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Moved by Observer story, PM and JLP donate $2.5m to help university students

Friday, November 22, 2019

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Three weeks after the Jamaica Observer reported that university students are virtually starving after struggling to pay tuition fees, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, through his Positive Jamaica Foundation, and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Education Fund yesterday donated a total of $2.5 million to The University of the West Indies (UWI) to assist students experiencing financial difficulties, particularly those at risk of being deregistered and barred from sitting examinations.

Holness said he was moved to make the donation after reading the story and contacted the UWI with a view to alleviate some of the financial burdens being faced by students.

A news release from the Office of the Prime Minister reported Holness as saying that he identifies with the struggles of university students as he, too, took a chance in going to university without being entirely sure how it would be funded but was fortunate to become the beneficiary of a bursary.

The story, which was published on Sunday, October 27, reported that an informal count by the newspaper showed that scores of students are facing severe nutrition challenges, though many shy away from discussing it due to varied reasons, among them, pride.

One young man, who spoke with the Sunday Observer on condition of anonymity, was in tears as he gave a detailed account of his experience as a UWI student who is on scholarship but still struggling to purchase meals and finance transportation to attend classes.

“I am on a scholarship that just covers education. In terms of meals, transport, and other amenities, those are not covered, so I have to find other ways. I have to be constantly making new friends. Some I know well, some I don't know very well, but they are aware of my situation and help out. After tuition was paid, I asked for an extension or further help and kept hearing 'no'. I have gone to other persons who I think could help and keep getting the same answer,” he said as his voice lowered to a mere whisper.

The student, who is pursuing management studies at The UWI, has lived a life of hardship which involved constant uprooting and moving from depressed areas such as Central Village, Maxfield, August Town, and Arnett Gardens. He also has the experience of living on the streets, sleeping on floors and finding shelter in a church when he and his mother had nowhere else to go.

The scholarship offer is a one-time grant to The UWI and will “assist students who have been 'means tested' or otherwise established as needing support with food, transport, books and other necessary living expenses. Also, it will help students at risk of being deregistered in their final year of study, provided that the amount outstanding is not greater than 60 per cent of the total fees due for the current registration period.

Under the scholarship, no beneficiary should receive a grant exceeding $150,000; students should be required to give a set number of hours of voluntary service to be determined by the university; and students should be notified that they would be required to commit to contributing to the university's Student Assistance Fund after they have graduated and are employed, to assist other students who would need such a grant.

Holness said he hopes the contribution will make a difference in the lives of those students who most deserve it.

He said while the JLP is a political organisation, it is more than just politics. It is a corporate entity with corporate social responsibilities.

Holness also said that education has always been a core principle of the JLP and pointed out that the theme of the party's Education Fund is 'Building Our Nation Through Education'.

Responding to the contribution, UWI Deputy Principal Professor Ian Boxill thanked Holness and said that it will go a far way to assist students to complete their studies. Professor Boxill also said the gesture represented an important symbolism in respect of giving, not just from a Government standpoint, but from a political party. He noted that this is an important example that has been set by the JLP.

Guild President Christina Williams expressed thanks on behalf of the students for the gesture which, she said, is an indication by the party that it believes in education and that our children are indeed the future.

The JLP's Education Fund, which was launched in July this year, has given five students full scholarships to cover all expenses related to their studies, while six students received partial scholarships. The fund has also issued 136 bursaries to workers or children or wards of workers of the party.


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