Friday, July 22, 2016

The gate crashers

One day I want to have a son. When I do, I will do everything in my power to ensure he succeeds in life. That’s why I plan to pull him out of school when he’s around 7 years old. Get him training in the cricket nets every day and ensure he makes the West Indies team by the time he’s 20. Surely a nice big juicy Indian Premier League contract will then come long. Then I can kick back and live my dreams through him. My fiancé has this crazy idea though that we need to educate our prospective children and ensure they go to University. And I’m sure she’s planning on making girl children just to crush my dreams.

 Right now however, it’s prospective University of the West Indies (UWI) students who may be getting their dreams crushed. It seems likely that cutbacks will be made to the Government Assistance for Tertiary Education; known to students simply as “GATE” and known to tertiary schools simply as “EASY MONEY”. Crashing oil prices mean the days of state subsidized tertiary education may be coming to an end. Understandably students are concerned. Especially those students aspiring to do degrees in film studies, Carnival studies or graphic design; after all how will they be able to pay off student loans when they are eventually serving coffee at Rituals for a living?

The present lack of money to fund it aside, the fact is GATE was a bad idea from the start. Firstly GATE increased the demand for tertiary education which in turn drove up costs. Secondly it provided an incentive for institutions to lower standards simply to increase enrollment. Lastly, far from helping poor students, GATE mostly helped rich students who could have afforded to pay but who were given a free ride by the state. In short GATE was an unsustainable policy that encouraged waste and devalued the nature of having a degree. In fact in comparison GATE makes building a church in the bush for your prophetess look really sensible.

 Free university education is a noble policy, but in reality nothing is free. Since its inception in 2004 the state has spent $5.5 Billion on GATE. There is no evidence that this spending has benefited our society or has helped to create the much hyped idea of a “Knowledge economy.” One needs only to look at the fact that ‘’ is our only successful tech company, too see that young Trini’s are no smarter than their forebears who actually created the superior ‘Sunday Punch’.

A simple rule of economics states that when people don’t pay the true cost for something; they use it inefficiently. The Government appears to be slowly amending GATE but removing it altogether may end up helping students far more in the long run. Firstly it will encourage only those students who truly desire a tertiary education to pursue it, thus raising standards. It will also encourage institutions to actively compete for students crafting more relevant courses to suit demands in the market.  Also it will spur students to put more thought and planning into their future careers. Unlike say, my cousin Sean, who spent four years studying philosophy only to come out into the real world to discover none of the big philosophy companies were hiring. Because they don’t exist.

Advocates for free tertiary education often point to places like Sweden as an example of a cost free higher learning utopia. But just like the myth of Sweden being a land filled with hot babes (I’ve been, trust me it’s not, they just ‘awright’), there is more to this than people admit. In reality Swedish graduates have higher student debt than their fee paying counterparts in the US and the UK. That’s because students there still need to depend on loans to help with their high cost of living. Furthermore no Swedish university ranks among the world’s top fifty universities or can boast of stellar research facilities like those in the US and the UK.  Meeting ‘awright’ looking chicks is the only real plus of studying in Sweden.

Free education may be free but it always comes with a price. Personally even if GATE remains, I’m never sending my children to UWI.  UWI’s only real notable alumni appear to be Caribbean politicians. I’ll be dammed if I allow my children to end up like that.

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