A security guard walks towards a quiet COSTAATT campus at Melville Lane, Port-of-Spain, yesterday. Finance Minister Colm Imbert yesterday announced the GATE programme, which assists tertiary level students with tuition fees, was being reviewed after it received a $35 million budgetary cut.

The Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE) programme is once again under review following a $35 million decrease in budgetary allocation, Minister of Finance Colm Imbert said yesterday. “I cannot give you any more information other than those four words: GATE is under review,” Imbert said during the Standing Finance Committee review of the 2021 Budget.He was responding to Barataria/San Juan MP Saddam Hosein, who asked whether the cut meant Government would reduce the number of tertiary education programmes funded by GATE.

In 2019 and 2020, the Government had allocated $435 million to GATE but that figure is now $400 million for 2021.

Yesterday, however, Imbert would only say that Parliament will get a report on the GATE review soon. When asked for details of the review committee, he said: “There is no committee. The Government is comprised of the Cabinet of Trinidad and Tobago and the ministry with responsibility for education is the Ministry of Education. So the Government of Trinidad and Tobago will be advised by the Ministry of Education, and then the Cabinet will take a decision. GATE is under review. Not only GATE, but many other things are under review.”

With no further discussion on the matter, Hosein surmised that there would be a cut in the programme.The GATE programme began in 2004 and provides financial assistance to citizens who pursue approved programmes at public and private tertiary level institutions both locally and regionally. The Funding and Grants Administration Division of the Ministry of Education manages this programme.

Responding to questions on how the cut would affect the programme from Guardian Media yesterday, Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly said the Government would share the details once the review is complete.

In 2016, the Government appointed a task force to review GATE, saying that it had spent $6.4 billion in 12 years on the programme. A report from the task force indicated that a significant number of students who accessed GATE funding came from families that fell in the middle to high-income groups of society and did not need 100 per cent funding. These students were eligible for 50 per cent.

The ministry then introduced a Means Test to ensure recipients of 100 per cent GATE funding were those truly in need based on socio-economic standing.College of Science Technology and Applied Arts (COSTAATT) president Dr Gillian Paul yesterday said further cuts to GATE funding would severely affect the college and students. However, Paul said she would not speculate on the outcome and would await further information.“It (cuts) would, quite severely, because of the profile of the students we serve. A large percentage of our student population is already facing significant financial challenges at this time. We have already seen in the last fiscal year how the pandemic affected them.

“A number of them had to withdraw from classes because of financial challenges and issues with childcare, and very few of them will be able to pay for courses if GATE funding is reduced further. The college depends heavily and GATE to finance its operation,” Paul said.

If there are cuts to funding, Paul said, the college would look at other options, including how manages its operations and decreases in programmes and staff, although noting this would be the last consideration.

Meanwhile, University of the West Indies Guild president Warren Anderson yesterday urged the Government to take into account the financial constraints being experienced by many because of the pandemic during the review of the programme. He said many students had been suffering since the start of the pandemic, so much so that the guild has had to assist some with meals and other basic necessities.

Anderson said while the Guild is not opposed to a review, he is hoping there will be grace in Government’s deliberations. He also suggested that any change to the programme take effect during the next academic year.