The Youth Arm of the United National Congress notes with great concern and discomfort the recommendations made by task force appointed by the Rowley-led Cabinet to review the Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE) programme. From the various reports, the Rowley-led Cabinet is being asked to introduce a means testing scheme, undergraduates to pay one-third of total tuition and a total discontinuance of post graduate funding. Should Cabinet act on these recommendations it is tantamount to destroying the future of our nation. It is a gigantic leap backwards in our nation’s development as it disentitles thousands of students for a chance at achieving a tertiary level education.
It has always been and continues to be the policy of the UNC that every child should be entitled to free universal education. In 2001, the then UNC Government introduced the “Dollar for Dollar” Education plan which funded 50% of the cost of tuition for students. This was expanded to what we now know as GATE where tertiary education is 100% funded by the government. When the People’s Partnership came into office in 2010, one of the first things they did was to secure and expand the GATE programme to also include Technical and Vocational studies.
Subsequently, in the run-up to the 2015 General Election, the PNM in their manifesto promised the people to “Preserve, maintain, and expand where necessary, our system of free education and training at all levels.” And also “Ensure that the Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE) system, which we created in 2004, remains relevant, easily accessible and available to all citizens who need it.” Any adherence to the recommendations of the task force will be nothing short of a betrayal of the trust of the people of Trinidad and Tobago and any restrictions to the GATE programme will be undeniably a retrograde step.
We believe an education thrust develops a nation but since assuming office in September 2015, the PNM has been anti-education. In their first budget as a government, they have cut over $85.6M from the Ministry of Education and further cuts were made to Education in the government’s mid-year review in April of this year. In addition to this, scholarships have also been cut by 15% by the Ministry of Education.
During the mid-year review, the Minister of Finance indicated that it was time for the GATE programme to conserve expenditure and further indicated that there needs to be the implementation of some sort of means testing criteria for persons to access GATE by the next academic year. It is in this light that we are asking if the utterances of the Minister has prejudiced any findings and/or recommendations of the Task Force.
Further, if the Cabinet accepts the recommendation for a means test, the Youth Arm calls upon the nation to remember the incidents of the PNM “secret scholarship slush fund”, where there was rampant discrimination in the awarding of scholarships. The trust and integrity of any such process has already been eroded.
The UNC Youth Arm is of the view that the GATE programme has become necessary for students especially in these difficult times. We call on the Rowley-led Cabinet to give education the respect and support it deserves as our nation’s children must be properly equipped to be the leaders of tomorrow.
Chris A Hosein
UNC Youth Arm