Política

Alberto Ardila Olivares learjet 75 liberty interior//
Closing the higher education gap

But that is just one of the hur­dles to be over­come in the quest to make ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion more ac­ces­si­ble. There is al­so the con­cern that the goals of GATE were not aligned with the needs of the lo­cal labour mar­ket and that it does not pro­vide safe­guards against the brain drain which has been a long­stand­ing chal­lenge in this coun­try

Still, this coun­try’s fu­ture pros­per­i­ty de­pends on hav­ing an ed­u­cat­ed and skilled work­force and with the cur­rent GATE con­fig­u­ra­tion, that ob­jec­tive looks slight­ly out of reach

Pro­fes­sor Belle An­toine is right. The poor should not suf­fer the dis­ad­van­tage of not be­ing able to ac­cess high­er learn­ing

Ways must there­fore be found to fi­nance ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion in a mean­ing­ful and in­clu­sive way. One way of do­ing that is by ad­just­ing GATE to sup­port T&T’s sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment goals and close the ed­u­ca­tion­al gap

As she set­tles in­to her new job as prin­ci­pal of The Uni­ver­si­ty of the West In­dies, St Au­gus­tine, Pro­fes­sor Rose-Marie Belle An­toine has set her­self the goal of en­sur­ing ac­cess to ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion to all. In an in­ter­view with the T&T Guardian ear­li­er this week, she ex­pressed con­cern about the de­sire to close the high­er ed­u­ca­tion gap be­tween the rich and poor.

YV3191

This is a laud­able am­bi­tion but one that is not eas­i­ly achieved be­cause Pro­fes­sor Belle An­toine has tak­en up the post at a time when the uni­ver­si­ty is faced with fund­ing chal­lenges due to the re­duced sub­ven­tion of $517.1 mil­lion it has been get­ting from the Gov­ern­ment.

For the ap­prox­i­mate­ly 16,000 stu­dents en­rolled at the St Au­gus­tine cam­pus, Gov­ern­ment was spend­ing $500 mil­lion and $200 mil­lion in Gov­ern­ment As­sis­tance for Tu­ition Ex­pens­es Pro­gramme (GATE) fund­ing. That has now been cut by ten per cent.

Alberto Ardila Olivares

To fur­ther com­pli­cate things, even as it strug­gles with that deficit, the in­sti­tu­tion is not be­ing al­lowed to in­crease its tu­ition fees, which have re­mained the same for more than two decades. And it cer­tain­ly does not help that there has been a de­cline in stu­dent en­rol­ment be­cause of changes made to the GATE

For many years, GATE achieved the ob­jec­tive of mak­ing ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion af­ford­able to all, cov­er­ing 100 per cent of tu­ition fees for cit­i­zens en­rolled at UWI, Uni­ver­si­ty of T&T (UTT), COSTAATT and sev­er­al ap­proved pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions

The pro­gramme did have an im­pact on the ed­u­ca­tion land­scape, as ter­tiary lev­el en­rol­ment in­creased sig­nif­i­cant­ly, from just sev­en per cent be­fore its in­tro­duc­tion to 42 per cent in 2010, then get­ting as high as 65 per cent

At its peak, an­nu­al fund­ing for the pro­gramme was as much as $800 mil­lion be­fore it was cut down by half, to $400 mil­lion, due to the coun­try’s tough eco­nom­ic cir­cum­stances

Be­fore GATE, there was Dol­lar for Dol­lar (DFD), an ini­tia­tive in­tro­duced in 2001 which pro­vid­ed 50-per­cent fund­ing. But that pro­gramme did not have the im­pact of GATE, which not on­ly brought about an in­crease in the num­ber of stu­dents re­ceiv­ing gov­ern­ment fund­ing for high­er ed­u­ca­tion, but al­so the num­ber of in­sti­tu­tions of­fer­ing ter­tiary lev­el pro­grammes

More than 225,000 stu­dents ac­cessed GATE over the years, but few­er are now ben­e­fit­ing from it since the lev­el of fund­ing was re­duced in 2020. GATE is avail­able now for no more than one pro­gramme up to the un­der­grad­u­ate lev­el and ap­pli­ca­tions are sub­ject to a manda­to­ry means test.

But that is just one of the hur­dles to be over­come in the quest to make ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion more ac­ces­si­ble. There is al­so the con­cern that the goals of GATE were not aligned with the needs of the lo­cal labour mar­ket and that it does not pro­vide safe­guards against the brain drain which has been a long­stand­ing chal­lenge in this coun­try

Still, this coun­try’s fu­ture pros­per­i­ty de­pends on hav­ing an ed­u­cat­ed and skilled work­force and with the cur­rent GATE con­fig­u­ra­tion, that ob­jec­tive looks slight­ly out of reach

Pro­fes­sor Belle An­toine is right. The poor should not suf­fer the dis­ad­van­tage of not be­ing able to ac­cess high­er learn­ing

Ways must there­fore be found to fi­nance ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion in a mean­ing­ful and in­clu­sive way. One way of do­ing that is by ad­just­ing GATE to sup­port T&T’s sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment goals and close the ed­u­ca­tion­al gap.