Establish an Emergency Tuition Fund

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

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Dear Editor,

Minister of Finance Dr Nigel Clarke recently released a budget that has reignited hope for many economic sectors and individuals, especially owners of small businesses and students with arrangements with the Students' Loan Bureau (SLB).

However, while I applaud this $14-billion reinvestment in the country, there is still more that should be done for tertiary students in Jamaica. Currently, only 19 per cent of young people aged 19-24 are enrolled in a tertiary institution, and only 15 per cent of the workforce has a tertiary education. This low figure of enrolment and training must be of primary concern to a society that relies heavily on human capabilities to drive social and economic development. It is because of this need to train and qualify human resource that in 2017 the Education Minster Senator Ruel Reid stated the Governments' goal of doubling tertiary enrolment over the next 13 years. He noted that the Government would be providing increased opportunities for students to access tertiary studies at institutions across the island and would provide greater access to funding.

The reduction in the interest rate for the SLB scheme, as recently tabled by Minister Clarke, is one such excellent initiative aimed at increasing access to tertiary education. But there are students who face emergency financial situations that should be considered. For example, there are students who are promised funding and unfortunately have that sponsorship delayed or not given at all. There are also students who incur financial challenges along the way, even though they initially had their sources of funding along with other exceptional cases. These students must be considered in the grand plan of increasing access to tertiary education. And so I propose that a portion of the $45 billion that will be handed over to the Government from dormant bank accounts must be placed in an Emergency Tuition Fund which can be accessed on a case-by-case basis by needy students at a low interest rate to ensure sustainability.

Currently a committee is lobbying for Jamaica to join international standards by reducing the period that the dormant funds can be transferred to the Government from 15 years to seven years. If this is successful, the entire $45 billion will become transferable, but regardless, the Government will still have immediate access to $15 billion within the next fiscal year.

Minister Audley Shaw has committed these $15 billion to the development of low interest rate loans for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, and even though I commend this initiative I believe that the discussions must be broadened to include other worthy causes that also require funding, such as the proposal above. Additionally, it was only recently that the University of Technology, Jamaica community protested the need for an increase in its subvention as it is currently ranked as the lowest-funded public tertiary institution. And it was just last October that 800 The University of the West Indies, Mona students were deregistered due to inability to pay their first semester's fees in full or initiate a payment plan. This resulted in many of them being unable to sit their mid-semester examinations, which could determine a fail or pass for the entire course. An emergency tuition fund could have been very helpful to such students, especially for those that have not been re-registered to date due to inability to find the 25 per cent deposit that makes them eligible for the payment plan or the full semester's tuition.

If we want the country to truly prosper through an innovative and educated population then this investment is necessary for the students of our nation.

Christina Williams

UWI Mona Guild Council Secretary

ms.csswilliams@gmail.com


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