OPPOSITION Leader Andrew Holness has called for more creative solutions to fund tertiary education in Jamaica, in the face of growing unease amongst thousands of students facing ejection from tertiary institutions because of their inability to finance their education.
Holness, who was education minister from 2007 to 2010, is calling for the establishment of a national education savings plan in which Government matches the savings that go towards paying for university and college.
He also suggests lower interest rates on loans to students pursuing studies that are considered in the national interest.
Holness' comments follow the revelation by executive director of the Students' Loan Bureau (SLB), Monica Brown, at a recent committee meeting in Parliament that the SLB had sourced only $1.7 billion out of the $4.2 billion needed to provide loans for this year.
"We realised, long ago, that the present system of financing tertiary education in unsustainable," Holness said, noting that the fund was not generating enough money from repayments to meet the demand for loans.
He said the number of potential students matriculating to universities and colleges doubled from about 6,000 to more than 12,500 during the Jamaica Labour Party's four years in office, which had more than doubled the demand for loans from the SLB.
The Opposition leader suggested lowering interest rates on SLB loans, and making the loans payable only when an individual is working. He also suggested even lower interest rates for students to take up studies in great demand and in the national interest.
Additionally, he also called for a national education saving programme to be created "in which parents can set up an account where their contribution would be matched by Government's contribution".
He said such a savings plan could run for as long as 18 years "so that at the point of needing tertiary education, that parent would have saved a portion of the cost and Government would provide a matching cost".
According to Holness, the SLB, as presently operated, will result in Government having to take on an increasing debt burden while the fund will only be available to a limited number of students.
Last month, Education Minister Rev Ronald Thwaites disclosed that the SLB was having difficulty procuring additional funds while also exploring the possibility of lowering interest rates from the current nine per cent.
Government Senator Floyd Morris recently suggested that a levy be placed on remittances to finance education.
Meanwhile, a source at the University of Technology (UTech) told the Jamaica Observer that students who had applied to the SLB for loans and had engaged the university about their situation would not be deregistered from the institution.
However, the source said students who had ignored appeals to come in and discuss a payment schedule but who had gone ahead and signed up for modules at UTech would be barred from the institution.