Over the last ten years, the Government spent $3 billion in assisting students in tuition expenses. This was revealed on Tuesday by Minister of Science, Technology and Tertiary Education Fazal Karim, at a national consultation titled "Securing and Expanding the Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE) programme. The two-day consultation was held at the Chaguanas Borough Corporation and was attended by various stakeholders in the education system. Karim said $1.7 billion was spent by the Government in assisting students enrolling at state institutions like the University of the West Indies.
This included students studying at regional institutions like the UWI's Mona campus in Jamaica, Cave Hill in Barbados and St George's University in Grenada. Another $1.3 billion was spent assisting students accessing education in private schools. The ten-year period extends from 2001 when the "Dollar for Dollar" programme was introduced (and went into GATE in 2004) to 2011. The number of people enrolling in the GATE programme jumped from 14,366 in 2005 to 55,017 in 2001. The minister disclosed, however, that while a lot of people were accessing the programme, many were not adhering to their end of the contractual obligations.
One obligation is that a person on the GATE programme must serve the Government for two years upon completion of his education. "We want to ensure that they adhere to their contractual obligations," Karim said. He said the programme had now been expanded to include vocational training. This fulfills a 2011 budget promise to expand GATE to include vocational training and to strengthen the programme to increase participation in higher education to 60 per cent. The 2012 budget allocation for GATE has also been increased from $625 million to $650 million. Karim said the consultation was the first in relation to GATE that was being held.
He said the ministry wanted to ensure that Government-assisted educational programmes are relevant to the labour market. He listed some objectives of the consultation:
• to obtain feedback from various stakeholders, like students, teachers, parents and tertiary level institutions on the policies, administration and performance of the GATE programme;
• obtain perspectives, ideas and strategies on the most appropriate way forward for securing and expanding the programme; and
• provide the basis for an action plan that seeks to secure and expand the policy and institutional framework of the programme.
Couva South MP Rudy Indarsingh, who spoke at the launch of the consultation, said six months ago, the Education Ministry opened the Workforce Assessment Centre on the Brechin Castle compound in Couva. "This provides a second opportunity (through technical and vocational training) for persons who fall through the cracks of the established education system," he said. Indarsingh said 700 students from across T&T, who were paid a stipend while they studied, graduated from the centre last week.