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Vasciannie advocates better financial support for university students

BY PETE SANKEY
Senior associate editor
sankeyp@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

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UNIVERSITY of Technology, Jamaica (UTech) President, Professor Stephen Vasciannie is encouraging commercial banks and other financial institutions to format special loan programmes for university students, arguing that financial support can help increase the number of young Jamaicans moving from secondary to tertiary level institutions.

“There could, for instance, be loan schemes for students in which the repayment period begins, say, two years after graduation — and not as soon as the loan is disbursed. The banks, as much as any other institution, are aware that investment in an educated society redounds to the benefit of us all,” Vasciannie said, pointing out that the financial challenge faced by many bright, young, and not-so-young students is the most serious obstacle to them pursuing tertiary education.

Vasciannie was addressing Dinthill Technical High School Alumni Association's Annual Dinner, celebrating the school's 80th anniversary, at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston on Saturday night.

According to Vasciannie, the Students' Loan Bureau provides valuable and much-appreciated assistance to many of the tertiary- level students, and has, over the years, been a key contributor to social advancement. But the bureau and tertiary institutions, he said, operate in a cultural environment in which some students are reluctant to take up loans to finance their education.

“Some students argue on the basis of fear: they are afraid that if they fail to pay off their loans they will be publicly embarrassed in the newspapers. The bureau must, of course, have means of collecting sums due, but it may wish to reconsider the strategy of naming and shaming,” he said.

“Still, with respect to students' loans, we may need an educational campaign in the upper forms of the secondary level in schools. This programme could explain in a structured way how revolving loan schemes work, note the relatively low interest rates on loans, and emphasise that the loan is an investment in future potential that should allow students to pay off their debt within a reasonable period,” he suggested.

“We need to remember that in most cases accessing a students' loan will be the first time that a young person enters into a major economic transaction with a financial institution. This can, in itself, generate fear if the student is not fully informed about the mechanics of the arrangement,” the UTech, Jamaica president said.

“Quite understandably, the Students' Loan Bureau requires borrowers to have guarantors; this to ensure the proper operation of the scheme. One problem, though, is that many academically qualified students do not, at age 17 or 18, have access to persons who have the financial wherewithal to stand as guarantors. If possible, we should consider an alternative arrangement under which students could opt to have part of their future earnings serve as guarantee for repayment,” he said, making clear that his comments were not meant as criticism of the Students' Loan Bureau, which, he insisted, “has achieved much with limited resources”.

Vasciannie also used his address to call for innovative ways to encourage more students to pursue tertiary education.

“University representatives should visit more secondary schools, should invite secondary students for more field trips, should carry out workshops and be prepared to share knowledge with secondary students,” he suggested.

“University representatives — lecturers in particular — should also undertake research and disseminate their research findings to the wider community as a way of conveying the values of research while raising the university's profile,” he added.

He said university provides an excellent pathway to higher levels of achievement, and suggested that students should be exposed to this pathway, particularly in a global environment which attaches increasing importance to specialisation and technical expertise.

He made it clear, however, that he was not suggesting that universities are the only avenue to higher learning.

“Similarly, I am not suggesting that the university is the only route to fulfilment. That is far from the truth, for there are several pathways to happiness and success,” Vasciannie said.

“We should remind students that university provides the opportunity for greater independence of thought and specialisation. Students at the university level are exposed, within the limits of affordability, to developments in technology, to practical methods of higher order problem-solving, and to the advanced technical language of various fields of endeavour,” said the UTech, Jamaica president.

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