THE PLP government broke faith with students when it arbitrarily changed the National Scholarship Grant rules, the opposition party said.
According to the Free National Movement, this failure is part of the government’s inability to live up to its pledge to double investment in public education, and has destroyed the hope of hundreds of bright students.
The FNM said: “In a press statement dated the August, 21, the Ministry of Education announced yet another broken promise to Bahamians and, further, has informed Bahamians that 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.
“In a clear breach of their 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 certainly 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 mere $ 1.75 million increase.
“Further 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.
“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 ministry has now arbitrarily changed the rules. This arbitrary, unilateral and only belatedly announced change is an abuse of power and authority.”
The FNM said the Ministry of Education now believes 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 applications to attend those institutions.”
The FNM said those who receive the benefits of this new “ideological priority” are being chosen by a politically-appointed committee, which will assess student applications not upon academic merit, but according to “some arbitrarily conceived definition of what is in the national interest”.
The opposition said this move has already limited available funding for otherwise fully qualified applicants, some of whom have been refused grants for no other reason than applying to the “wrong” college.
“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.
“Furthermore, there is nothing in the PLP’s Charter for Governance which supports and justifies this retrograde return to the discredited formulae used by the Pindling Administration in their former Bonded Scholarship Programme to limit the educational aspirations and opportunities for ordinary, academically qualified, Bahamian students,” the party said.
The FNM noted that the Bonded Scholarship Programme 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.
“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 annual National Scholarship Grant Programme was designed based on the advice of educational professionals, who emphasised that students perform best when free to choose their academic institutions, the FNM said.
“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.
“Students with GPAs of 4.0 who are studying in the USA have complained that they have been refused grants, not on the basis of lack of academic merit, but because they are not studying at COB or UWI, or a local college.
“This is unjust, and the policy must be re-appraised and restored to the original principles of merit and ability,” the FNM said.