PROMINENT educator Dr Herbert Thompson has bemoaned the fact that there are over one million Jamaicans below the poverty line who have to "struggle daily to provide the basic amenities of food, shelter, clothing and educational opportunities".
In an article written for the newspaper, Thompson, the new chancellor of the University College of the Caribbean (UCC), also found that only a third of Jamaicans of tertiary age were enrolled in tertiary institutions and argued that public-private partnership in higher education was critical.
"The number of Jamaicans who presently live below the poverty line is unacceptable for a country of this size with people as proud as we are," said Thompson, who is a former president of the Seventh-day Adventist-run Northern Caribbean University.
"From all indications, over one million of our people struggle daily to provide the basic amenities of food, shelter, clothing and educational opportunities to satisfy immediate family and household needs. When that number is added to the thousands of those who live on the edge of economic uncertainty, being just able to 'make ends meet' from one week to the next, we come face-to-face with the hopelessness which is our reality as a struggling third-world nation," he said.
Thompson suggested that because very few Jamaicans were born into money, "the escapees from this dungeon of poverty have been those who have been able to secure a sound education".
"There are thousands of our people who are ambitious enough to want to move ahead after high school but they are unable to make that move because they just do not have the money to go forward," he added.
Thompson cited April 2012 data from the Student's Loan Bureau (SLB) showing that approximately $2.4 billion was loaned to tertiary students for the 2011/2012 school year, while another $114 million was disbursed as grants to needy applicants for the same period.
"However, thousands of very ambitious but needy students were either turned down because they could not find guarantors to help them secure the loan or they did not bother to start the process, knowing that they did not stand a chance of qualifying. Addressing the problem of access for those persons is one of the matters which must be tackled in this country as a poverty alleviation strategy," he urged.
He also quoted the 2011 Economic and Social Survey of Jamaica as indicating that there were approximately 69,000 students enrolled in tertiary institutions across Jamaica for the 2010/2011 academic year, representing a gross enrolment rate of 33 per cent of the tertiary age cohort (20 - 24 years).
"Of course, when one examines the mean age of the thousands of persons (especially women) who are pursuing higher education in Jamaica today, it becomes clear that a different definition has to be given to the term 'tertiary age cohort'. For there are very many mothers, grandmothers, fathers and working persons who are discovering that any change to their economic lot will be brought about only through education.
"These more mature students are quite serious about the cost of education and they demand real value for their hard-earned money. That many of them have to be paying tuition and associated expenses for younger dependents makes value for money even more critical," said Thompson.