As Government seeks to reduce its expenditure, the issue of the high bill towards the Government Assistance for Tertiary Education (GATE) was brought forward by Finance Minister Colm Imbert last week.
According to the minister, the availability of government funding for nationals pursuing tertiary education has over the years led to a vastly higher intake of students than before it was first introduced in 2004.
In leaner times like now, this poses a problem for the Government, given that the higher intake of students is directly linked to the bill the Government must pay to the University of the West Indies (UWI) and other qualifying tertiary education entities.
The next step, as announced by the minister, is to have UWI review its courses and present to the Government those that it believes should continue to attract GATE funding and those to which the GATE should be closed.
The criteria for the choosing, however, haven’t been disclosed, the minister only saying that the Government will not tell UWI what to do.
But perhaps a better approach might have been a mixture of Government and university experts working together to align the chosen courses with the Government’s medium and long-term plans.
GATE, we should not forget, wasn’t introduced in isolation. It was always the intent of the Government to educate citizens towards the then Vision 2020 objectives.
With that vision having failed and being adjusted to a 2030 timeline, it has been less spoken of in the last few years and no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic would have all but put paid to the hope of achieving most of the objectives.
With world leaders having set deadlines for the reduction and elimination of fossil fuels as energy within the next few decades, it remains unclear what the new vision and timelines are to ensure we’re positioned for sustainable and healthy growth when that time comes.
And although our annual budgets reflect on short to medium-term policies, the Government has to tell the country what the long-term direction is, particularly with the economic damage COVID-19 has done.
Like the 2020 and 2030 policies, there needs to be a clear statement on diversification goals, infrastructural development, the overall health and wellness of the nation, productivity enhancement, technology, national safety and food security.
It is only in this regard that our education investment can be aligned with the creation of the right professionals for the success of the vision.
While some of the short to medium-term plans arise in our annual national budgets, when our medium to long-term strategies are derailed, the political will and aggressive determination to get back on track as quickly as possible are often not there.
If we are to cut back on the funding of GATE, it must not just be about salvaging to fix our current problems, but about strategising to ensure it’s worth it in the long run.
To ensure that we get the best out of GATE funding, we must first be clear on what the endgame for the economy is with clear timelines of how we intend to get there.
In so doing, not only will the revised GATE funding continue to be an investment in our human resources, but also a sure investment in the future development of T&T as well.