The cost of one open scholarship can fund almost three national bursaries, Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly has said.
More than a week after she announced adjustments to the Government-Assisted Tuition Expenses (GATE) and national scholarship programmes, and the introduction of the national bursary programme, Gadsby-Dolly explained on Friday why the changes were necessary to ensure resources were available to those who needed it.
“The most expensive aspect of the scholarship programme is the investment in open scholarships,” she said, “which involves funding for study at any international university (and includes) warm clothing and an allowance.”
The number of open scholarships has now been limited to 50. The average annual number for the past few years has been 150.
Gadsby-Dolly said unlike open scholarships, the bursaries will fund only local or regional study, allowing for almost three bursaries to be funded with the cost of one open scholarship.
“The adjusted policy allows more people to be assisted by the government with the reduced funding available,” she told Sunday Newsday.
According to the Auditor General's report for 2019, scholarships – additional and open – range from up to $100,000 to more than $600,000. The report revealed that in 2018 alone, $3 million was paid towards the President’s Medal open scholarship and $144 million for 377 scholarships.
On November 13, the minister said Cabinet decided to make “critical adjustments” to the programmes to allow for “greater equity in distribution of precious resource which will focus the assistance where it is most required.”
She announced changes to the GATE means test, where 100 per cent funding will only be available to students with a household income of $10,000 per month or less. The national bursary programme will also require a means test to determine the student's need.
Scholarships, which were reduced from 400 to 100 (50 open and 50 additional) recipients, will be awarded based solely on academic performance.
Postgraduate studies were discontinued with immediate effect, except for those currently enrolled in programmes, who will receive GATE funding until August, next year.
“The revenue to continue postgraduate funding is regrettably not available, due to the reduction in national revenue,”
The policy adjustments have been met with mixed responses from the public, with some students outraged by the abrupt changes and others who agree the scholarship programme was no longer sustainable.
An open scholarship student who reached out to Sunday Newsday on social media agreed with the ministry’s decision to amend the policies but expressed concern that financial institutions may take advantage of students in need of funding for their postgraduate studies.
“Realistically we cannot afford so many open scholarships…due to our low forex reserves. The change to reduce that number was a long time coming (but) what happens if banks see this as an opportunity to start student loans which could create a student debt problem (like what) we see in the US? It seems like one step forward, three steps backwards.”
Gadsby-Dolly said the Higher Education Loan Programme (HELP) – a partnership with the government and commercial banks – will continue to be available to students.
“The HELP loan has been available to students for years and has been accessed by students of all levels to pursue their educational pursuits, including the present Minister of Education (there was no GATE when I pursued my undergraduate degree).”
She said the operating costs of local institutions continue to be heavily subsidised by Government, to the benefit of students who require funding for post-graduate study.