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Prof Sankat: What happens when oil and gas disappears?
Free higher education comes at a high price, not to the student but to taxpayers. T&T is among over a dozen countries that offers free post-secondary education. Just over a week ago, Minister of Tertiary Education and Skills Training Fazal Karim said 52,341 students were enrolled at the three major tertiary-level institutions and private institutions this year.
The total expenditure for the Government Assistance Tuition Expenses (GATE) programme under the ministry for the period 2004 to 2011 was just over $3 billion. This was disclosed in a November 2011 report on the programme done by the ministry. According to the report, expenditure jumped more than six-fold, from $102 million in the fiscal year 2004/2005 to $625 million in 2010/2011.
Despite the increase in expenditure, there was a decline for that same period in the number of students who benefited. The number of applications rose from 55,817 in 2005/2006 to 94,825 in 2008/2009, before falling to 73,282 in 2010/2011. According to the report, the fall in applications was partly attributable to the implementation of the GATE Clearance Policy, which sought to ensure that students enrolled in only one programme, and enforced completion of programmes before starting another.
Data provided by the ministry indicated that the number of students who received funding through GATE for 2004/2005 to 2009/2010 in local and regional institutions was 273,914. Karim said the Government spent approximately $650 million annually on the programme.
For 2006/2007, there was a record high of 30,604 students who accessed funding through private tertiary institutions, as GATE was expanded to include several approved private institutions. However, that figure lowered each fiscal year until 2009/2010, when it stood at 18,995 students.
Prof Sankat: GATE not a sustainable model
Principal of the University of the West Indies (UWI) St Augustine campus Prof Clement Sankat said he did not think GATE was a sustainable model for funding higher education. However, he said the removal of GATE would result in the removal of possibilities for students who cannot afford tertiary education.
“It is a model that probably was good for Trinidad and Tobago because of the windfalls we have had with oil and gas, but I think the question begs an answer, what happens when that disappears?” he asked during a recent interview. Sankat said a new model for funding higher education was important and it was the Government’s responsibility to ensure no one was left behind.
He said, “Therefore, you will have to find the mechanisms to support those students who would not have the financial means but who would have the academic means, so removal of GATE is too easy to say, but what is going to come into its place needs to be carefully thought out so that all can get an opportunity.”
He said as principal, one of his big issues was building a financially-sustainable institution since the university was no longer an ivory tower. He said: “How do we leverage our assets to build wealth to help support the growth and development of this campus and this university?
“So this is really a challenging time for many universities. As economies are shrinking in the region, the universities are being put under a lot more pressure for funding and, therefore, we need to be cognisant of this and to help build a different kind of financial future for our university, one that demonstrates a lot more independence.”
Meanwhile, former campus principal, now Minister of Planning and Sustainable Development, Dr Bhoendradatt Tewarie said the sustainability of GATE needed to be thought through carefully. He said, “Priorities need to be set and we need to see what is the impact.”
The ministry, in response to an e-mail, said it is expected that the regulatory and administrative body of the GATE programme will be restructured to optimise efficiency and effectiveness. This is based on the preliminary findings and recommendations coming out of a national consultation in November. The ministry said it is expected that GATE funding will be contingent upon several critical indicators, such as:
• Student performance at public and private tertiary institutions
• Programmes that are considered critical/priority to economic and social development
• Meticulous regulations of tuition fees at public and private institutions
In May 2011, Cabinet appointed the GATE Standing Committee, with the mandate to:
• Review applications for GATE funding by institutions and make recommendations to the minister
• Develop a more objective and comprehensive method for the determination of tuition fees for programmes delivered by private tertiary institutions
• Continually develop and review strategies and agreements to increase the level of monitoring, compliance and auditing of GATE-approved institutions
• Continually develop and review strategies to ensure that students fulfil their obligations in respect of the Student Agreement.
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