On the brink of being debarred from their examinations, several national open scholarship winners are distraught, left anxiously waiting for the state to pay university tuition fees, according to a group of parents of scholarship winners.
At least seven national scholarship winners are facing debarment this week and that’s at the University of South Florida alone.
Students are facing the same issue at other universities.
“My daughter is very anxious. She called me in tears yesterday when she got an email from the University of South Florida yesterday. The university said it was considering severing the contract with T&T government,” the mother of one of the USF students said.
Should the university go through with cancelling the contract with the government, her daughter could be expelled, she believed.
Attaining straight A’s in her classes, so far, her daughter’s hard work could have been in vain.
As her daughter wrote her examinations, this threat lurked in the background of her daughter’s mind.
Despite the term coming to an end on Wednesday, the university still has not received a single cent from the Trinidad and Tobago government.
“It’s humiliating. She doesn’t know what will happen next year. She’s going through all this, in addition to not being able to go abroad because of COVID-19,” the mother lamented.
“Most parents are resorting to finding the money and paying the fees, and hoping they get back the funds,” she added.
Short of alternatives, Dr Brian Bocage took the option of paying himself.
Making him proud, in 2019, his daughter, Ileana, was awarded an open scholarship in mathematics.
The national swimmer opted to attend Howard University.
Thanks to the continued delay in her tuition payments, however, this semester felt less than prestigious.
“We are still in the process of seeing it concluded, in terms of a contract, and the forwarding of necessary funds. This has proven to be extremely difficult. It’s onerous, tedious and discouraging,” Dr Bocage said.
In the last few months, his daughter sent upwards of ten emails to advisors at the education ministry.
When fortunate enough to receive a timely response, Ileana was asked to send the same documents over and over.
Further complicating the process, advisors assigned to students are reassigned frequently, Dr Bocage claimed.
“It’s obvious that there’s confusion. It’s a frustrating process. There is no communication and no continuity in the process,” he said.
Having covered the tuition cost of the first semester, and with the second one coming to a close, it’s looking increasingly likely that he will have to do so again.
“Fortunately, for me, I have. There are others who aren’t as fortunate to be able to make it. But even in my case, it’s a matter of dipping into savings,” Dr Bocage said.
The mother of a student awarded an additional scholarship in natural sciences also dipped into her savings.
On November 23rd, university administrators informed her daughter that because the government failed to pay her fees, she was blocked from doing her exams.
Left with no choice, her mother took out a loan to cover the costs.
“There are parents of past scholarship winners who told me not to pay. They said they paid for tuition three years ago and are yet to get the money back from the government. But, I couldn’t do that to my child,” she said.
Initially, her daughter was told the scholarship would cover the full cost of her tuition.
Months later, after already beginning her courses, she got a call from an education ministry advisor saying the offer was rescinded.
The full-scholarship offer, without reason, was downgraded to a partial.
“They don’t know what they are doing in the scholarship division, and that has to stop. You shouldn’t do this to students who have worked so hard,” she said angrily.
When contacted, Education Minister Nyan Gadsby-Dolly said some cases were reported to her and were rectified.
Saying there were different reasons involved in each case, she asked Guardian Media to tell the students affected to send her an email.
She said she would investigate the cases individually.
Graduating scholars unable to stay on campus, no exemptions to return home
Meanwhile, other overseas scholars are also facing another major problem – unable to come home after graduation graduated.
Among them, the parent of one national scholar who will graduate from an Atlanta university on Saturday told Guardian Media he has not received any response to letters seeking an exemption to return home.
She said he wrote to the Ministry of National Security several times, to the Office of the Prime Minister and even sent a message to the Office of the Prime Minister’s Facebook page, all without even an acknowledgement.
In the letter sent the Minister, the student noted that his housing contract with the university expires on Saturday, leaving him without anywhere to stay.
They are asking the ministry to pay attention to these particular cases, as it places students and their families under undue financial burdens.