The young men and women who are awarded national scholarships every year are not just the best from our education system but the brightest prospects for T&T’s future.
Their stellar academic achievements were not by chance but the result of hard work throughout primary and secondary school. They stayed the course, through long years of study leading up to their CSEC and CAPE exams, to land their well-deserved scholarships.
It is therefore distressing to find out that several of these scholars are at risk of being debarred from sitting exams and even being expelled from foreign universities because the state has not paid their tuition fees.
The plight of these national open scholarship winners was highlighted exclusively by Guardian Media yesterday. The situation with at least seven scholarship winners at the University of South Florida is particularly dire, since that university is considering severing its contract with the T&T Government. To date, with the academic term coming to an end, the university still has not received a single cent from the Government.
Very likely, students at other foreign universities are in similar predicaments—and not for the first time.
Education Minister Nyan Gadsby-Dolly’s assurance that some cases were reported to her and were rectified and that each must be investigated individually, is of little comfort to students and parents who are quickly running out of time and could soon be out in the cold.
Dr Gadsby-Dolly’s response sounds as blasé as that of her predecessor, Anthony Garcia, when a similar problem arose in 2018. In response to appeals for help from overseas students on national scholarships who were stranded because they did not get their funds on time, Garcia then said they should ensure all the necessary information is forwarded to the ministry. Funds could not be disbursed until all the necessary paperwork is done, he insisted.
For the current students being put through an emotional wringer as their tertiary education aspirations fade, it is totally unacceptable to explain away their misery as bureaucratic issues. The fact that this situation has occurred before suggests a much deeper problem for which the ministry’s Scholarship and Advanced Training Division must accept full responsibility.
There must be urgent action to rectify this problem and pay in full all outstanding monies owed on behalf of our national scholars.
This situation, coming right after the announcement of a reduction in the number of national scholarships to be awarded annually, adds to concerns that this Government does not see investment in education as a major priority.
No more than 100 national scholarships and 500 national bursaries will be made available to students at a cost to the state of approximately $57,193,005. This is a significant scaling down from the 400 scholarships that were awarded annually up to last year.
There are very real concerns that the Government is not making sufficient investments in human capital. Shifting state funding away from education could leave T&T far out of range of the knowledge needed for economies of the future, which could have negative economic and social consequences.