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Minister of Education, the Hon Andrew Holness, has described Thursday’s (July 29) media reports on the level of increases in tertiary educational fees as inaccurate.
“The change in how we fund tertiary education will be gradual. You are not going to see an overnight 40 percent reduction, so the alarm raised in the headlines today is not quite accurate,” he told a press conference at his Ministry, downtown Kingston Thursday.
Mr. Holness said that the Government has been giving notice of changes since 2007, and every time an adjustment is to be made notice will be given.
“So there will be nothing dramatic done. If we do decide to make any form of change, students will be given adequate notice and we have also made a commitment that, if we are going to change, we should be prepared to help the students in absorbing the impact,” he said.
The Government currently subsidizes approximately 80 per cent of the fees, leaving students to pay the remaining 20 per cent.
Mr. Holness said that while increases are inevitable, no policy changes have yet been made. He assured that additional funding will be made available to the Students’ Loan Bureau (SLB), repayment periods will be extended and interest rates reduced, to ease the burden on the students.
The media reports had suggested that the students could face a 100 percent increase in their portion of tertiary fees in 2011/12. This was based on responses from SLB executive director, Lenice Barrett, to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the House of Representatives on Wednesday at Gordon House.
Mr. Holness said that in a bid to transform how tertiary level education is funded, the Government would continue the gradual reduction in its subsidy to those institutions. But, he expressed the desire to see the SLB rapidly expanding its capital base, to meet the increased demands.
He said that the Government has a limited amount of funds that it can give to education as a subsidy. These funds are used to invest heavily in pre-primary and primary-level education, as the state strives to ensure that all citizens get a proper educational foundation.
“That’s the most equitable use; to make sure that that 150,000 at pre-primary and the 250,000 at primary, that they get the foundation education,” he said, noting that even more emphasis has to be placed at the secondary level to ensure the best quality pupils for the tertiary level.
“So we have to invest carefully to make sure that the pool that goes up for tertiary each year, that that pool is of such a quality that it will make tertiary education valuable, so that we spend less on remediation and guarantee a better quality tertiary graduate,” he said.
The Minister said that the Government would seek to provide students with creative means of paying back the loan, not just through cash, but by contributions as well.