The administration building at UWI’s St Augustine Campus.

Gabriella received four Grade Ones in the science subjects she wrote in Unit One of the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) when results were released two months ago.

She anticipated once she had received similar results in her upcoming CAPE Unit Two exams, she would be in line for one of the 400 scholarships on offer from the government.

In September she felt that was an achievable goal. Now Gabriella is not so sure any more.

The probability of her capturing a national scholarship has dropped considerably in the past week. The Ministry of Education announced last week that with immediate effect no more than 100 national scholarships will be awarded annually.

This is the lowest number of national scholarships on offer in quite some time.

The number of Island Scholarships offered over the years increased from five to ten in the 1960s and 1970s, to 20 in the 1980s, according to the Education Ministry.

By 2008 the number of Island Scholarships being offered was 261, reaching a maximum of 447 in 2014, then settling at 400 annually from 2016 to 2019.

Thousands of students vie for these scholarships.

According to the Education Ministry 8,497 candidates—3,439 males and 5,058 females—registered for CAPE Unit I and Unit II Examinations in 2020.

“Thirty-two subjects were written at both Units I and II with 95.20 per cent of written CAPE subject entries achieving acceptable passes i.e. Grades I-V. This year, 76.07 per cent of subject entries attained Grades I, II and III.

Performance in CAPE Unit I: 26 out of 32 subjects attained a pass rate of 90 per cent and above, while 25 out of 32 subjects attained a pass rate of 90 per cent and above at CAPE Unit II,” the Education Ministry stated.

The Education Ministry added that because of the “challenging times” the country is facing now it had to make critical adjustments to the GATE and Scholarship Programmes, “which will allow for greater equity in distribution of precious resources; which will focus the assistance where it is most required”.

The Education Ministry said that “no more than 10 national scholarships (five open and five additional) will be awarded in each of the 10 cognate groupings based on the performance of the top 10 students in the cognate group.”

The cognate grouping are business studies, creative and performing studies, environmental studies, general studies, humanities, information communication and technology studies, language studies, mathematics, technical studies and natural sciences.

The biology, chemistry and physics Gabriella is doing qualifies for the natural sciences cognate group. She hopes to study medicine in university.

But the costs of studying medicine is out of her family’s reach without a scholarship.

It is expected that it will cost Gabriella and her family a percentage of the $650,000 it will cost to make her dream come true. This figure will depend on the extent of the support she gets from GATE.

As it stands so far the majority of the family’s limited funds currently goes toward the medical expenses of her younger sister.

According to the fee structure for undergraduate programmes in the Faculty of Medical Sciences 2020/2021 at the University of the West Indies’ St Augustine Campus, it costs $71,000 a year for the five years of the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery.

The Education Ministry said on average an Open Medical Scholarship costs the state $600,000 per year for five years.

An Open non-medical scholarship costs $450,000 per year for 3-4 years and an additional scholarship $225,000 for 3 years.

The Education Ministry stated that during the period 2008 – 2019, over 1586 National Scholarships have been awarded, at a cost of approximately $800 Million.

Thinking of the possible cost to her family has been causing Gabriella anxiety.

The Education Ministry has also announced that 500 National Bursaries will be made available to students who are citizens of T&T and who would have sat CAPE over a period of two consecutive years in Form 6, including the year of award.

These are not just based on academic performance.

The national bursaries are for students who have not been awarded a National Scholarship and have attained at least eight units Grades I and II

To be eligible the students have to show evidence of being accepted to an accredited/ recognised local tertiary level institution or a regional campus of the UWI.

The Applications for the National Bursary will be evaluated using the following criteria with attendant weightings: Intended course of study should be in alignment with priority areas of development (15%), extracurricular activities / contribution to community / country (15%), Purpose statement (10%), Academic performance (30%), Need as evidenced by Means Test (30%).

The bursary comprises a book allowance of $9,711/$5,711 (medical studies – first time payment / annually) and $8,062/$4,062 (non-medical studies – first time payment / annually) as well as personal maintenance allowance of $3,043.00 per month and 100% GATE funding for study at local institutions.

Gabriella is not alone with her concerns with respect to financing her education.

Alan is currently now trying to find funding to finance his Master of Science degree after being blind sided with the government’s decision to immediately discontinue the funding for postgraduate programmes.

As a part-time student the programme was carded to take two years and cost Alan $20,000 per year and $2,500 per course.

According to the Education Ministry, students currently enrolled in postgraduate programmes will receive GATE funding until August 2021.

Alan is considering his next step.

UWI has been seeing a reduction in applications to the university.

“Over a ten-year period, the number of applications to the St. Augustine Campus peaked in 2011/2012 at 13,515 but since then applications have declined to 9,390 in 2018/2019,”the most recent Student Statistical Digest has stated

According to the Student Statistical Digest the trends have indicated a progressive decline in total student enrolment between the period 2014/2015 to 2018/2019, which has resulted in an overall reduction of 11.1 per cent.

“In terms of overall trends in the demographic profile of the student population, for the period 2014/2015 to 2018/2019, at least 63.1 per cent are females. The majority of the undergraduate student population is in the age cohort of 18 to 24 years. Also at least 92 per cent of the student population are represented by nationals of Trinidad and Tobago, and an approximate 4.8 per cent were from the contributing countries, while those from non-contributing countries represented only 2.9 per cent,” it stated.

“The faculty of Social Sciences continues to be the largest faculty, accounting for approximately one third of the student population.

“The faculties which follow include Science and Technology and Medical Sciences at 16.3 per cent and 15.7 per cent respectively. The highest proportion of postgraduate enrolment is in the faculty of Social Sciences which in 2018/2019 represents 40 per cent of the total.

“This is followed by Engineering and Humanities and Education at 17 per cent and 16 per cent respectively,” the Student Statistical Digest stated.