Future of Tertiary Funding
While university students in Chile are holding mass protests to demand amnesty for student debt, as well as subsidies for tertiary tuition, it seems as if Jamaican university students don't care about, or even realise, what will happen to tertiary funding in Jamaica. While Andrew Holness spoke about the grim future of tertiary education funding, our so-called "student leaders" sat and did nothing but play the role of decorative props for the Prime Minister's photos.
Andrew Holness is no stranger to the idea that less money can be spent on tertiary education. I pointed this out less than a month ago, when the government wanted to claim praises for the seemingly heroic action to intervene when our major universities were considering barring students from exams if they had outstanding fees. It was a nice PR move, but not everyone was fooled by it. Some of us remember the protests at UWI in 2009, when the government cut subsidies to tertiary funding; Andrew Holness was the Minister of Education at the time, and he complained that too much money was being spent on tertiary education.
It is a somewhat understandable position to take, as only a minority of our students are tertiary students, compared to the primary and secondary school students who also need money invested in their education. Another thing is that funding tertiary education can be seen as wasting taxpayers' money, as roughly 80% of them migrate to developed countries after graduating, thus leaving the country with no guarantee (the chance of remittances is not a guarantee) that it will benefit from their education, despite heavily subsidising it.
What else does the government expect? It promotes education as a route to wealth, and tertiary graduates are going to use their skills to the advantage of the highest bidder. An idea of competition is promoted, where students must compete with each other to get the best grades, then later compete with each other as adults to get the most wealth. We do not encourage persons to see education in a social way; we reap what we sow in the minds of young children who we raise to be individualistic.
For some reason, however, the Jamaica Observer deleted the article from their website, but the internet has tools and archives to work around that. You can easily find the article on UWI students' protests in 2009 when Andrew Holness was the Minister of Education. I suppose some readers are not interested in digging graves or beating dead horses, so let us talk about the present day.
The government's current plan is a terrible one. The government easily wooed some persons with fancy words like their intention to "restructure" tertiary education funding, but all those so-called "student leaders" seemed to care about was being on camera. The implications of the proposed direction of the policy will be disastrous, especially for poor students. The proposal, to sum it up, is to replace government subsidies for tertiary education with government promotion of private sector loans.
Holness admitted that the policy - announced through both JIS and the Gleaner - would likely result in an increase in tuition fees; this alone shows that the policy is problematic. Not only is the government reducing its subsidies which will make tuition more expensive, but it is also pressing students to rely on taking out loans from financial institutions. We already see the problems with student loans in Jamaica, the USA, and Chile. The problem appears even worse when we consider that many tertiary graduates struggle to find well-paying jobs that would allow them to pay off these loans.
If students are unable to pay off these loans, the financial institutions would end up with a lot of bad debt, which could crash the Jamaican economy as we saw with the recent 'Great Recession' in the USA. This is not a sustainable plan. This will make education even more difficult for poor families to access. A person from a poor family can fail to pay off the debt, and end up continuing the cycle of generational poverty. Some well-off students may not even need these loans, and may therefore access tertiary education more easily, even with mediocre grades, while poor students with great grades and potential are locked out of the system by financial constraints.
Mentioning that taxpayer money will go to these banks to 'subsidise' loans isn't a better-sounding story. Surely, the government can just continue funding the education, but it is going out of its way to allow the banks to profit from this.
We urge the government to rethink this approach. What we have right now isn't the best thing possible, but the proposed direction of policy is even worse. This is prosperity for the banks, but not for the people. We are interested to know whether any particular financial institutions donated to the JLP's campaign, but that is for another day.