By Elesha George
Antiguan students enrolled at the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) in Jamaica remain uneasy about the direction of their career, as they wait on the government to send sufficient funds to the university so that they could continue their degree programmes.
Currently, there are four students in Jamaica and a few others in Antigua who received scholarships from the Antigua and Barbuda Port Authority to pursue four-year degrees in logistics and maritime studies.
However, the substantial debt owed to the Jamaican government for tuition prevented these students from being able to register and participate in classes.
Correspondent Cynthia Braithwaite told Observer that one of them – a top student in February’s graduating class – was not allowed to attend the graduation because of the debt owed.
The students say they initially received an email from the treasurer of the university’s Accounts Department in October 2020 that advised them of the situation.
Months later, in December 2020, they said the Deputy President at the school called them into a meeting where they were informed that the Antigua and Barbuda government owed the school almost half a million US dollars.
However, Prime Minister Gaston Browne told Observer yesterday that what was brought to the attention of the government was that a balance of US $60,000 was owing. He said his government has since given instructions to pay that amount.
“Prior to that, I believe that we paid US $200,000. It’s improbable that we now owe US $500,000; perhaps a hyperbole,” he said.
In the meantime, the students say they feel as though the CMU has closed its doors on them and the government has forgotten about them.
They are presently unable to acquire transcripts or status letters and they are not being allowed to participate in Zoom classes and therefore cannot complete their assignments or the exams needed to complete the short courses.
“They’ve made it clear that they wouldn’t be offering their services to us. So that includes getting degrees for persons who have not yet completed, going to classes is not allowed,” one of the affected students said.
Students who returned to Antigua about a year ago have received their degrees but in order to make progress in their careers, they must complete a short course with the university to receive a certificate of competence.
The students, who for months had been reluctant to speak, say they haven’t had any real feedback from the Port Authority or the prime minister, to whom they wrote directly on the way forward.
In the letter, the students requested and audience with the prime minister but said at the time of speaking with our newsroom that there was no acknowledgement of receipt of the letter.
Braithwaite contended that because of the sheer amount of the debt owed, the students are being used as “bargaining chips” by the school.
She said the matter is now before the CMU Board.