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Committee to study tertiary education funding set up

BY HORACE HINES Sunday Observer reporter hinesh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, August 24, 2014    

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MONTEGO BAY, St James — Confronted with mounting demands from tertiary students for financial assistance to foot tuition bills, the Government has established a commission to study the medium to long-term funding of tertiary education in Jamaica.

According to Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites, the body of the committee — to be chaired by Patrick Hylton, the chief executive officer of the National Commercial Bank — will be made up of the "leadership of the financial sector, the University and the credit unions.

"I wish to announce today that we have a commission to look at the medium- and long-term funding of tertiary education in Jamaica," Thwaites declared.

"I am pleased to say Mr Patrick Hylton, the chief executive officer of the National Commercial Bank, has agreed to chair it," he added.

He was speaking on Friday during the second day of the three-day 50th Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) Annual General Conference held at the Hilton Rose Hall Hotel and Spa here.

Thwaites noted that "the Students' Loan Bureau can only manage so much", necessitating the establishment of the committee.

Meanwhile, newly installed President of the JTA Doran Dixon accepted an invitation extended by the minister for him to join the committee.

During his installation address Thursday night, Dixon, who proclaimed he was "passionate about access to students loan", called for an extensive amendment of the current students' borrowing agency.

"We must stop punishing or denying those who have done well or those who are not rich. I am making an urgent appeal for immediate and comprehensive reform of the student loan system," Dixon said.

He argued that a blatant flaw in the system is the focus on the guarantor, instead of the borrower.

"The approach, I put to you, is wrong. The students must be at the core of this activity, not on the fringe. Let us create a system that causes the student borrower. They have an obligation to repay their loan and take the burden off the guarantor. It is the fact that it is the guarantor that is the target that makes the system dysfunctional," Dixon argued.

In the meantime, noting the efforts that JTA members, community members, parents and other stakeholders in the education system are making to prepare students, Thwaites said that it was a disgrace when they matriculate for tertiary institutions and can't attend because of financial constraints.

"Parents can scarcely manage the $2.6 million that it costs for a year of medical studies — just to give an example — and it would be a reproach to all the efforts that you (JTA members) and others who have made those partnerships and community inputs, if those students were told that they can go no further now. And so we have to find a way," the minister of education argued.

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