one open scholarship is worth the cost of almost three bursaries. It may also thus be time for Government to weigh whether it can continue funding studies in foreign countries for open scholarship winners, or whether it should be restricted to University of the West Indies programmes.
The minister thus has some work to do within this area to ensure T&T truly benefits from the investment in its young human resource.