Free tertiary education: Waiving of loans will be a “retroactive application”

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana

With provisions to waiver outstanding student loans acquired within its current term in office and give free tertiary education, Vice President Dr Bharrat Jagdeo has indicated that the promise is technically already effective.

As he addressed the manifesto promise of ensuring free university education, Jagdeo on Thursday explained that students who took out loans and are yet to repay such within the timeframe of the Government’s term in office would be given a waiver. Retroactively, they will also benefit from free tertiary education as a result of this.

The Vice President detailed, “We now have to work out the details of how we ensure that people who have taken loans, that they also have relief so that they don’t have to repay the loans. Effectively, if they don’t have to repay the loans, what does this mean? It means from the very first year that we got into office, we have actually implemented the free education.”

He further considered, “There are some people who may be paying who may be disadvantaged. But for those who have not paid, [we] have effectively given them the free education, because they’re not going to pay the loans. It has a retroactive application.”Jagdeo added that this route was taken, calculating that by the latter part of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic’s first term, the cash injection into the University could be made, having dealt with people who acquired loans.

“It is a studied policy. We don’t do things just off the top of our heads. Effectively, the policy has been in place. The moment we decided we were going to make this retroactive by giving a waiver, then you have effectively implemented the policy.”

President Dr Irfaan Ali had already indicated this month that the Government’s plan to provide Guyanese with free University of Guyana (UG) education by 2025 would be rolled out in phases, starting with students who have pre-existing loans.

He also spoke about the Guyana Online Academy of Learning (GOAL) scholarship programme, which has seen the Government partnering with educational institutions around the world to offer courses that will meet the challenges and demands of various sectors in Guyana, including the oil and gas, engineering and construction, and information security sectors. According to the Vice President, the anticipated influx of higher qualified persons into the workforce will create conditions in the public and private sector that have to be addressed.

The Government has already distributed over 20,000 online scholarships through GOAL. The 20,000 online scholarships programme is also the fulfilment of a pledge made to provide opportunities for educational development nationwide. Within the first year of its launch, over 8000 citizens applied for the free online programme.

While the Government had originally intended to make 20,000 of the online scholarships available, this target has since been revised owing to the overwhelming interest shown by citizens.

GOAL is set to offer 187 programmes that can be accessed from 15 reputable academic institutions across the world, including in India, Africa, the United Kingdom, and Germany.In 2016, a forensic audit into the operations of the UG Student Loan Agency had revealed that over a 21-year period, successive PPP/C Governments made available to the agency over $9 billion for loans.

During the period 1994 to May 2015, the Government of Guyana approved $9,489,453,973 through the National Budget or US$45.5 million (using the current rate of exchange of G$210 to US$1), the 77-page audit report, which was made public by the Finance Ministry, stated.

The report stated that during the period April 2011 to December 2014, $1.8 billion was received through a process whereby the Agency’s head was informed by the Budget Department that funds had been approved to be released to the Agency.