Scholar threatens legal action against Education Ministry

Edcuation Minister Anthoney Garcia
Edcuation Minister Anthoney Garcia

An additional scholarship winner says she was entitled to an open scholarship and intends to take the Education Ministry to court because she was wrongly assessed.

Attorney Keith Scotland, last week, sent a pre-action protocol letter on behalf of Aaliya Benjamin-Roach who received an additional scholarship in natural sciences in November 2019.

However, Scotland, in the letter, claims that a circular memorandum No 1 of 2019, was wrongly applied to Benjamin-Roach who received ten grade ones in CAPE unit I and II, and should have been awarded an open scholarship in general studies.

Scotland said, the 2019 criteria could not be applied to Benjamin-Roach, who registered to write the CAPE examination in 2017.

He said at no time, during the period she wrote her examinations for both units, was she told of the 2019 circular and checks at her school, St Joseph Convent, Port of Spain, also showed that the circular was never disseminated there.

He also said when she registered, the benchmarks used in the award of an open scholarship in the general studies grouping were eight grade ones in any three subjects, in addition to the compulsory subjects of caribbean studies and communication studies.

Scotland said there was “no qualifier listed outlining any criteria as it regards the number of “A” profiles required under the general studies grouping as it does in the natural sciences grouping.

Benjamin-Roach’s challenge comes days after a High Court judge ruled in favour of a former sixth form student of Presentation College in Chaguanas, who missed out on a scholarship because of a change in the criteria for awarding national scholarships.

Justice Nadia Kangaloo held that the ministry’s decision to retroactively apply the new criteria for Nicholas Sant was unfair and in breach of natural justice.

In her ruling, Kangaloo that the ministry failed to take into account Sant applied since 2016, when he was about to enter his CAPE studies and would have chosen subjects he felt would have made him eligible for a national scholarship under the two groupings.

She also rejected the ministry’s position that the quota for scholarships was set by the Cabinet which limited the number of scholarships that year to 400.

Kangaloo quashed the ministry’s decision to retroactively implement the new policy for determining national scholarship eligibility for 2018 and granted a declaration that the decision to do so was “illegal, irrational, arbitrary, null, void, and of no legal effect.”

She also ordered the ministry to reconsider Sant’s CAPE results using the criteria that was in place in 2016.

Like Sant, Benjamin-Roach also intends to argue that she was deprived of her reasonable and legitimate expectation that her chosen subjects would result in her being awarded an open scholarship in general studies, upon meeting the criteria.

If she files her lawsuit, Benjamin-Roach intends to ask the court to quash the ministry’s decision to retroactively implement the 2019 policy which changed the criteria for the awarding of national scholarship.

Scotland also said Benjamin-Roach was only given notice that she had three months to “accept, decline or defer” the scholarship she received from the date of the announcement. The announcement was made November 18, 2019, so she has until February 17.

Scotland said the award of an open scholarship differed from that of an additional scholarship. Apart from the prestige attached to it, there is significant monetary benefits in terms of tuition-funding and allowances for an ACTT accredited or recognised university in the world. He also said the open scholarship also had provisions for provisions for opportunities for funded University of the West Indies (UWI) exchange programmes and airfare expenses, while additional scholarship only provides for study at the UWI ST Augustine campus or a local ACTT accredited institution.

Studies can be pursued at UWI Cave Hill or Mona campuses, however, evidence must be provided to show that admission was not granted by UWI St Augustine.

“Hence, the award of an open scholarship provides a broader range of opportunities particularly as it regards funding for the pursuit of studies outside of TT without having to go through the process of evidencing rejection by the UWI St Augustine campus,” Scotland told the ministry.

Benjamin-Roach pursued pure mathematics, French, physics, chemistry, caribbean studies and communication studies, and the letter said she deliberately chose these subjects for an open scholarship in the general studies grouping.


"Scholar threatens legal action against Education Ministry"

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