UTech students want education ministry to settle scholarship fuss
The entrance to the University of Technology, Jamaica in St Andrew.

The education ministry is again being called on to honour its end of the bargain by students who in 2017 successfully bagged the Ministry of Education/University of Technology's annual full-tuition Technical and Vocational Education Scholarships.

This comes as the university has again held on to degrees because the ministry has failed to pay over balances.

This has resulted in a number of those scholarship recipients being forced to accept half pay, as their employers are unwilling to pay them their full salaries unless they can present the degree. A full salary, the Jamaica Observer was told, is in the region of $130,000, after deductions.

"I am a teacher who received the 2017 TVET scholarship by MOE. The agreement was that once I maintain a 3.0 grade point average and above, I would retain my scholarship and I did just that," Oshin Grant, one of the affected graduates, told the Sunday Observer on Friday. Under the arrangement, graduates have to agree to be bonded for five years, during which they work in the public school system here.

"I have been working since 2021. I graduated last November, and I am unable to get my degree because MOE has not paid over the money they owe on my tuition. I have been making half of what I should get because of this and no one at the ministry seems to care," Grant, who said she has contacted the ministry and the university several times about the issue, told the Sunday Observer.

"There is a $390,000 balance, which tells me that they haven't been paying over tuition for me since my second year. I have another friend who graduated 2021 and that batch was having the same problem until they gave them provisional clearance so they could get the degree. However, they are still owing funds for her, because she tried to get a transcript last month and they said there is a $297,000 balance," Grant said.

In relation to that batch of students, the Observer had published their concerns and sought a response from the ministry, which had promised to address the situation resulting in the provisional clearance being given. According to Grant, despite those degrees being turned over in good faith, the promise to clear the balances had not been fulfilled, so that the university, in order to avoid a repeat "is adamant that if they don't get the money they are not going to give out the degrees".

"That batch hasn't been paid up either. UTech gave them provisional clearance to get their degrees, but the ministry has still not paid over the funds," she said.

The freshly minted educator described as "disheartening" the situation which she said has forced her to live hand-to-mouth.

"Currently, my take home pay after deductions is $63,000 and I have responsibilities. I have to take care of my sister [high school student] because our father passed away in 2020 and that responsibility fell to me. I am not originally from Kingston; I am from Hanover, so I have to pay rent and travel to work. So, if I break down my salary, $25,000 goes to rent, $10 or $15,000 goes to my sister, $20,000 for work and the rest of that is to buy food," she told the Sunday Observer.

Her advocacy, she said, has been met with meaningless platitudes.

"I contacted the scholarship coordinator at UTech several times. The last time she told me she has been in contact with the ministry because there are several other students having the same issue and the ministry said they are looking into it. When I contacted the TVET scholarship coordinator at the ministry she said they are in contact with the university and she is not understanding what is happening and I would be informed but I have not heard anything. I even e-mailed her up to Thursday and nothing," Grant said.

The Sunday Observer is in receipt of one of those e-mailed conversations.

The disheartened educator, in the meantime, is appealing to the ministry to rectify the situation.

"To be honest, there are a whole lot of feelings. There is anger, I feel disheartened, I am disappointed because of the fact that this was an agreement that I signed with the ministry, and I fought in university tooth and nail against all of the other things that was happening in my life to ensure that I did not fail one module for the four years.

I was there and I upheld the GPA. And then to know that after I have finished and I am working, I do not get paid what is due to me because they are not upholding their end of the deal. I have cried, I have hurt and at this point I just need answers," she said.

The Sunday Observer has placed another query with the ministry's communication unit regarding the plight of the students.

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

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