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Private institutions evolve to survive Gate cuts
Tertiary level education has been one of the victims of the deep recession that the country is experiencing.
The cuts to the system, according to one commentator, are proving to be as painful as a root canal during a dental procedure.
There have been protests at the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) over expected job cuts and cut backs in general in the amount of money spent by the Ministry of Education.
Former Tertiary Education Minister Fazal Karim expressed concern over the fall in student enrolment at the College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of TT (COSTAATT).
Karim, in a statement last week said changes to the Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses programme (GATE) by the Government was being reflected in “low student numbers across all tertiary institutions.”
He claimed that enrolment at the institution had exceeded 11,000 students under the People’s Partnership Administration, while changes to the programme has caused student numbers to drop by at least 30 to 40 per cent. Several private institutions that offer courses that have been affected by adjustments to the Gate program spoke to Sunday Business on how they are coping.
MORE THAN A BUSINESS
Ann-Marina White, Executive Director, Sital College in Tacarigua told Sunday Business that changes to Gate have “impacted on the numbers.”
“Our students have been very dependent on Gate as we are based along the East-West corridor. There has been a drop in terms of students who would have applied for Gate funded programmes like the diplomas, bachelors and masters degrees.”
Sital College offers from certificate right up to first degrees and post-graduate degrees as well as corporate training.
She said what they have seen is an increase in the number of persons applying for short courses that are preparing people for specific jobs.
“I think people are looking at their budget as the Gate funding would have been at the higher end and more expensive. So people have actually begun to get use to the idea to pay for their education and as a result they were initially more put off by the more expensive programs but they are coming in to do the shorter programmes as the cost is lower.”
She also said that they are providing good payment options for students.
“In this way they do not feel the pinch. We work with students individual budget.”
Based on this, she expects to see an increase in students who will be pushing their MBA’s and first degrees.
She said for them education is more than a business.
“I think we will continue to do well partly as we will focus on high quality experiences for the students. We are engaging education specialists in our school, who have worked with universities both locally and abroad. We have looked at ways to improve our pass rates by training our lecturers.”
Speaking to Sunday Business on the impact of the changes to the Gate programme, Ravi Ragoonath, Academic Director of CTS College in Chaguanas, intimated that there were several positive changes as well as some negative aspects of the removal of Gate funding from Accreditation Council of T&T (ACTT) registered institutions.
Prior to the revised Gate policy, the institution had seen an increase in the number of students who were declined Gate clearance.
He said while the percentage of students who were declined funding varied from one programme to another, the institution estimates that roughly 65% of its students received Gate funding.
He added the institution already had measures in place to assist students who were not Gate funded.
These include discounted fees and flexible payment plans.
Since the new policy has been in place, he said the school noticed a slight increase in enrolment in some of the programmes when compared to the corresponding period in the previous academic year. One such programme which has shown a positive change in enrolment is the Association of Business Executives (ABE) Business Management programme.
Ragoonath cited a competitive pricing strategy and outstanding student support services as some of the factors that have buffered the impact of the removal of Gate funding.
He said while the number of students enrolling at the institution has subtly increased, the College has indicated that there was an overall dip in revenues owing to the measures put in place to support the students who are no longer Gate funded.
He pointed out that the institution has also streamlined some of its services to lower its operating costs.
In spite of some of the measures put in place to assist students, the Academic Director noted that a fairly high number of students are still unable to complete the payment of their fees by the end of the course.
Despite the challenges in the industry, he recognises the fact that people are always seeking to improve their lives by investing in their education, therefore there will always be a need for CTS College to provide recognised and accredited programmes.
According to Mr Ragoonath, “Institutions can continue to exist but they may have to change their model to be profitable. They may have to make sacrifices and be more strategic in terms of how they operate.”
He remains optimistic about the future of the industry and education in general.
Aruna Maharaj, Director, Madam Maharaj School of Cosmetology told Sunday Business that the school may be closing down in the future as a result of the fall in students applying.
“I would say that there has been a fall in half of the students applying to study.”
They offer an internationally accredited diploma in cosmetology.
With two locations, one in San Fernando and another in Woodbrook, Maharaj said the total number of students is 35.
She said the situation was so bad that she will not be taking a salary this month as the owner and director of the business.
“It is simple, we do not have enough business.”
She went on to say that the Ministry of Education is still owing the school money for students that they have already trained.
“We still have claims on the inside and it may not be much for a large business but for a small business that money is very important to us. The money that they are owing us is for students who have already been educated and certified. We have not been paid for that.”
Commenting on the outlook for the near term Maharaj said, “We intend to hold on for one year and if things don’t start to pick up we will have to close down. It’s that bad.”
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