University of the Southern Caribbean....students are upset with the decision by officials there to charge a fee for a virtual graduation ceremony.

The 550 students scheduled to graduate from the University of the Southern Caribbean (USC) in November are appealing to Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, to intervene in what they have described as a stand-off with campus officials over the exorbitant fees they are being forced to pay to secure their diplomas.

The angry students have accused the school’s administrators of financial mismanagement and claimed they are now being made to foot the bill for unnecessary expenses which they can ill-afford at this time.

The students were originally scheduled to graduate in June and receive their certificates by July 31.

However, after the traditional ceremony was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the school informed students that a virtual graduation would be held in November at a cost of $750 per student.

Questioning what exactly they were being charged for as it is a virtual ceremony, the students said they became upset after their concerns were dismissed by the school’s administrators.

One student said, “The situation worsened when we were told that even if we did not attend the graduation ceremony, we had to pay the full amount in order to get our certificates.”

He described this ultimatum as, “unfair and unjust.”

A fellow graduate further explained: “It is hard right now for plenty of us to find that money to pay additional. Some of us come from single parent homes…plus there are others who have suffered during this pandemic…where their parents and guardians have lost their jobs and we have reached the end of our studies only to be told that our certificates are being held to ransom. How could this be right?”

Following a meeting with USC President Dr Hilary Bowman last week, the students were provided with a breakdown of the $750 fee which includes $202.50 to print the certificate; $202.50 to print the diploma jacket; $180 for video production and live streaming; $142.50 for stage, sound and lighting; and $22.50 for administrative expenses.

Claiming the campus position was oppressive; a third student said the financial exploitation of the students under the guise of a graduation was not in keeping with the institution’s religious teachings and founding principles.

He added: “The students are willing to pay no more than $400 to collect their certificates. This would cover the cost of printing the certificates and also to prepare the jackets for them to be placed in.”

“We should not be made to pay for a venue when it will be held in the campus auditorium, nor lighting and decorating as it will be a virtual ceremony for those who choose to be part of it…as it will only be single space that will be needed.”

He ended: “This is wrong and we are calling on the powers that be to help us….none of us can afford this additional expense right now, but we need our certificates to get on with on our lives. We have paid all the fees that were required of us from year to year without complaint but this cannot continue now.”

USC’s Co-ordinator, Integrated Marketing and Communications, Josh Rudder on Tuesday responded to questions from the Trinidad Guardian via email.

He described as regrettable, the continued dissatisfaction of some members of the 2020 graduation class despite the administration’s attempt to significantly reduce the graduation fees by 41 per cent.

Following Bowman’s meeting with the student body last week, Rudder said a decision had been taken to reduce the graduation fee from $750 to $650.

He revealed that the annual graduation fee had been reduced from $1,100 to $650.

Rudder claimed this was done as the university had moved to subsidize, “the cost given the economic constraints caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Due to host the virtual graduation ceremonies on November 14 and 15, Rudder said it would comprise all aspects of the usual pomp and ceremony that USC is known for.

Confirming she was aware of the matter, Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly said while there would be specific costs and fees associated with any graduation exercise at any level – this was something that had to be determined by the respective institution.

She said: “This appears to be a larger issue of the students maybe not wanting to attend the graduation, as they seem to want to collect the certificate only.”

“That is an option in most cases that students can avail themselves of and it usually comes at a reduced cost.”

Pressed to say if she planned to meet with the student representatives, Gadsby-Dolly urged university officials and the students to dialogue further to arrive at an amicable solution.

Meanwhile, senior officials at the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine Campus; and the College of Science, Technology and the Applied Arts of T&T (COSTAATT)—both confirmed their graduation ceremonies were being planned for January 2021.

Unable to say exactly what form UWI’s graduation would take, Campus Principal Professor Brian Copeland explained, “It will be a hybrid type of ceremony.”

Revealing that such details including the cost would be confirmed in the coming weeks, he went on, “It will be same across all campuses in the region.”

COSTAATT President Dr Gillian Paul said many of their students had been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and had led to some persons having to suspend/defer classes.

Indicating the compassionate and humane approach they had adopted towards their students, Paul said, “If we are not going to be hosting it anywhere, we would not really be charging students for those types of things that would really be for the venue, ceremony and music as such.”

She said the only costs their students would encounter are those attached to renting the ceremonial gown; the graduation ring if they wish to purchase it; and the cost of printing the certificate.

Paul said: “They would get to choose what they can afford in terms of expenses as we will not be doing a one-size-fits-all. We have students across all financial spectrum and we do not want to place them under any unnecessary burden at this time.”

A petition calling for an immediate reduction in fees was recently submitted to the COSTAATT Board for consideration, after many of the students reported the negative impact of the pandemic which had led to some losing their jobs, whilst others claimed to have reduced hours of work and a loss of income.

On Thursday, the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) revealed that it had postponed the graduation ceremonies scheduled to take place in November until a physical ceremony could take place, saying graduands preferred to have a face-to-face ceremony.