Dr Vaalmikki Arjoon
By Sue-Ann Wayow
GOVERNMENT should reconsider the removal of state funding for post-graduate degrees since lower income earning individuals would feel the brunt the most.
Economist and lecturer at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Dr Vaalmikki Arjoon is suggesting that the state provide partial funding for those degrees in an effort to also close the knowledge gap since that compounds with already high levels of income inequality.
Arjoon said with the declining job market lengthened due to Covid-19, it was positive that the state was not making massive cuts to the programme that would cause thousands from low income households to be unable to access tertiary education.
The Ministry of Education’s announcement that financing for the Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE) fund was slashed was met with unfavourable responses by many.
Government also stated that the number of national scholarships was significantly reduced to 100 annually. This is down from 400.
Arjoon said, “Those in the higher income brackets will afford to go to university, but those from low income households may not be able to.
“In this vein, the state should re-consider the decision to not allow future postgraduate access to GATE if they already received it, particularly for those from low income households.”
Arjoon said, “They should consider a 50% subsidy for these individuals. Alternatively, an interest free student loan programme could be enforced where following, two years of working after graduation they begin to repay the loan.
“It is also imperative that the ministry tighten their audits to ensure that students are receiving the correct GATE funding based on their household income levels.”
Detailing a bit of GATE’s history, Arjoon added that government did not get sufficient return on investment and should have implemented complementary measures to properly develop lucrative job markets apart from the non-energy sector. Government also mismanaged funding for this sector.
Arjoon said, “Investment in human capital through free tertiary education was initially provided at a time when we were reaping substantial revenues primarily from the gas boom in the mid 2000s.
“Not only did the state subsidise the costs but they also expanded the intake at institutions offering tertiary degrees.
“The main thrust behind this major investment in human capital was to create a wide cross-section of skilled labour in diverse fields to establish greater levels of economic diversification but this return on investment did not happen as we would have hoped.
“While we certainly created a more skilled labour force and reduced the knowledge gap, it did not translate into increased diversification.”
Giving statistics, Arjoon said that based on information provided by the United Nations on Trade and Development, the economic diversification index barely moved.
In 2005, when free tertiary education was offered, it was 0.767, 0.785 in 2016 and most recently 0.765 in 2019.
The closer the value is to one, the less diversified the economy he said adding that it did not mean the investment in education did not have some advantages.
“It contributed to lowering poverty levels by providing several households with a sustainable income and narrowed the knowledge gap,” Arjoon said.
About the return on investment, he said, “We did not receive the expected return from investment in human capital through GATE primarily because the demand for the skills and knowledge of university graduates in the job market was insufficient to accommodate all these graduates even in times when the economy was booming. There simply were not enough positions for them to fall into nor were there adequate jobs to match their skillsets.”
Arjoon also said, “State entities also behaved in a risky, cost ineffective and financially imprudent manner, failing to sustain profits and expand the scope of their operations which otherwise could have absorbed many more of these graduates.”