The Government of Jamaica (GOJ), commendably, has just decided to spend J$300 million to assist deregistered final year students at the University of the West Indies (UW), University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech) and other universities to pay the outstanding monies due by them to the universities in order to be able to take their 2016/2017 exams.
The GOJ largesse will go to needy students “as deemed by the University and the Guild of Students” or who have applied to the Students Loan Bureau and the Jamaica Values & Attitudes Programme (JAMVAT). It is a kind and generous gesture by GOJ, has a huge social upside, and is not devoid of significant political upside.
However, in my view it reflects either bad policy or the non-existence of a policy.
What exactly is the policy on the state funding of tertiary education of Jamaican nationals within the country’s long-term development goals? Is there a policy on the funding of sixth form education? Frankly, I don’t know about either.
I do know that we have an oversupply of graduates in law, education, medicine, tourism and hospitality, philosophy, and the humanities. I also do know that we have a shortage of graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). I do know that it is generally accepted that for the country to really make progress in the 21st century, a huge number of properly qualified and certified STEM graduates are required.
I am aware that I have a penchant for the over-simplification of what to others may be complex issues. This is a burden I bear and for which I may need professional assistance.
It is my considered view that the approach ought to be as follows:
A significant number of post–CSEC scholarships are given on a merit basis to students wishing to study STEM subjects in sixth forms which have suitably qualified and experienced faculty to teach these subjects. This will result in the creation of true Centres of Excellence in high schools. There will be a hue and cry from old boys and old girls (politically incorrect) associations about the denuding of their schools of some of their best academic talent as they are sent off to these newly created STEM Centres of Excellence. There will be cries about the creation of elitist institutions. In my humble view the creation of elitist educational institutions dedicated to the advancement of STEM-oriented students cannot be a bad thing. On the contrary, it is a good thing.
At the tertiary level, the policy ought to be that those who wish to pursue STEM degrees will be encouraged, fostered and nurtured. Those who wish to pursue other degrees will be able to seek funding from the Students Loan Bureau or will be self-funding, or will compete for scholarships. This will mean that upon successfully achieving excellent passes at CAPE or GCE A Levels, those students at the secondary STEM Centres of Excellence will be the beneficiaries of full bonded scholarships to UWI, or UTech to pursue STEM degrees. Upon the completion of their degrees, preferably at the post-graduate level, those who do not find employment in the private sector will be employed in any of the myriad government departments or state enterprises where their talents and competencies will be fully utilised.
The bonding requirements of these scholarships must be such that the bonds cannot be bought out. They can only be worked out. The country needs the talent for national development, not some transitory amount of relatively piddling cash.
In the bad old days of the 1980s, Prime Minister Seaga (as he then was) used to speak about the “picking of winners”. As any experienced punter will tell you, that’s the only way to stay ahead in the game.