Laquesha Bailey (NYLO Intern)
Minister of Education Anthony Garcia has condemned statements made by former Minister of Education Dr Tim Gopeesingh for misinforming the public surrounding the restructuring of the Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE) programme.
At a press conference yesterday at the Ministry of Education Head Office, Port of Spain, Garcia criticised Gopeesingh’s claim that the updated GATE initiative denied a large portion of the population access to tertiary funding.
Gopeesingh, he said, was deliberately spreading “misinformation, untruths and blatant attempts to misguide the general population with respect to GATE.”
He said that a 2016 comprehensive study conducted by Franklin et al revealed numerous vertical inefficiencies within the previous structure. Of the $700 million spent annually on the upkeep of the GATE program prior to 2016, 22.4 percent of recipients were from middle to high earning households, that is, households with income ranging from $9,000 to an excess of $30,000 while, in the minority, lower-earning households with income below $9,000 accounted for only 4.7 percent of recipients.
Garcia restated the criteria for the amended GATE programme. Drawing on the example of the Social Sciences faculty at the University of the West Indies whose yearly tuition averages $12,000, he said, shows that, when calculated monthly, recipients required to pay 25 percent do not have to pay substantial sums.
On statements made by former minister of tertiary education and skills training, Fazal Karim during the 2011/2012 budget reading, he said, they contradict Gopeesingh’s claims that the new GATE structure is “pauperising the nation.”
Karim had said, Garcia claimed, that the GATE programme was problematic and that it “led to the lowering of standards because of the easy access to tertiary education” with many students using the free education as an excuse to programme hop, fail courses and repeat at the expense of the government. This again led Garcia to say that Gopeesingh’s stance “has proven to be very false.”
Garcia said that the restructuring of GATE was out of economic necessity because of the global drop in oil and gas prices. Despite this, the country remains the “only country in the English-speaking Caribbean which currently provides free tertiary-level tuition support at the undergraduate level.”
Addressing concerns about the state of unaccredited private institutions such as the School of Business and Computer Science (SBSC), he said, many of them were in existence long before the introduction of GATE and were not solely dependent on GATE for the provision of tertiary education to students.
Garcia said, “we are clear in our minds that the GATE, being a PNM initiative since 2004, has been there to serve our country in general and our young persons in particular.”
He said that the restructure of GATE and the addition of the means test is an attempt to ensure that funding is allocated on the basis of financial need and socio-economic standing so as to minimise wastage.