An idea gone awry?

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We have often had reason to quote that famous Greek philosopher who is credited with espousing the dictum: The only constant is change.

So when government announced that there would be changes to the Prime Minister’s Scholarship programme, we did not dismiss the idea out of hand, but were willing to embrace the change if it was in the interest of our nation.

We are very much on the side of change, for after all, innovation and creativity are our mantra. There is another truism that says if you’re not changing, evolving with the times, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re stagnant, dying, or already dead.

Change, we agree, is not only inevitable, but necessary.

Over the years, students have become accustomed to scholarships being offered in significant numbers by the Board of Education. Indeed, one of the purposes of the Education Levy is to provide scholarships to deserving nationals.

In addition, prized scholarships are offered by Antigua Commercial Bank’s Louis Lockhart Scholarship, the International Women’s Club, the British Chevening Scholarship, the OAS and the Commonwealth scholarships.

Latterly, the Prime Minister’s Scholarship was conceived by the previous administration and is being continued under the current regime. However, the name seems to be the only similarity between the idea as conceived and executed by both regimes.

Formerly, the Prime Minister’s Scholarship was largely funded by external agencies and channelled through the Office of the Prime Minister. Hence we had access to Venezuelan, Moroccan, Chinese Greek, Russian, Cuban and United States scholarships, among others.

Antiguans and Barbudans have been afforded the opportunity to study at universities all over the world. We are justly proud that our students are being educated to be citizens of the world, able to take their place among the brightest and the best; people whose perspectives would be global rather than parochial.

Today, this country can boast of a cadre of people who would otherwise not have been able to contribute as meaningfully to the human race were it not for the opportunities they received to access a sound education by way of a scholarship.

Fast forward today, and we were told that in 2016 the government of Antigua & Barbuda offered 833 scholarships through the Prime Minister’s Scholarship Fund.

Not only were we not privy to the number of applicants, we were certainly not aware that the monies to pay for these scholarships would come from the Treasury. For, after all, we cannot recall when the Treasury was ask to bear that burden.

We had reason to inquire into the matter after several students who had been offered scholarships complained that they were forced to leave without the stipend. Term one is now at a close and term two has begun, and still others have been left holding an empty bag.

This paper has been privy to letters written by officials of the University of the West Indies informing students that they would not be allowed on hall or have access to their grades unless they pay up.

The clamour became so loud that government has been forced to change tack. Recently, the announcement was made that no longer will students be given scholarships to study at universities of their choice, rather government will only fund scholarships to UWI.

We are still grappling with this news. However several questions come to mind almost instantly. The most cogent, perhaps, being, what of the disciplines that are not offered at UWI? We can think of a long list of those; including high tech areas like robotics and artificial intelligence that are key to the future.. Why then are we boxing in our students to just what is being offered within the four walls of our region?

And, too, the question must be asked, what of the function of the Board of Education? As far as we are aware, it pays the economic cost for every student who attends UWI. Will this be a case of double dipping?

Taking a couple of steps backwards, can somebody say what was the criteria for selecting these scholarship recipients in the first place? Were they required to sign bonds indicating they will return to give back to our bit of paradise and contribute to  two sources of funds — first from BoE and then from the Treasury.

Government said it has budgeted 18 million dollars for the programme. Was a study done to indicate that this money is well spent and sufficient to take students all the way to the completion of their course of study?

The cry has been that the Treasury is at fault here, but should we blame the body which collects the cash or the mechanisms that are in place for cash collection?

We would hate to say it, but could this be a case of an idea gone awry — good in intent but bad in execution.

We conclude with the words of John L Phillips: “A civilisation that only looks inward will stagnate. We have to keep looking outward; we have to keep finding new avenues for human endeavour and human expression.

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