Categorized | National News

Ministry Abusing Power, FNM

The Opposition last night accused the Ministry of Education of abusing its power by refusing high achieving students grants because they are not studying at the College of The Bahamas, the University of the West Indies (UWI) or other local colleges.

The Free National Movement (FNM) claims that students with GPAs of 4.0 who are studying in the USA have complained that they have been refused the grants.

“The Ministry of Education announced after the fact, and to the great and last-minute disappointment of more than 1,000 Bahamians, that they had privately changed the rules governing the award of annual national scholarship grants,” the party said in a statement last night.

The FNM said this is unjust and the policy must be reappraised and restored to the original principles of merit and ability.

In fact, the party said the decisions of who receives the benefits are being made by a politically appointed Scholarships Committee, which will now assess student applications not on academic merit, but whether they are studying at an approved local or regional institution and whether or not their chosen field of study falls within some “arbitrarily conceived” definition of what is in the national interest.

“[They] have embarked upon a misguided misuse of public funds in the methodologies and considerations utilised to decide which deserving students should be awarded annual national scholarship grants,” the party said.

The FNM said that in a clear breach of its campaign promise to double the nation’s investment in education and training, the 2012-13 budgetary allocation for National Scholarship Grants was raised by “a mere $1.75 million, from $7.75 million to $9.5 million.”

This was not a doubling of the national investment in education, which could only have been achieved by an increased allocation of at least an additional $7.7 million, and not the $1.75 million increase, the party said.

“Contrary to the spirit which motivated and imbued the Ingraham administration’s initiative in creating a system of annual national scholarship grants, namely that individual students and their families were the best qualified persons to make the choice of which educational facility could best serve their academic inclinations and full potential, whether the college or university was located in The Bahamas or abroad,” the statement said.

“Now, the ministry has now arbitrarily changed the rules. This arbitrary, unilateral and only belatedly announced change is an abuse of power and authority. Now, the Ministry of Education says that individual students and their parents are not the best persons to decide such matters. Now, the ministry, in the fulfilment of some alleged political ideology, has decided to try to herd students into the College of The Bahamas, other local tertiary institutions and accredited institutions in the (Caribbean) region, by only giving priority to applicants to attend those institutions.”

The FNM said this move has already limited available funding for otherwise fully academically qualified applicants, some of whom have been refused grants for no other reason other than the fact that they did not propose to attend COB or some regional college.

“Among the mandates given by the affluent new Minister of Education, Jerome Fitzgerald, is for the National Scholarship Committee to ‘give priority to areas of study that are of importance for national development of our country and in line with the policies outlined in our Charter for Governance and give priority to those wishing to pursue tertiary education at the College of The Bahamas, other local tertiary institutions and accredited institutions in the region’,” the FNM said.

“This new ideological and political attitude is a complete abrogation of the foundational principles which guided the former administration’s decision to create annual national scholarship grants. It is undemocratic and unacceptable.”

The FNM said there is nothing in the PLP’s Charter for Governance that supports and justifies this “retrograde return” to a discredited formula used by the Pindling administration in its former Bonded Scholarship Programme to limit the educational aspirations and opportunities for ordinary, academically-qualified Bahamian students.

The party noted that the only comment made in the entire PLP Charter for Governance relating to scholarships was limited to one paragraph at page 142 of the Charter, where it promised to ‘expand the bonded scholarship programme for students at the college level in areas that are important to national development. These scholarships shall be linked to the demonstrable needs of the country’,” the FNM said.

The Bonded Scholarship Programme, started in the Pindling administration, was limited to ‘areas that are important to national development’ and still exists in the national budget as a separate head and item of expenditure.

“It is found at item 931100 of the Ministry of Education’s recurrent budget and is entitled ‘Scholarships – Bonded.’ The amount allocated in 2011 was $280,000. The PLP promised to increase this item and they did, by a mere $40,000, raising the total allocation to $320,000.00,” the FNM said.

“What the Ministry of Education has improperly done is to apply the same retrograde considerations, which limited the impact of the Pindling Bonded Scholarship programme, to a programme created in 2007 by another administration, which was designed to enhance the freedom of choice and the motivational prospects for all deserving Bahamian students, regardless of their choices of accredited colleges and universities, whether at home or abroad.”

The party continued, “The annual national scholarship grant programme was specifically designed based upon the best advice of educational professionals who expressed the deeply held views that students perform best when they are free to choose those colleges and universities which can best cater to their academic inclinations. Hundreds of Bahamian students and their parents have suffered a staggering, unexpected and devastating blow due to the imposition of a new ideology which is alien to the very basis and foundational principles of the annual National Scholarship Grants Programme.”

Written by Jones Bahamas

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