With cutbacks in state funding for university education, parents and students have to get increasingly creative when it comes to covering the costs of higher learning in Trinidad and Tobago.
Government’s scholarship programme has been adjusted to give increased weight to financial need, and the Gate programme has been cut. But while this situation is a recent development, there has always been the need for families to consider alternative sources of funding outside the state, since scholarships have always been extremely competitive and no one can really guarantee their child will get one.
The signs that universities such as UWI may have to consider increasing enrolment fees, coupled with the drop in UWI, St Augustine student admissions to below 5,000 for the first time in just over a decade suggest the project of universal tertiary education is in danger. Not only might gains be reversed, but a generation could be left behind.
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The effects would be deleterious on an economy that needs productive workers to stay afloat. It’s as good a time as any, therefore, to develop a culture in which parents seek funding from as wide a range of sources as possible.
Education consultant Sandra Salloum advises that the first and most crucial step is doing the necessary research to find what grants might be out there for Trinidad and Tobago students and what universities could be the right fit.
It is also worth considering what scholarships are available from embassies, which frequently offer cultural and skilled-worker exchange programmes; credit-union loans; taking on-campus jobs; and generally being creative.
We’ve had examples of students exercising initiative, like Makeisha Simon, 21, who sells nuts in San Fernando and Princes Town to raise funds to pursue her dream to study medicine. Ms Simon’s situation came about after she unexpectedly secured an acceptance to medical school, but there is also a need for more long-term planning.
Parents need to put aside funding for education expenses, perhaps even before their children begin school. The “college fund” often spoken of by American parents should be commonplace here.
While many regard foreign universities as ideal, given their vast resources and linkages within much larger economic spaces, tuition at such institutions can be expensive. It’s worth considering, as education experts advise, splitting things between local institutions at the undergraduate level and then perhaps moving on to foreign postgraduate degrees for Trinidad and Tobago students.
Studying in another Caricom country is also an option for those who would like to broaden their horizons but not be too far from home.
While savings and planning should happen within each household, there is also a role for the state in facilitating an environment in which education financing is provided on attractive terms by private-sector financial institutions that may have excess liquidity. The aim of all of this, of course, should be to find a way to let students achieve their goals without saddling them with burdensome debt.
Experience shows the prohibitive costs associated with education are just one hurdle students have to overcome. The effects of having to manage a stressful debt situation can become another barrier to productivity.
Source: “The Costs of Going to University for Trinidad and Tobago Students” in the Trinidad & Tobago NewsDay