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Finance Minister: New rules coming in budget
In stating that $3 billion have been spent on the Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (Gate) programme in the last six years, Finance Minister Larry Howai has warned that new rules for its operation would be outlined in the 2013 budget. Still holding the date for the budget presentation close to his chest, Howai said the Government must ensure it is getting better value for the millions of dollars spent on Gate.
He said the budget would focus on “weeding out wasteful spending and inefficiencies,” while implementing measures to stimulate the economy. Howai said the Government’s expenditure on Gate between 2005-2011 was $3 billion. Annual expenditure increased from $102 million in 2005 to $625 million in 2011. By 2015, the projected expenditure would be an estimated $934 million.
Howai was speaking yesterday at the University of T&T’s (UTT) conference, The Role of Universities in Entrepreneurship For Socio-Economic Development: UTT’s Response, held at the Hyatt Regency Trinidad hotel, Port-of-Spain. He said students are not attending programmes, some are failing exams while jumping across to other programmes and the Government is still paying for their tuition.
“We want to cut out that kind of situation. We want to create new rules and incentives that would encourage students to do well,” he said. Instead of cutting funding, Howai said the programme would cut itself. Asked if the Government would be expanding the Gate programme, Howai said, “We have not committed to that just yet. It is all a part of the current review that is going on.” He said the budget proposal is currently before the Prime Minister.
Minister of Tertiary Education and Skills Training, Dr Fazal Karim says not only students, but tertiary level institutions will be held accountable for non-performance. He said, “Whilst the students have been the focal point of the Gate programme debate, we must not over look our institutions. Our institutions must also be held accountable.”
In the September 9 issue of the Sunday Guardian, Karim was quoted as saying that the Government is cracking down on poor performance at tertiary level institutions, where students would be held accountable. Speaking yesterday, Karim said: “We would be seeking to appoint two organisations—the Accreditation Council of T&T (ACTT) and the National Commission for Higher Education (NCHE)—a newly-established state board which holds the responsibility for all institutions.
Karim explained that the ministry is going to develop policies based on the Gate evaluation report, on what strategies it can implement with the regards to the performance of institutions and students. The functions of the ACCT, he said, includes raising the quality of the post-secondary and tertiary education in T&T based on set standards and further ensuring that the appropriate standards are met, maintained and improved.
“The legislation, therefore, indicates that as the watchdog over the quality of post secondary and tertiary education, the ACTT has the authority to demand more of out local institutions.” The NCHE, which was formed in March last year with Prof Clement Sankat, pro-vice chancellor, University of the West Indies, at the helm, is to establish a regional qualifications framework and to strengthen quality in a diverse system across the world. The mandate of the NCHE includes:
• to advise on the development of a national qualifications framework within which all education and training institutions can co-exist;
• to work with the Economic Development Board and the Council for Competitiveness and Innovation to develop an approach to the development of the national education and training system;
• to conduct an examination of international trends and practices to inform a way forward for the sector;
• to establish the principles of sustainable funding of the sector, and,
• to advise and inform the ministry of the commission’s policy agenda and all other relevant bodies within the sector.
12,000 students not performing
Karim said as many as 12,000 students from the period 2005-2011 were not meeting the minimum grade point average (GPA) requirements (2.0) at T&T’s universities and tertiary level institutions. Last year, he said, more than 52,000 students accessed free tuition through Gate programme and with the vigorous expansion, several thousand more spaces will become available.
Karim said since the numbers are increasing, the Government cannot continue to subsidise non-performance. He questioned whether the graduate students were responding to the labour market requirements, if the current programmes or curriculum are addressing the current socio-economic demand and future projections and whether students are exposed to specific industries as part of a simulated classroom. “Therefore, the Gate programme must be responsive to the socio-economic needs of the society.”
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