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GATE closed for delinquent students

...Govt will not fund academic failure says Karim
Sunday, September 9, 2012
Dr Camille Samuel, director student affairs at Costaatt. PHOTOs: ABRAHAM DIAZ

Academic failure will not be tolerated by tertiary-level education institutions across T&T as the Government is cracking down on poor performers in the Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE) programme. Thousands of returning tertiary-level students were forced to pay their tuition fees this semester because their Grade Point Average (GPA) was below the minimum requirement—ranging from 1.0 to 2.0.


Close to 1,100 students at the College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of T&T (Costaatt), 2,000 students at the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine campus and 900 students at the University of T&T (UTT) are facing the loss of GATE funding. However, those who could afford to pay were allowed to continue their programme of study while payment plans were set up for others. Plans are also in the pipeline at one university to get donations from corporate citizens to set up a fund to assist needy students.


Tertiary Education Minister Fazal Karim yesterday said the Government will not finance failure. He assured that students with improved grades will receive GATE funding. At Costaatt, the 1,100 students were unable to obtain a GPA above 2.0. In addition, 300 students refused to meet with Costaatt’s officials for consultation, following a meeting at the Centre of Excellence, Macoya, on August 29.


Last year, Karim signalled his intention to clamp down on GATE due to some students’ declining performance and programme-hoppers. He said, “Only on Friday I met with Finance Minister Larry Howai and we agreed to certain conditions for improving the GATE output. “Certainly one of those will be maintaining the GPA. “It will also be based on performance in terms of both the training institutions and the students who are benefitting from GATE.


“GATE is being paid for them and we expect a minimum performance.” Sunday Guardian was informed that effective January 2013, GATE funding will discontinue for programmes at approved regional tertiary education institutions, except for those that are not available at approved local institutions in T&T, and also for pre-medical programmes at St George's University, effective January 2013. This was based on the recommendations coming out of a August 27, 2012 final Report of the Standing Committee of the GATE Programme.


Government will not finance failure
As at August, the budget allocation for GATE was exhausted, Karim explained. Between 2005 to 2011 GATE expenditure per annum increased sixfold from $102 million to $650 million and over that period totalled in excess of $3 billion. Karim said, “The Government will not continue to finance failure. “This is not about disenfranchising anyone from education. “This is to ensure there is success in the system and maintaining a certain level of performance and increasing the graduation rate.”


Costaatt VP: Students were informed
Acting vice president of Costaatt, Dr Gillian Paul said of the 11,600 students enrolled at the institution, ten per cent had failed the pass mark and were put on academic probation. Last September, Costaatt’s management team notified all students whose GPA was below 2.0. Paul said, “These students were also advised to avail themselves of tutorial services and advice sessions with their faculty which they never turned up for.


“It’s about 1,400 students, which in some jurisdictions would be on average for a higher education institution.” Paul was speaking in an interview on Friday at the City Campus. She said, “Institutionally, we had everyone on alert that this was a scenario that was quite serious.” Paul said Costaatt worked out a number of options for the students, which included putting students on a payment plan and reducing their course load.


She said the college recently introduced an attendance form to keep on record for administrative purposes. At the meeting in Macoya the 1,100 students were advised of what they could do to improve their grades. She said, “These are taxpayers’ dollars and when you get money free for education the decision has been taken not to spend that on housing, hospitals and roads. “Those are areas of public services that need funding.”


Meanwhile, vice president of student affairs, Dr Camille Samuel said the students were quite relieved when they realised that they would not have to leave school, but sign a payment plan form indicating they were willing to pay for the courses they had signed up for in tranches. She said, “Most of them came cash in hand to pay because they were warned. “Even now we have students who have started the semester and have not made any payment but they must do so before the end of the semester.”


Samuel said for three years some students avoided paying college fees, which they felt was an entitlement. She said, “Now they are coming into a space where they have to pay and they are upset.” Paul interjected saying if a student registered for one course it would cost $900. To that, Samuel added, students would have to pay college fees of $400 for the semester, including library, administrative, services and technology.


She said, “So that would come up to $1, a student’s monthly payment might be a little over $200 for the five-month period. But that is subject to the payment plan worked out by the registrar.” Costaatt Guild president Devika Ramnarine said on Friday, that in December last year the college informed students that those with poor grades would be unable to continue accessing GATE the following January. However, she claimed, the college was lenient and did not implement the policy.


“Typical students...they didn’t pay attention,” she said. On Friday, Ramnarine was expected to meet with college officials and students. Since August, many students expressed their dissatisfaction on the Costaatt Facebook page over the development.


Prof Sankat: 2,000 students affected
Campus principal Prof Clement Sankat said close to 2,000 students were advised of their poor performance and that it did not come as a shock to them. He said of the 2,000 some were asked to withdraw while others had to fund their own tuition because their cumulative GPA was below one. He said he made suggestions to the Campus Bursar to make arrangements with a financial institution to provide assistance to those who were willing to continue their programme.


He said, “We are trying to help those who want to come back. “Some students took GATE for granted and now they are more motivated to improve their grades because they are funding the fees.” Sankat said a large number of students opted to pay after they were advised about the situation over the vacation period. He said there was no protest about the decision and the university was doing its best to assist.


“I am sure that those who have to pay to recover will do well afterwards,” Sankat said. Acting UTT president Dr Fazal Ali said a student who fell under the 2.0 GPA would be placed on academic probation and monitored. “They are asked to do remedial work to build skills. “Once they are on probation they have to go on a payment plan because in many cases many children are impoverished. “We are trying to help get donations from corporate citizens to help needy students,” Ali said.


Funding director: Students must take responsibility
Director of the Funding and Grants Administration Division (FGAD) Teresa Davidson said Costaatt had the results of every student and should not send a GATE application for a student who had a low GPA. Between 2005 to 2011, the Government disbursed $122,764,111 to Costaatt for GATE. Davidson said the college’s fees were the lowest among the three major public institutions.


She said all was not well in the public institutions which were expected to monitor students’ performance on behalf of the FGAD. She said, “A lot of the public institutions were not doing what they were supposed to do and the students in the private institutions are micro-managed by us.” She said students have to be cleared before they applied for GATE. “We began to realise that things are not as it should be in the public institutions,” she said.


She said public institutions were written to last year advising them to enforce the minimum GPA and that they had “to put things in place.” Davidson said, “Students have to start taking responsibility for their education.”


Ministry: Students required to maintain GPAs
Students who access GATE are required to maintain their GPAs as stipulated by their relevant educational institutions. Information about tertiary education and GATE provided by the ministry earlier this year, stated that while a sectoral target had not been set for graduation in Trinidad and Tobago, students were required to maintain institutional relevant minimum GPAs to access GATE funding.


“The minimum GPA for students to qualify for GATE ranges between 1.0 and 2.0 at public and private institutions. “In cases where institutions do not use the GPA system, a pass or fail system is applied to ensure compliance with the performance standards of the GATE programme,” the ministry stated.


The GATE agreement which has to be signed by students states that any breach of the agreement or withdrawal from the programme by failure on his/her part to attain the required performance standard as established in respect of the specified programme, will deny the student further eligibility for funding by the Government unless approved by the ministry.


The ministry said the latest figure available for enrolment/student access to the GATE programme for the fiscal year 2009/2010 was 52,406. In late July, Karim said 52,341 students were enrolled at the three major tertiary-level institutions and private institutions for this year.


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