Education Minister: Students to get faster access to bursary $$

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly –

EDUCATION Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly says “administrative changes” were made at the scholarship and bursaries division to provide students more swift access to funds.

She was speaking at a standing finance committee meeting in Parliament on Tuesday morning.

Over the years, many tertiary students – especially those studying overseas – have complained of difficulty in receiving their funds on time.

The 2024 budget draft estimates for expenditure list the allocation to the scholarships and advanced training division’s salaries and cost of living allowance as $1,010,000.

For fiscal 2023, the estimate was $1.2 million, and the revised estimate was also $1,010,000.

Opposition MP Anita Haynes questioned the allocation and asked if the ministry should consider increasing staffing to “meet the growing numbers” in a “more seamless way.”

She also highlighted that many students are often concerned as there is a timeline for their financial requirements to be able to register for classes and continue living in halls of residence, among other issues.

Gadsby-Dolly agreed that some students faced difficulties, but the issue was not necessarily the number of staff but “the response of staff.

“So there have been some administrative changes we have made in the scholarships and bursaries division to ensure students have a quick response.

Other common issues students face, she said, include status letters and not realising when their university sends out tuition letters.

“…So they get very anxious when they don’t see tuition being paid, but there are certain universities that get paid at a certain time.”

She said there are no plans to increase staffing.

The total allocation for scholarships and bursaries is $40 million for fiscal 2024.

For fiscal 2023, the estimate was $25 million, and the revised estimate was $36,700,000.

Haynes questioned if the increase for 2024 was owing to higher university fees or more people coming on board.

Gadsby-Dolly confirmed it was the latter.

Ministry to pay $1 more per meal for school feeding programme

Gadsby-Dolly also said the National Schools Dietary Services Ltd (NSDSL) is pleased with the government’s decision to pay $1 more per meal for the school feeding programme.

The 2024 budget draft estimates for expenditure list an allocation of $268,746,800 for the NSDSL.

Opposition whip David Lee asked if, with the continued increase in food prices, this would be enough.

Gadsby-Dolly said in the last academic year (2022/2023), a $1 increase was approved.

“And, certainly, the caterers…that would have been a recommendation of the board…we looked at it, we looked at the costs that were submitted…”

Lee then asked if a $1 increase is sufficient “given what has happened with deflation (sic) and so on.”

Gadsby-Dolly said the NSDSL was included in the discussions surrounding the decision.

“And therefore, we took their recommendation, and they agreed that was sufficient.” The Education Ministry’s website says the school feeding programme provides around 54,000 breakfasts and 79,000 lunches to over 800 schools.

It adds that 68 caterers provide the service. Newsday tried to contact NSDSL CEO Stacy Barran but several calls and messages went unanswered up to press time.

Haynes: Why not combine training programme allocations?

Haynes also raised questions about the following programmes and their respective allocations: Helping Youth Prepare for Employment Programme, Multi-sector Skill Training Programme, and Servol’s Human Development and Skills Training Programme.

She asked if there were any differences among the programmes.

“What is the difference in terms of target audience, preparation, that these things aren’t amalgamated under one programme?”

Gadsby-Dolly said she would provide a breakdown in writing for Haynes.

These programmes were allocated $40,073,800, in total.

Opposition members also called for other things, such as speedy repairs to schools and the addition of more routes for transporting students, especially in rural areas, among other things.

In the 2024 budget presentation, government promised to continue providing laptops for students to assist with learning.

A total of $20 million was allocated for fiscal 2024. However, the 2023 estimate was also $20 million and was later revised to $4 million.

Gadsby-Dolly said for fiscal 2023, 8,000 laptops were bought and distributed to teachers and students.

“We actually got, through the procurement process – it came down to considerably less.

“So there’s a $6 million balance that has to be paid for the purchase, so instead of using $20 million, we had to use considerably less to purchase the same amount (sic) (number) of laptops.”