Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance K Peter Turnquest.
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
IN a major policy shift beginning this fall, Bahamian students enrolled full-time at the University of Bahamas will be required to only maintain a 2.0 grade point average to receive free tuition and full financial coverage of their compulsory course fees.
Scholarship and grant programmes to UB have until now required students maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA.
Yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest said the new policy will increase accessibility to higher education for many. He also defended the policy from critics who believe the lowered GPA requirement removes an incentive for students to reach the desirable 3.0 GPA threshold.
After the Minnis administration announced its free tuition promise last year without providing details, observers struggled to differentiate the plan from the government’s longstanding policy of granting free tuition to students who qualify under the national bursary initiative, which was established in 1978. The bursary programme required students maintain a 3.0 GPA, however Minister of Education Jeff Lloyd previously noted it does not cover full costs of tuition.
That and similar scholarship and grant programmes––including nursing, education and student-athlete financial assistance programmes––will be consolidated under the new Bahamas Government Tertiary Education Grant Programme. The programme will cover tuition and all compulsory fees, including technology fees, student activity fees, library fees, course lab fees and the mandatory course external examination fee. However, only Bahamian citizens enrolled full-time at UB are eligible.
A UB advertisement published in The Tribune yesterday said: “Current UB students receiving the nursing and education grants, student athlete financial assistance and the national bursary as well as students commencing enrollment for Fall 2019 must all apply to be considered.”
In a press release, UB said the government “reserves the right to bond grant recipients in specific disciplines (ie teacher education, nurses training).”
Mr Turnquest told reporters the university’s analysis shows the programme will cost about $19 million.
“We’ve provided for that (in the budget),” he said. “We fully believe that is funded and that will be sustainable for the long term. The overall objective is to ensure tuition will be accessible to everybody and that finances do not become a hindrance to success for otherwise talented children.”
Addressing criticism that the GPA requirement is too low, he said: “We tend to sell people short, that because they come out of school maybe with an average GPA that that’s somehow going to hinder their success in university. I can tell you many circumstances where people who were discounted have gone on and caught fire because they’re now doing what they’re actually interested in in terms of major or career, they catch fire and become very successful. We are not in the business of trying to pull back or restrict anybody or discourage them from achieving their full potential so this is an investment in young people of this country and an investment in the future of this country. We need talented people and we need them from a wide and diverse spectrum of society.”
Mr Turnquest was speaking to the press on the sidelines of a Rotary Club of West Nassau meeting at Poop Deck on West Bay Street.
In a video addressing the programme, UB President Dr Rodney Smith said the programme does not cover non-instruction fees like the security deposit, application fees, add-and-drop fees and books. It does not cover repeated courses or courses taken in the summer except in extenuating circumstances sanctioned by the university.
Grant recipients must complete their course requirements within five years after starting their studies, he said, unless there are extenuating circumstances and the university grants an extension.
A UB press statement said: “Accommodation payments of $500 per person will also be given for the duration of the school year (August to April) to each student who meets the criteria. To qualify, students must have moved from another island of the Bahamas to undertake the course of study, or otherwise be (or have been) a ward of the state, in foster care, or in a children’s home; be enrolled full-time; be less than 25 years old at the time of enrolment; and agree to reside in university accommodation for the first full two years of study, provided that sufficient accommodation is available to house them. In these instances, the accommodation grants will be applied directly to their housing fees. However, if following the grace period for academic probation, a student fails to increase their GPA to the minimum 2.0, then the accommodation payments will cease.”
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