A few months ago, I penned a post entitled ‘SLB reforms a step in the right direction.’ Then, I did not examine in detail the “but” in the equation- SLB’s recent reforms announced by the Finance Minister may prove futile if there isn’t proper recapitalization of the institution.
It is very good that repayment options have been made less stressful and a single guarantor can be added to more portfolios but how will the most needy students make use of these when they won’t be able to access loans in the first place?
The term should not come to an end without this government examining holistically the options for SLB and its borrowers. While I don’t advocate for free tertiary education, I advocate for affordable tuition because I believe that a more educated Jamaica will be a much better Jamaica for us to stay, and for those who have left, to return.
As it stands, secondary students, after paying no tuition fee for 5-7 years find themselves in quicksand as they approach the reality of paying a tertiary tuition. I, therefore, recommend that the current government reexamines free secondary tuition policy to regain funds to redirect into more ‘needy’ areas of the education ministry. Whether it be a full roll back or a return to cost sharing. This is one area from which funds can be redirected. In retrospect, the format of the policy was ill-thought from the onset. PATH students who are deemed more needy should be the ones to benefit most from any secondary tuition subsidy. Speaking with several members from my high school cohort, most attest to have had the ability to pay their high school tuitions in full but are now facing struggles where tertiary funding is concerned. Is there really any sense in completing secondary education with no options of greater upward educational mobility? I don’t think so.
Another major area which the Ministry of Education and the government should address is the use of the Education Tax. I strongly believe that this should be redirected from the consolidated fund to a dedicated fund in the education ministry with majority being pumped into recapitalizing the SLB. Either the option above or the creation of a new tax to go to a National Education Trust, the latter being the least desirable option. Whichever the case, such funds should be invested as are many other funds which are collected from the populace.
Public-private partnership is another area of utmost importance. The banking sector especially should be on board to provide, where possible, lower interest tertiary loans with an extended period for repayment. With proper negotiations and intense discussions, I believe that such an agreement can be forged and would result in a massive transformation of the face of tertiary education funding.
Parents aren’t to be left out of this discussion. They have an important part to play in ensuring that their children’s education is financed. Parents need to start saving for the tertiary burden from the birth of their children or they run the risk of disappointing them when their hopes of having tertiary education have already gone sky high upon secondary education completion. Here, again, the banking sector will be important in helping to educate as well as create special deposit accounts/trust funds to present to parents as options to ensure that their children’s education go beyond the secondary level.
Education is a partnership and must remain as such. The parents, students, government and the private sector all have important parts to play as we seek to keep/bring tuition to the realm of affordability for the “regular” man and not a token to only a wealthy and privileged few.
Aujaé K. Dixon