The trinidad Guardian / Garvin Cole

Much is being said about the imminent adjustments to the Gate programme, based on the ten-point recommendations provided by the committee set up by the Government to review the functions of this $700 million-per-year programme.

That there are a significant number of things wrong with the programme is an understatement. There is mismanagement, wastage, corruption, and a flagrant abuse of the privileges afforded by this subsidy to tertiary education. Perhaps, God forbid, it may even be discovered that these negative elements far outweigh the present benefits. Already, the size of the Gate bill is proving to be a major headache to the Minister of Finance and the Government may well be advised to shut it down. However, far beyond the financial concerns which are real and grave, there are greater consequences to be reaped should this Gate be closed, whether completely or partially, the social impact will be felt generations from now.

Gate would have provided many young and not so young people with an opportunity to pursue tertiary education where, under normal circumstances, they could not. For these people this meant hope for a better life where there was hopelessness; an opportunity to rise out of an abyss of despair. For some it meant an opportunity to pursue their dreams; dreams that may have appeared impossible, now seem attainable. For some people, the opportunity to pursue tertiary education lifted their self-esteem and self-worth, allowing them to step forward with renewed self-confidence towards new horizons.

The programme not only benefits those who have completed their secondary education and attained the matriculation requirements for tertiary education, and those endowed with the resources to pay their way through college or university. In the main, it benefits the single mother who, because of early pregnancy, had to abort secondary school and is now getting the opportunity to catch up. The store clerk who now sees an avenue to pursue the nursing career she always wanted through evening classes. It benefits the young man who now recognises that he needs to get serious with his life and pursue his education, or the older woman who is working hard at a dead-end job and seeking to improve her education for upward mobility, and the laid-off professional who wishes to improve on and acquire new skill sets.

With the Gate closed, we will see a surge in the ranks of the unemployable, intensifying the hopelessness that is inevitable in those circumstances. We will also see an upsurge in crime as desperate youths with limited options seek to live by any means necessary. We will see workers becoming redundant because they were not able to pay their way to new and more relevant skills for the dynamic job market. We will see children suffer because parents who are unable to improve themselves for better jobs become incapable of taking adequate care of them, so perpetuating the cycle of poverty. 

Indeed, the Government will save millions of dollars per year with a closed or partially closed Gate. But those savings will have to be spent on social support programmes as more people will join the ranks of the needy, putting a greater strain on the Treasury. Of course, the people to suffer the most are the ones who can ill-afford and so will have extreme difficulty to improve their livelihood. Tertiary education will once more become too expensive as institutions will now have to earn their revenue from tuition fees and the country will have taken a giant step back in time. 

Certainly tough times have befallen us, but the response should not be to cut back spending at the expense of the future and well-being of the citizens. Future generations will reap the benefit of a better-educated population, and a well regulated Gate will ensure that our people enjoy a higher standard of education and by extension, a higher standard of living.

The onus is on the Government to stamp out the mismanagement, abuse, wastage and corruption that are the contributors to the $700 million-per-year bill. A clean, lean and open Gate will be of greater benefit to the development of the country, than a closed one. Let us not padlock our potential. 



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