Monday 18th January 2021
Government has massively betrayed the hopes and expectations of students by reneging on its pre-November 2018 elections policies on Tertiary Education Loans and Scholarships, said National Federation Party Leader Professor Biman Prasad.
Professor Prasad said he has been inundated with calls from concerned parents of students in tertiary institutions, especially MBBS and Oral Health program students, as well as parents of students enrolling shortly, about the dictatorial stance taken by TELS Board.
“Public comments by TELS Board Chairman Rakesh Ram and Chief Executive Officer Bobby Maharaj regarding suspension of new scholarships and loans for students pursuing MBBS and Oral Health programs, suspending or terminating scholarships, are causing anxiety amongst parents and students”.
“They totally contravene the policies announced by the current government before the November 2018 elections, which expanded TELS to ensure it benefitted every student wishing to undertake any program, allowed students to change programs once in tertiary institutions, as well as repeat once if any student failed”.
“Now Bobby Maharaj is saying existing students, particularly those pursuing MBBS, need a GPA of 3.9 or 'A plus' grades to ensure continuity of their scholarships and loans”.
“He is totally contravening policies announced by government during the 2017-18 budget”.
“More astounding is Rakesh Ram’s justification of suspending MBBS and Oral Health scholarships and loans by talking about fiscal responsibility and that we have enough doctors”.
“What these basically mean is cost cutting in priority areas and sacrificing the future of our students”.
“It is a massive betrayal of promises made by this government before the 2018 elections, which will become a vote-buying gimmick if TELS Board Chair and CEO are allowed to arbitrarily enforce the regressive changes to scholarship and loans criteria”.
“It is time that government comes clean on this issue instead of remaining silent and allowing the TELS Board Chair and CEO to cause uncertainty amongst parents and students with their drastic policy change announcements”.
“Both the Minister for Economy and the Education Minister must immediately intervene and put a stop to any changes as announced by Rakesh Ram and Bobby Maharaj, in conformity to its belief of leaving no one behind”.
“Any further silence by Government, particularly the Economy and Education Ministers on this critical issue would mean their seal of approval of the plan to financially burden parents and destroy the chosen career paths of students”.
Bold announcements on TELS by Economy Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum while delivering the 2017-18 Budget address in Parliament on June 29, 2017
Source – Parliamentary Hansard
Madam Speaker, students can now change their programme, major or minor, under TELS but only once for the duration of their study. Currently, they are not allowed to do that. We understand that a student’s university years is a time of discovery and searching, and that should not be discouraged. If a student at 19 years of age decides to study accounting and programming and later discovers that he/she prefers management instead of programming, he/she should not be discouraged from switching his/her course of study. He/she should have access to TELS.
Madam Speaker, at times, some TELS students might fail some subjects. We do not want to give up on these students also. So from 1st January, 2018, TELS students will be eligible to repeat a failed unit, but only once.
TELS will also be extended to allow for successive upgrade of qualifications for students up to the first bachelor’s degree. What this means, Madam Speaker, is that, a student who is enrolled in a certificate programme can now choose to continue to a higher level of qualification up to a degree. Currently, upon completion of study, a student cannot continue under TELS for a higher education until the existing TELS debt has been paid off…….
In a nutshell, Madam Speaker, all these funding allocations towards the provision of quality education total to around $964.5 million, the largest chunk of our Budget and for the future of a nation. While a $170 million is a one-off expenditure for rebuilding schools, the education budget will now be the largest of any sector; an investment in our youth, an investment in creating a knowledge-based country, and an investment (as I had said), Madam Speaker, in our future.
Fiji Times - 18/01/2021: