THE Heliconia Foundation For Young Professionals has hailed moves to reform the Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE) programme.
The Foundation is of the view that this reform should be the “first step in a radical, wide-ranging and holistic rethinking of the Trinidad and Tobago welfare state and particularly the role and function of the Government in the economy, the level of Government spending appropriate for a proper functioning modern economy and ensuring a more equitable and efficient allocation of public assistance and social programmes”.
In a statement signed by its president W Michael Coppin, the Foundation said it believes the reforms in GATE are consistent with sound modern macroeconomic principles as the Government must assess the rate of return on its investment in education.
This can only be done by looking at key performance indicators such as how much it has spent, whether there has been economic growth as a consequence of its investment, whether the amount of taxes raised has increased because of its expenditure and whether we now have a more innovative and productive society.
“The Foundation believes that while there have been successes in radically improving the university participation rate, an honest reflection would reveal that GATE has not met the high economic expectations intended and the time was right for a return to the drawing board.”
The Foundation said its position comes after it held a conference with a number of student guilds and conducted a poll on GATE between the July 29 and August 4.
“We note that the poll revealed that of the 371 respondents 91 per cent were of the view that GATE needed to be reformed.
“Notably, the poll showed that 57 per cent of respondents believed that students should be personally responsible for paying a percentage of the costs of their undergraduate education while 85 per cent of respondents believed that students should pay a percentage of their post graduate education costs.
“Ninety-three per cent of respondents were of the view that there was wastage in GATE with 54 per cent of all respondents of the view that there was ‘a lot of wastage', 25 per cent moderate wastage and 14 per cent a little wastage.”
It said 95 per cent of all respondents disapproved of the Government continuing to fund students who continually fail courses while 55 per cent believed that the Government should not fund a student for more than one programme.
“The Foundation is in support of the introduction of a means test as we believe State support should be granted to those in need and not as a right to all regardless of income.
“Notably, 66 per cent of those persons who responded believed that a means test was necessary.
“Interestingly, only 37 per cent of respondents believed that the Government should only fund programmes in line with the country's development needs, 91 per cent were in support of the Government providing tax breaks to parents who fund their children's education, 40 per cent were in support of the State guaranteeing loans instead of paying for tertiary education, 61 per cent believed that the Government should guarantee employment to recipients of GATE and respondents were evenly split as to whether there were enough people in Trinidad and Tobago attending university.”
The Heliconia Foundation said it believes more should be done by local academia to collect and analyse empirical evidence from the population and for them to assist with advancing the discourse on funding tertiary education.