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Life without GATE

Past student shares financial lessons from tertiary years
Published: 
Sunday, August 31, 2014

By the time this article is published, orientation week festivities at all of T&T’s universities would essentially be over. Those embarking on their tertiary education journey for the first time would now know their way around the campus, having had guided tours. They now know how to use the search facilities at the library. They would have also signed up for campus activities, met their lecturers and, hopefully, a new friend or two.

However, as one phase of their journey ends, another begins: that of actually surviving the course of their three- year or four-year programme. This, of course, involves negotiating the system successfully enough to acquire the academic qualification, but few realise it will also involve having enough money to meet all of the ancillary expenses along the way. 

For the majority of new students who are having their tuition expenses met by the GATE (Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses) programme for undergraduate degrees, much of the pressure is off. Or is it? As the September 8 budget looms, there is discussion about the need to restructure GATE restructure. If today’s student were forced to do without GATE support—as it has been traditionally structured—how many students who now access the programme would manage.

Even if the programme remains the same, tuition will be taken care of, but not the remainder of the costs: books, photocopies, laptops, stationery, meals and the like. The full-time student living off campus also has the issue of rent. As a full-time student, they would not be able to work for substantial sums of money, but will still have to take care of these expenses. For those who do not have family support, how do they cope?

The Sunday BG attempted to get a sense of how they might. *Gail attended UWI full time in the days just before the institution of GATE. Her parents were unable to afford fees, even with the support of the Dollar-for-Dollar programme, which preceeded GATE and paid half of the tuition fees. 

She had an uncle co-sign her loans for her first year of fees which were around $20,000. For the remaining two years she took a series of odd jobs around the campus to make up her tuition including: work at the campus library as an usher at university events and as an exam grader during her post-graduate years. 

She thought the campus staff at Student Services was particularly supportive as they would always make sure she was called when there were small jobs to be done around campus, mainly because, she admitted, she was assertive enough to ask for help.
“I went to them early and I said, I want to learn, but I can’t afford it, I need you to help me help myself. I wanted the opportunity to work for myself and earn my own money and they (Student Services) allowed that.”

But still, it was not easy and, in her own words, she never had enough to live “comfortably.”  “That is what paid my fees. That is what paid my rent. It was really tough. There were times when the rent was paid, but I had nothing to eat.” 

The apartment cost $1,000 per month. Gail’s family lived in the deep South and, with no relatives close to campus, she chose to rent as on-campus housing was hard to get. She split the rent with two friends. She said the landlord did not mind how many people were in the apartment, as long as the rent was paid.

The friends would share other things to cut down costs. With their collective earnings from their on-campus jobs, they would put up to buy groceries. Gail recalled eating Ramen noodles and macaroni and corned beef only, one particular week. Other times these were luxuries. “I remember sometimes my lunch would be $3 in pholourie and a coconut water, or doubles.”

She said she certainly didn’t fit the stereotype of the uber-social UWI student, always ready for a lime. Money for entertainment and clothing was hard to come by and so Gail never went out. This was another thing she did to keep her costs down. “I didn’t go anywhere. I didn’t have transport. If I wanted to go to Tunapuna, I would walk there and back.” Gail also didn’t buy books. She recounted that she did not even have the money to make photocopies as she saw other people doing.

“I had no other choice but to sit down and go to the library and read. I would go to class and watch people open their texts, I would borrow mine from the library. My books were always stamped University of the West Indies.” Gail, though, does not regret the experience. Now a professional in her early 30s, Gail credited her hardship during her university years as giving her several skills necessary to survive the world of work and life in general.

“It taught me to plan, because if you don’t have a plan, you will reach nowhere in this life. It taught me not judge myself based on other people’s possessions. Many times on campus, I felt out of place because I couldn’t do as much as what other people were doing. But it worked out in the long run. “I also learned flexibility, because things do not always go to plan and you also do not always get what you want and you have to anticipate that. But, most importantly, I learned to focus.”

Ultimately, there are financial lessons that tertiary level students can be draw from Gail’s story:
• As far as possible, find a stream of income. Gail was able to survive because she was able to do this;
• Having found a source of income, Gail also learned to live within her means, ensuring that her major costs such as fees, rent and groceries were covered, while she cut out items like entertainment;
• Pool limited resources. Gail got together with friends to make sure that her rent and groceries were covered;
• Using initiative. Gail took it upon herself to seek out work to finance her study and her living expenses.
• If possible, continue living in your parents’ home and commute to classes every day.
*Not the real name

What is GATE?

The Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE) programme is available to all citizens of T&T pursuing approved programmes, including distance learning programmes, at local and regional public tertiary level institutions (TLIs) as well as approved local private TLIs.
Under the GATE programme, the Government pays 100 per cent of the tuition fees of qualified students at approved public and private, local and regional tertiary level institutions. GATE applies to tuition fees only. 

Duration of GATE funding

GATE funding shall be accessible to students for the duration of the approved programme. Should the student fail to complete the approved programme within its stated duration, the student shall not be granted access to GATE funding for any period in excess of its standard duration except where such duration is extended by reason of a leave of absence.
Officials of the funding and grants administration division (FGAD) shall review an extension of the duration period of an approved programme by reason of extenuating circumstances on a case-by-case basis.

Sponsorship other than GATE 

A student in receipt of sponsorship for tuition fees—eg scholarships, grants, bursaries—other than GATE for the academic year or course of study, shall not be eligible to access additional funding under the GATE programme. 
Exceptions to this will be as follows: 
• Where the student sponsorship is less than 100 per cent for programmes receiving full tuition, he/she may be eligible to receive the difference through GATE for an approved programme;           
• Where the student is in pursuit of a course of study e.g. postgraduate studies and is not in receipt of funding up to the approved financial support limit, he/she is eligible for funding to make up the difference. 

Students who have been accepted to pursue approved postgraduate programmes of study at:
• local and regional public TLIs would be eligible to access grants to cover a of 50 per cent  of their tuition fees
•approved private TLIs would be eligible to access grants to cover up to 50 per cent of their tuition fees to a maximum of $10,000.00; and to a maximum of $5,000.00 for approved Distance Learning programmes.

Students accessing GATE will be required to sign a student agreement as part of the application.

Grounds for termination of GATE

Breach of student agreement
Any breach of the student agreement or withdrawal from the programme by failure on his/her part to attain the required performance standard as established with respect to the specified programme, will deny the student further eligibility for funding by the Government unless approved by the Ministry.
In the event that the student:
• abandons his/her course; or
• fails to obtain the qualification where such failure is due to the student not applying himself/herself diligently to his/her studies; or
• fails to accept employment in the public or the private sector in the Republic of T&T after the conclusion or termination of the said programme for the specified period of time.
All monies expended on his or her programme will be converted to a loan from the Government and shall be repaid with interest. The student binds himself/herself and agrees that he/she shall be liable immediately to refund to the Government the total amount of the loan made to him/her. 
Source: Ministry of Education