“Backward and visionless”; words used to describe the Government’s cuts to the GATE programme by former Tertiary Education Minister, Fazal Karim.
Karim condemned the Government’s action saying “the distressing news of cuts to education will heap further despair and disappointment on students and parents, and take us back to a time when access to higher education was restricted to the few”.
“Our citizens are facing harsh realities of losing their jobs and being unable to pay their bills, their families are going hungry, and some are defaulting on their mortgages and at risk of losing their homes. With this latest move, families are seeing their only ray of hope – opportunities for educating and uplifting themselves and their children – taken away in one fell swoop,” Karim added.
Karim lamented the systematic dismantling of the education and training system implemented under his tenure as Minister, which was accessible to all and aligned to the national manpower and economic development needs. He stated that, “A skilled and educated workforce is the very basis for economic expansion, especially into high-value and knowledge intensive areas. As it stands now, there are fewer and fewer opportunities for the human capital development that our nation so desperately needs.”
On the issue of GATE, Karim said that the means test was announced by the PNM in 2016 and that the reference to a mandatory means test with effect from August 2020 raised questions as to whether the means test was being mismanaged since its introduction.
He further remarked that, “The discontinuation of funding for postgraduate education is a retrograde step and would reduce the number of knowledge workers to support our economic recovery.”
Karim also expressed grave concern with the sudden manner in which the changes have been introduced. He said that the Ministry of Education was in the middle of a national consultation on the Concordat, curriculum and other issues but that there was not even a whisper about GATE to education stakeholders. Karim labelled the Government’s approach as “dictatorial, dishonourable and dangerous.”
On the issue of scholarships, Karim expressed deep disappointment with the reduction in the number of awards from a high of 400 plus scholarships under the People’s Partnership Government down to a low of 100 scholarships under this Government. He said, “The UTT Tamana Campus alone cost taxpayers $2 billion and has not benefited a single student to this day, but yet this Government has resorted to denying opportunities to our top-performing students who have worked night and day to achieve their dreams of a brighter future.”
With regards to bursaries, Karim warned that the country could be returned to the nepotism and blatant abuse of student funding as seen before under a previous PNM administration, then known as the “Slush Fund”.
Karim said, “If we continue to cut funding for education, we will end up paying for it in long-term economic decline.” He explained that the recent education cuts are myopic. “What the country needs is education reform not education cuts. It is time to retool, reskill and reboot the nation’s workforce to support economic development”. He added that, “The Government’s backward adjustments will suffocate research and development, innovation, business start-ups and economic recovery”.