Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author(s) do not represent the official position of Barbados TODAY.
by Adina Trim
On the last day of 2021, the Ministry of Education announced the National Scholarship and Exhibition Awards. Four students achieved scholarship standard, while some 35 students attained the standard for the award of an exhibition.
In a previous commentary I noted my concerns about the disadvantage some of the exhibition awardees and others may have suffered because of the erroneous 2020 CXC CAPE results, especially given the lack of transparency surrounding the Ministry of Education reported consultation with CXC over the disparity between awarded grades and expected grades.
Given the announcement of the awards, this now appears to be “water under the bridge” and our nation’s children must move on knowing that they have excelled in their studies and have received national acclaim.
I also alluded to the significant disparity between the financial benefits associated with the Barbados scholarship vis a vis the Barbados exhibition.
Since then, I have been reflecting on the real benefits associated with the exhibition award.
The exhibition covers (1) the cost of tuition at UWI; (2) annual living allowance for either Cave Hill ($5,377), Mona ($5,394) or St. Augustine ($6,185); and the cost of direct economy class airfare between Barbados and Jamacia on the start and completion of study.
The award can be used to study at any of the UWI campuses or the equivalent amount used for study at a non-regional university.
In return, students accepting this award are required to enter into a bond with two sureties that they will return to work in Barbados for a period equivalent to the duration of their study upon completion of their study. In the event they fail to do so, the full cost of the “bond” will have to be repaid by the student and/or the sureties.
Now I have no issue with the Government imposing obligations, including bonding, on those who benefit from the state’s coffers, but the question must be asked whether the acceptance of an exhibtion award is a blessing or a curse.
The Government of Barbados pays the tuition fees for all Barbadian students attending UWI, the same as for the exhibition awardees.
The only additional benefit the exhibition awardees enjoy amounts to less than $8,000 annually, comprising the small allowance noted above and the equivalent of a return airfare to Jamaica (approximately US$700 as of January 12, 2021).
For this small additonal cost to the Government, if the awardees accept, they will have to be bonded and provide two sureties and in the event of default refund the full cost.
No such obligation is imposed on non-scholarship and non-exhibtion students benefitting from tertiary level tutition paid for by the Government.
These students are not required to enter into any bond or repay part of their tuition fee. They are only required to register with the “Give Back Programme” in order to graduate.
Relative to the average Barbadian student, the requirements imposed on exhibition awardees cannot be considered fair or equitable.
If an exhibition awardee chooses to go to UWI, the tuition will be paid with or without the award, and the allowance only partially covers living expenses (the student might be able to cover accommodation but little else).
In the case of study outside of UWI, the amount is too small (less than 10 per cent of the cost of US, UK and Canadian Univeristies) to make much of a difference to the overall cost that has to be borne by the awardees and their sponsors.
This therefore begs the questions why would anyone enter into this bond? Perhaps it is time to rethink the Exhibition award. The only real significant benefit that the awardees enjoy is the national recognition and acclaim received for their outstanding academic performance.
A medal of recognition may be all that is needed if these outdated terms of the award are not made more of a benefit than a curse. Just observing.
This column was offered as a Letter to the Editor.