DIEGO Martin North East MP Colm Imbert has questioned if Government will listen to academics and members of the business community calling for the Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE) to revert to 50 per cent.
Imbert was contributing to debate on a motion brought by Port of Spain North/St Ann's West MP Patricia McIntosh calling on Government to stop any proposed amendment to GATE during yesterday's session of Parliament at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain.
The PNM MP referred to a paper by University of the West Indies (UWI) lecturers Martin Franklin, Elizabeth Ince and Roger Hosein last year in which they suggested a return to the means test system of 2004 and 50 per cent of tuition expenses instead of the current 100 per cent.
He said he took "strong objection" to individuals who have benefitted from free tertiary education in their time telling students of today that they have to pay.
"I think it will be a terrible thing for this country if people listen to the academics and listen to the other people outside there, the businessmen and so on, saying 'is GATE affordable', 'is it a good idea to continue funding tertiary education'."
Imbert also questioned that if Government is expanding GATE then why has the enrolment rate decreased, noting that between 2007 and 2010 there was an average enrolment of 57,000 but currently it is down to 45,000.
"If in fact it is the policy of the new Government, not so new any more, to send our tertiary enrolment rate to 60 per cent, then do a study to find out why so many students have dropped out."
Imbert questioned whether the decrease was because of the conflicting statements and ambiguity about GATE from the Government. He said students would be worried that they may join a programme and the following year Government would "catch a vaps" and stop funding it.
He also noted that a report from the Standing Committee on GATE suggested a discontinuing of funding for regional programmes that are available locally.
"It is incumbent on the Government to clear this up."
Imbert asked whether it was the intention of Government to reduce funding to GATE, restrict it only to this country or restrict the areas that are eligible. He also questioned whether study areas that are national priority will get funding and those that are not priority will not receive funding or receive 50 per cent.
He said over the last six years this country had an increase in tertiary education enrollment by more than 500 per cent, which has not been experienced by any another country. He added that more than 220,000 citizens have accessed GATE since it was launched and without it the country would not be able to withstand the vagaries of the global recession.
Public Administration Minister Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan, in her response, said the Opposition was confusing the population and young people about GATE and were using the issue as a "political ploy".
She noted that Government has expanded GATE to include Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET).
She stressed that with $850 million being spent on GATE per year, and $350 million on scholarships, there was a need to ensure a return on the GATE investment, it has to be done strategically and meet the country's labour requirements.
She noted that there were clerks and typists in the public service who had accessed GATE funding, even some with doctorates.