Trinidad and Tobago’s education system certainly seems to be taking a beating in recent times.
Fresh on the heels of Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly’s announcement of a 300-allotment cut in the National Scholarships Programme and the immediate cessation of GATE funding for postgraduate students, came the announcement by University of T&T chairman Prof Clement Imbert that four of its 11 campuses are to be shut down before year’s end. The four campuses, at Arima, Chaguanas, Corinth and Valsayn, will either be sold or rented to help meet some of UTT’s financial needs.
Facing a deficit of $57 million for 2021 after its budgetary allocation was cut, chairman Imbert said it was the only option to prevent sending home more staff.
A closer look at the situation would reveal that some of the spending on campuses and programmes over the years certainly seemed unjustified. How else does one explain a 16-year old institution having 11 campuses and a student intake which does not match a demand for such infrastructure? Indeed, this media house cannot help but wonder whether UTT may only be postponing the inevitable since, from the outside looking in, it may still be impossible to retain staff under the current dire financial conditions. The institution also cut 67 professors in 2018 and 199 non-academic staff last year pursuing similar cost-cutting measures to no avail.
Furthermore, it seems unlikely UTT will secure the massive student registration it will need to keep itself afloat if government funding continues at current low levels. This is because more students, locally and abroad, are accessing the more trusted University of the West Indies’ services. In fact, the existence of the more established UWI was one of the arguments used against pursuing the lofty goals planned for UTT 16 years ago.
But even UWI is now fighting hard to stave off the effects of reduced funding. President of UWI’s Guild of Students Warren Anderson has labelled the recent move to cut postgraduate as a gut punch. Noting the recent quick transformation to online learning, Mr Anderson says this latest action will cripple current and prospective students’ ability to access higher education. The guild is desperately seeking a meeting with stakeholders to discuss the issues which will affect the postgraduate students who now access GATE.
UWI itself claims even before this move, there had been a decline in postgraduate admittance, with only 1,172 new students enrolled in courses currently. This was a slight decline for the same period last year, where there were 1,430 newly-enrolled students.
The education system, like other sectors funded by the government, is one of several severely impacted by the ravages of COVID-19. The situation is not synonymous to T&T though, as tertiary level enrolment around the world has been similarly affected.
Hopefully, the recent national stakeholder consultation on education would have discussed how the next generation of students will be able to access higher learning to take the country forward post-COVID-19.