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MP: State should stand guarantor for PATH beneficiaries seeking student loans

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Senior staff reporter dunkleya@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, February 26, 2014    

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MEMBER of Parliament Dr Dayton Campbell has suggested that the State stand guarantor for applicants to the Students' Loan Bureau who are beneficiaries of the Programme for Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH).

Speaking during a meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on Human Resources and Social Development at Gordon House in downtown Kingston yesterday, Dr Campbell argued that it was difficult for such students to find people willing to stand guarantor in most instances. He said a number of students in his North Western St Ann constituency have turned to him in hopes that he could be their guarantor but said he could not as he still owes the SLB.

"Students on PATH are from a very disadvantaged background. It's very unlikely that they will be able to find guarantors and I do believe it is time the government stands guarantor for these students, they can think of bonding them," he said.

However, SLB Chairman Tony Lewars told the committee "that's something I could look at but just to point out that our experience is that not many students are denied access to SLB's loans because of the absence of guarantors, we are very flexible".

He said parliamentarians who are approached by students for help with this aspect should direct them to the Bureau.

"I don't know if that happens when they come to you, but maybe some of them don't even bother to apply because certainly when I sit in office quite a large number of persons come having problems with finding guarantors, some of them want me to be their guarantor but I can't because I still don't pay back my money yet," Dr Campbell said.

In the meantime, SLB Executive Director Monica Brown said the latest data available show that the SLB funds approximately 30 per cent of the enrolled students in tertiary institutions.

She said based on the SLB's mandate, allocation has been made based on need, however, the element of risk is currently being factored in to disbursement decisions as the SLB moves forward to a more risk-based approach to lending.

According to Brown, the absence of supporting laws to mandate persons to repay their loans upon completion of their studies was severely hampering their efforts to collect. Furthermore, she said the "entitlement mentality" was another of the issues the SLB grappled with in getting persons to repay. She has recommended that the Students' Loan Act be amended to make it mandatory for persons to repay their loans.

In the meantime, she said the SLB has entered into arrangements with the tax authorities to search their database using the Taxpayer's Registration Numbers of student beneficiaries to locate those who are working in order to be able to deduct payments at source.

"We have had some good responses, however, some institutions do the deductions but do not pay over on time," she said.

The Bureau said informal surveys have shown that about 50 per cent of students who have benefited claim they are not working and cannot repay but that it had no way of verifying these claims.

Opposition MP Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert (Southern Trelawny) made an impassioned plea for students who had completed their course of study but could not begin repaying their loans because they were unemployed. She said some mechanism was needed to capture students who are working and were reluctant to pay as against those who were not employed and just could not afford to.

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