Entrance to the University of Technology, Jamaica
100 scholarship students angry as degrees not released because ministry payment outstanding

One hundred students who in 2017 successfully bagged the Ministry of Education/University of Technology (UTech) Jamaica, annual full-tuition Technical and Vocational Education Scholarships are now furious at the university for holding on to their degrees because of the ministry's failure to pay outstanding fees.

According to the students who spoke to the Jamaica Observer through a representative, the situation is the final straw in what has been a very difficult four-year relationship during which fees were always late, imperilling their ability to register and select their courses. Now, they say, the excitement felt at the start of the arrangement has waned, causing them to want to leave the island in search of better opportunities like some of their colleagues have done.

“We were all excited about it, the requirement was that we maintain a GPA of 3.0 or over to keep the scholarship. All we needed to do was to keep our grades up and complete the four years. Once we completed, we were obligated to teach or work in the country, based on a scale of the amount of money they would have invested in us,” one student told the Sunday Observer.

“For me, because I chose to go on dorm, I would have had to work as a teacher for five years. I started working [this year], having completed the degree. However, throughout the four years of being students at UTech we found that there was a lot of discrepancy with the payment of tuition,” the student added.

The students further alleged that during the period, tuition fees and book grants, which were part of the arrangement, would often be released at the end of the semester instead of the beginning when the material was needed for their studies.

“Every semester when you are supposed to enrol, or start a new set of courses, the payments would have been late on the part of the ministry. So, we were given a conditional allowance to select our courses because they knew that the ministry would eventually pay. Whilst we understood that the scholarship covered tuition and dorm expenses, we had to find money to cover food and other things. The $50,000 for books came very late. A lot of times we got it when school was about to close; there was always a backlog,” the Sunday Observer was told.

Now the students say, having participated in a virtual graduation ceremony last weekend, the university has indicated that the degrees will not be released until outstanding balances are cleared.

On Thursday, when the Sunday Observer contacted the education ministry, a spokesman said the ministry was aware of the problem and efforts are being made to settle the accounts so that the students can have their certificates next week. He declined, though, to say how much is owed to UTech.

The graduates told the Sunday Observ er that they had also been blocked from taking their graduation pictures until they decided to lobby and pay for the package themselves in order to be cleared for graduation.

“It has been very distressing. We don't know what else to do. Even for us to get our graduation pictures, we had to appeal to the university. One of the reasons we were allowed to get the pictures is because we had to pay $12,000 for the package,” one student complained.

“In general, in order for us to get our pictures there would have to be a zero balance on our account. We paid the $12,000, we lobbied, we fought, and we were able to get our pictures. We thought it was our last fight,” the frustrated graduate said.

The educators who, based on the arrangement, have been bonded for between three and five years, said their fears of not receiving the documentation in good time were not unfounded as the batch before them experienced the same difficulties.

“That first batch graduated last year, and they did not get their degrees until March/April of this year. So, we would have thought that being that it happened that way last year they would have made efforts to fix some things so we could get our degrees early,” the student noted, adding that employers are unwilling to pay them their full salaries unless they can present the degree.

“The ministry wants us to work for three to five years in the country; I am doing what they want me to do, yet still I cannot get my full pay unless I supply my degree. So, it is as if it is counterproductive. They want us to do this thing, yet they are not enabling us to do this thing. Between UTech and the ministry it is not working out to our benefit currently,” he stated.

In addition, the graduates claim that some of their colleagues, who have opted to pursue their master's degree while teaching, are not able to acquire higher education because of this restriction.

“It has been very depressing; it has affected a lot of people emotionally. It has caused people to resent the Government because they are saying the reason for the scholarships was because a lot of teachers were migrating, so their solution was to give 100 scholarships to 100 teachers to repopulate the system. Here it is, we have completed, done our part and survived the four years and we are not getting what we were told we would get,” the man fumed.

“We are very furious. One student went to UTech today and that person was able to collect that degree and others went there and were told we are not allowed to because there are outstanding balances on our accounts, which is preposterous. We have been living through this for the past four years and we thought that things would have been better for us,” he added.

“What is even more distressing is all the news that have come out about money missing from the ministry, it is causing greater distress; teachers are already not being paid enough. It's a lot for us young educators to process because it is adding to the desire for us to just leave the country,” the graduate said further.

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

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