Allocate scholarships in needed fields
Every year, the government spends an average of $58 million on open and additional scholarships for our brilliant minds. This means it has spent in excess of half a billion dollars within the last ten years. Are we really getting value for money? What do the scholarship winners do after they graduate? To what extent are they contributing to the GDP?
With all the investment in intellectual capital, how come we cannot have doctors who can perform a C-section successfully, as I see regularly on cable television? Caesarean sections are simple acts in the US, similar to brushing your teeth. How come we do not have neurosurgeons at our hospitals? How come our leaders still seek medical attention overseas despite the cadre of brilliant minds available here? Are we giving the scholarships for the wrong fields?
The Scholarship and Advanced Training Division (SATD) of the Ministry of Public Administration must ensure we get value for money. It needs to match scholarship winners with the required professions. How many obstetricians/gynaecologists, neurosurgeons, trauma specialists, oncologists, engineers in mass transit, design, civil, petroleum, electrical, mechanical and urban planners do we need? When the SATD gets serious about correct matching of schol winners to the needs of the country, then we would be on the right path.
Another contentious issue is the length of time to serve your country after you have received a scholarship. At present, it is one to five years. Do you know how much it costs to train a doctor?
Let us suppose a scholarship winner decides to study medicine in the US. It is four years of medical school; two years of internship; add another three years of residency. That is a total of nine years. A conservative figure to study medicine overseas yearly is over US$40,000 (nearly TT$260,000) in tuition fees, excluding living expenses and other expenses.
Is it reasonable for a scholarship recipient to serve his country for only five years after enjoying all of that taxpayers’ money? I challenge anyone to name five scholarship winners who have made significant contributions to national development within the last 20 years!
As it stands now, scholarships are distributed in an ad hoc fashion. You have won a scholarship, study what you want. Very soon we might end up with too much of one, and a little of much-needed professionals in critical fields.
The scholarship committee needs to change the way it awards scholarships in the future. Award scholarships based on the needs of the economy.