MOE Responds to Concerns Raised on Gate Continuation
Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
MINISTRY OF EDUCATION
CORPORATE COMMUNICATIONS DIVISION
Education Towers, No.5 St. Vincent Street, Port of Spain, Trinidad
Phone: 868-622-2181 www.moe.gov.tt
MOE RESPONDS TO CONCERNS RAISED ON GATE CONTINUATION
The Government is committed to ensuring that citizens of Trinidad and Tobago are able to access affordable education at all levels and in particular, tertiary level education. Despite the success of the GATE Programme in greatly expanding access to post-secondary and tertiary education, there was an urgent need for review in light of current local economic constraints; and given that a comprehensive review had not been undertaken since the inception of the Programme.
While the Government continues to adhere to the mandate of the 2000 Dakar commitment to Education for All, it is important to note that tertiary education participation increased from approximately 8% in 2002 to the estimated 65.23% in 2015. The targeted tertiary participation rate of at least 60% by 2015 has, therefore, been exceeded. The current level of tertiary participation compares favourably with the rate for developed countries.
Local and global economic trends with respect to the falling prices of energy commodities (oil and gas) led to concerns over the sustainability of current expenditure levels via the GATE Programme. Currently, the Government is experiencing significant reduction in revenues and foreign exchange earnings as a result of the falling prices of oil and gas. The price of oil has fallen from a high of US$128 in early 2011 to a low of US$30 in 2015; currently selling for approximately US$48. This represents a price drop of approximately 63% from 2011 to 2016.
When the GATE Programme was established in 2004, oil prices ranged from US$40 to US$50 per barrel. The subsidy for both postgraduate and undergraduate programmes at that time was 50% of tuition fees. In 2004, student who were unable to pay 50% of tuition fees, were able to access full tuition on completion of a means test. As oil prices increased in 2006, the Government introduced free tertiary education at the undergraduate level.
Many Governments in both developed and developing countries have found it necessary, over the last decade to reduce public funding of tertiary education due to constrained economic circumstances. Trinidad and Tobago is the only country in the English-speaking Caribbean which currently provides free tertiary level tuition support at the undergraduate level to all citizens. Barbados provided such support but as of the 2014/15 academic year, citing economic challenges, this support was discontinued.
In 2016, the GATE Programme was reviewed in order to ensure sustainability of funding. The National Consultations on Education and a Task Force were instrumental in assisting the Government in its review. It was noted that most of the recipients of the GATE Programme are from families which fall in the middle to high income groups of the society.
The re-introduction of means testing in 2017/2018 was identified as one of the adjustments that should be made to the GATE Programme. All students will be eligible for a subsidy of at least 50% of the cost of tuition fees. Students whose monthly household income is less than $10,000 will be fully funded under the GATE Programme. Where the household income is above $10,000 per month but less than $30,000, students will be eligible for 75% of tuition fees. Students whose household income exceeds $30,000 per month will be required to pay 50% of tuition fees.
Means testing is optional and only applicable to students commencing a new programme in August 2017 and beyond. Students not wishing to complete a means test application form will be required to pay 50% of their tuition fees.
In order to assist students with tuition fees (if required) the loan ceiling for the Higher Education Loan Programme (HELP) has been increased from $25,000 to $35,000 for students studying locally. It should be noted that only a small percentage of the student population (3%) has accessed loans in the past.
Further, the Government has agreed to a more holistic calculation of means by August 2018 taking into consideration other factors such as size of household and household assets.
Historically, the Government has subsidised the tertiary education sector by way of support for institutional development and student funding. The Ministry with responsibility for tertiary education allocates funding for both recurrent and capital expenditure, as well as tuition and non-tuition fees by way of grants, scholarships and soft-loans.
From the inception of the GATE Programme in 2004 up to the 2015/2016 academic year, the Government expended over $6.3 billion covering programmes that ranged from Technical and Vocational Training (TVET) to PhD studies. In addition to the expenditure on the GATE Programme, the Government spends substantial sums in support of tertiary level education through National Scholarships, the HELP and the Financial Assistance (Studies) Programme (FASP).
In February 2015, the then People’s Partnership Government introduced a quota system for students enrolled in the medical programme at the regional institutions. In respect of St. George’s University, Grenada, only ten (10) students were funded in 2015/2016 with no further intake in the subsequent years. For the Mona and Cave Hill campuses, the People’s Partnership Government agreed that intake for medical students be reduced to twenty (20) students for each campus by the year 2017/2018. In December 2015, the PNM Government rescinded this decision, allowing for an open policy for medical students enrolled in the Cave Hill and Mona campuses.
Effective August 2017, only programmes and institutions accredited by the Accreditation Council of Trinidad and Tobago will be eligible for funding under the GATE Programme. This policy has not yet been effected, hence it cannot be said that “…some public institutions are not accredited but access GATE funding”.
Policies governing the GATE Programme have been carefully implemented after extensive consultation and review. The population is aware of the changing fortunes of the country and as such, adjustments are required in all sectors of the economy. Given the aforementioned current budgetary constraints (arising from the substantial fall in revenue due to plummeting oil and gas prices) the Government is of the view that the status quo in respect of GATE Programme cannot be maintained.
Despite local and global economic trends with respect to falling prices of energy commodities (oil and gas), and the urgent need to reduce public spending as a result, the Government has managed to ensure continued access to tertiary education through means testing and adjusted loan ceilings to assist those who may still be unable to meet necessary costs. These measures provide all the necessary affordability options for qualified and eligible citizens to pursue tertiary study in Trinidad and Tobago.