Opposition Leader "deeply concerned" about GATE recommendations

Date: 
Tuesday, July 19, 2016 - 00:00

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar is expressing "deep concern" over the recommendations of the committee that reviewed the GATE programme.

She has called on the Government to reject the recommendations.

"It is frightening to contemplate the negative effects that cuts to GATE will have on our youth and the future development of our country and disastrous to implement such cuts before the start of the next academic year.

I am deeply concerned by the recommendations presented to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago by a special task force set up by the Keith Rowley administration to review the Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE) programme.

The report suggests that students enrolled at university would have to pay one third of their fees while postgraduate students would lose all financial assistance to continue their studies.  I call on the Government to reject these recommendations. 

Combined with the Government’s recent moves to cut scholarships by fifteen percent, end the laptop programme for secondary school students and halt the development of the UWI South Campus, it appears that the Rowley Administration is waging an all-out war against students. Even worse, the Rowley Government has already cut spending on education by nearly half a billion dollars.

On the campaign trail last year, Dr. Rowley questioned why his party would want to cut programmes such as GATE and Chronic Disease Assistance Programme (CDAP).  Yet, today we are facing shortages of critical medications and now the Rowley selected task force is making recommendations which, if followed, would take away the promise of GATE from current and future generations. 

During the mid-year review, Minister Colm Imbert indicated that the task force recommendations would be considered this month and be put in place before the coming academic year in complete disregard of any legitimate expectation that parents and students may have with regard to the availability of GATE funding. 

It is frightening to contemplate the negative effects of such a policy on our youth and the future development of our country and it would be simply disastrous to implement such drastic changes mere weeks before the start of the next academic year.  

No serious government would allow that to happen.

Now, more than ever, is the time we must invest in students who will become the future leaders of our nation. The students of today will lead the diversification efforts of tomorrow and the Rowley Administration seems to intent on restricting access to higher education.

That is why I am calling on the Rowley administration to act as a responsible government by rejecting the task force recommendations and by focusing instead on expanding GATE as they promised during the 2015 election campaign.

Government assistance for tertiary education started under my watch as Education Minister in the Panday Administration when we introduced the dollar-for-dollar education plan. We built the foundation for the GATE programme and as a matter of priority, my administration expanded access to GATE.

Our plan was to continue to improve and expand the GATE as a part of our vision of creating an educated population by effectively using state funds to level the playing field in education so no one would be left behind.

Our intention was to make sure that there was equal opportunity for each child regardless of a family’s social and financial status; it meant children from low income and poor families would have the same right to education as those from affluent families. That’s how a society progresses.

Our PP government undertook that responsibility because we believe education is a liberating force and every child must have access to education as a right.

That is why I am deeply saddened by the thought that the Rowley PNM administration is preparing to take us backwards by denying an education to thousands of students. These recommendations to severely restrict access to GATE amount to a betrayal of our society.

Clearly the Rowley Administration has its priorities wrong. It has no difficulty allocating billions for other projects but is unable to find money to educate our children. 

In fact, most of the Rowley Administration’s comments regarding education revolve around money instead of setting development priorities to sustain our nation’s progress.  We question why the monies withdrawn from the Heritage and Stabilisation fund were not used to keep our promise of education to all for future generations.

I am tempted to ask a pertinent question: Does the government plan to deny large sections of the society of an opportunity for education while secretly doing what the PNM did before by operating a secret scholarship plan for its own supporters and friends? I HOPE NOT.

In the interest of the development of our country I am urging the government to reject any thought of closing the GATE or restricting access to it. 

A mature and responsible government would ensure that education remains a right and that everyone must have equal access to it. That is what GATE promised and we must keep it wide open."

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