Study financing debate in Central Committee – Jacobs: study debt keeps students from coming home

POSTED: 10/23/12 3:03 PM

St. Maarten – 159 students were granted study financing assistance for 2012 but the government still has concerns about students in the Netherlands taking much longer to complete studies as opposed to those within the region or in the United States.
Jacobs said that the Dutch government has also observed this situation and it has since implemented laws that allow financing to be given to students for up to a maximum of six years.
“This creates a problem for our students in the Netherlands who may have changed their studies and do not fall within the six years to finish their studies. If any of them pass the six years then they are facing heavy fines,” Jacobs said.
Parliamentarian George Pantophlet said that if students decide to change their area of study and end up prolonging their study period, then their parents should be responsible for funding those costs.
The Division of Study Financing currently provides a maximum of $15,000.00 to students, ages 18 to 26 years old, but Parliamentarian Romain Laville (Independent) does not believe this is appropriate owing to the raising tuition costs globally.
“If we can improve revenues, we can improve on that as well,” the minister said yesterday.
The minister believes that one of the reasons why many of the students are not returning to St.Maarten once they would have completed studies is because they would have incurred huge debts in the Netherlands. These bills are in euros and “they do not feel that the money they will receive on St.Maarten will allow them to live and pay off their debts,” the minister explained.
This is one of the reasons why students are being encouraged to pursue studies in the region more, the minister said. When students apply to study financing abroad, if the possibility exists for them to do the first year of their studies here then that is what is being advised. A mere 10 percent of students, complete studies in the Netherlands within a four year period, which also has to do with the seamless transition of St. Maarteners into the Dutch society.
Based on prodding from Parliamentarian Silvia Meyers-Olivacce, the minister added that students also opt to remain abroad because most of the high paying jobs on the island are held by nationals from the Netherlands, Curacao and St. Maarten and if locals do return, they are told they are “over qualified.”
“The types of contracts that we are giving to the persons who are not nationals of the island is also a reason. This has been going on for a few years and it will take some time they are rectified. Most of the high paying jobs are people from Holland, Curacao or Suriname,” the minister said.

Parliamentarian Romain Laville (Independent) suggested that the constant granting of work permits to foreigners for “managerial and high positions on the island because our people are no there to fill them,” is also a cause for concern.
“Once and for all this has to stop. Secure the investment for when they come back home. We have to start prioritizing,” he stated.
Since there is no tertiary education law in place to regulate the amount of funding given to the tertiary institutions like the University of St. Martin (USM), the minister said that there is a draft law in place and the ministry is currently working on finalizing the process.
Although USM is a private institution, the government does have a representative on the board and together they are working to upgrade the university. This includes accreditation, a development plan and bringing more Dutch university programs to the school.
In the meantime, students are being given wider choices to study at either USM or Caribbean institutions such as the University of the West Indies, the minister stated.
Studies should fit a student’s “intellectual capability and personality,” the minister said, adding that although a strict age limit is usually enforced, she can grant exemptions based on a student’s proven ability.
For the new school year 5 students will be going to Aruba, 7 to Canada, 11 to Curacao, 2 to England, 68 to Holland, 2 to Jamaica, 1 to St. Lucia, 2 to Scotland, 26 in St.Maarten, 1 to St. Thomas, 1 in Trinidad and 33 in the United States. They will pursue tertiary education in areas such as accounting, architecture, advertising, aeronautic science, anthropology, automotive, piloting, business administration and management, biology, book-keeping, building technology and teaching.
Minister Jacobs also outlined the priority areas for study financing based on the needs of the nations.
These include remedial, physical and technical education, judicial assistants, legal secretaries, lawyers, statisticians, specialists, logistics managers, economists, accountants, project managers, marketing specialists, public administrators, registered nurses, Intensive Care Unit assistants, obstetricians and gynecologist, anesthetics, dieticians, dental hygienists, psychiatric nurses, medical doctors to specialize as pediatricians, internists, cardiologists and neurologists.
The government is also looking for local professionals in journalism, human resources management, social work, psychology, sociology, social research, culinary and performance arts, marine management, environmental science, electrical engineering and gemology.
“All of these were approved for this year so we are diversifying in terms of what St.Maarten needs,” the minister said.
A return on investment study is still to be completed to find out if all the money government pumps into study financing are worth it.
With regard to questions she received two weeks ago when the meeting was first called by the United People’s Party to speak on the education policy, the minister indicated that the Ministry of Education still maintains a “very good working relationship with Student Support Services (S-4). The ministry however intended to expand the mentoring services provided by S-4.
The St.Maarten House does not play a role with St. Maarten students that are abroad presently, the minister said. Students are handled exclusively by S-4, the minister said. As of November 1, S-4 will be relocated to the same building that houses St. Maarten House and Soualiga Foundation in The Hague.
Are there any intentions to bring S-4 under the responsibility of the Minister Plenipotentiary with its move to the St.Maarten House, Jules James (UP) questioned.

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