NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Bahamas Union of Teachers President Belinda Wilson yesterday blasted the delivery of the government’s announcement on its scholarship moratorium as “insensitive”.
The Ministry of Education announced a moratorium on new tuition grants for the upcoming academic year on Saturday.
The moratorium was pinned on a “reduction in resources and other factors”, and commitments to free tuition initiatives at the University of The Bahamas and the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute.
The reductions come amidst significant economic challenges and fiscal austerity measures as the country attempts to bounce back in the aftermath of months-long closures due to the global coronavirus pandemic.
“The Bahamas Union of Teachers is cognizant of the financial dilemma in our country and the budget cuts for ministries inclusive of the Ministry of Education,” Wilson said in a statement.
“Sadly, the 2020 graduates, scholarship applicants, and possible scholarship recipients are casualties of the economic downturn.
“However, the manner in which the Ministry of Education informed the students, parents, and the general public displayed a lack of empathy.
“In fact, it was insensitive to get it from social media as each application form had telephone contacts and the ministry officials should have availed themselves of that medium.”
Wilson noted that the release of the information came very late and will likely pose many challenges to students and parents, and encouraged the Ministry of Education to improve its “poor” communication.
“They now have to scramble to make other financial arrangements,” she said.
The ministry has underscored its tuition commitment to current awardees, and the need to support Bahamians who seek admission to independent local tertiary institutions.
It furthered that the Scholarships Committee has been hindered in the timely consideration of applications due to COVID-19 delays in the receipt of required documentation from overseas universities.
University of The Bahamas
Wilson noted yesterday that while the situation is unfortunate, it creates a major opportunity for the University of the Bahamas to recruit students to enroll.
She question however whether the university is prepared for an influx of students, with accommodations, classroom space, technology, and sufficient lecturers to meet the needs of the influx.
Wilson also question whether UB has the offering of the various degree programs that scholarship seekers were going to study.
According to Education Minister Jeffrey Lloyd, UB is expected to see a significant increase in students with 6,072 students expected to enroll this Fall.
Lloyd attributed the estimated increase to the pandemic and the growing number of cases in the United States – where thousands of Bahamian students study abroad.
Lloyd said many of those students are refusing to return due to those circumstances.
The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement has announced that all international students who are pursuing degrees in the country will have to leave if their universities switch to online-only courses or risk deportation.
ICE advised that the U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester and they will not be permitted to enter the country.
However, there is an exception for universities offering a mix of online and in-person classrooms.
Bahamas Consul General in Miami Linda Treco-Mackey told Eyewitness News yesterday that they are unable to confirm how many students will be impacted by this new policy.
“Some universities are offering hybrid options which allows them to stay but many will only be online which will prohibit them from getting student visas,” she said.
“This brings concerns to those who already have obligations such as leases and car loans.”