Letters to the Editor

A solution to students' loan problem

Monday, October 15, 2012    

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Dear Editor,

According to the media, the problem of supporting the increasing number of students wishing to enter the universities in the island gets more difficult with each passing year. Successive ministers of government have suggested modifications to

the present inadequate students' loan system.

The system is inadequate because of two factors. In the first place it does not seem to be solvent enough to satisfy the growing demand. In the second place, students find it difficult to repay the loans with the high interest rate of nine per cent. That students cannot repay their loans should be no surprise. Apparently, they can find no jobs upon graduating from the universities. But also, the government itself is not a model of fiscal responsibility in paying back its own loans.

Yet there is a solution to the students' loan problem. One obvious fiscal measure to support higher education in Jamaica would be to develop a new, exclusive revenue source. This source would be designed expressly for higher education support, while relieving students of the onerous burden of borrowing money to pay for their college education. To begin, the government should impose a fee of US$1 on each tourist arriving by air or by sea to the island. This fee would be applied only to tourists on cruise ships and those using hotel facilities. That is a small percentage of the airport fees assessed on all travellers.

With the official estimates hovering around two million tourist arrivals per year, that would yield approximately $2 billion for higher education. Clearly that is a paltry sum, but it is a start. A bold government could do the maths and ascertain the optimal point where tourists are willing to pay the fee without impacting their destination choice. So it might even be possible to increase the fee substantially in following years. Then the government, with some justification, could declare that tourism matters to every Jamaican.

John Brown




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