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Discounted fees may replace free tuition at Bermuda College

Free tuition at Bermuda College may be replaced with “discounted” tuition, Education Minister Dame Jennifer Smith revealed yesterday.

And such a change may not necessarily be a bad thing, according to Shadow Education Minister Grant Gibbons, who also spoke on the issue during a House of Assembly debate on the college's budget for 2011-12.

Dr Gibbons asked what the “real rationale” was for abolishing free education at the college, adding: “Sometimes if you get something for free you don't respect it as much as if you have a little bit of skin in the game yourself.”

Dame Jennifer told MPs during the half-hour long debate that the cost of the free tuition in 2010-11 was $1.1 million as of January.

She said the college, as part of a re-examination of “everything it does”, would “discuss the offer of discounted tuition in place of free tuition”.

Government began paying the fees of qualified Bermudians on credit courses at the college in autumn 2008.

Dr Gibbons said yesterday there was a lack of published data on how successful the scheme had been.

“How has the money been spent, in the sense of have those students all graduated?” he asked. “How much went to students who didn't complete the programme?

“Was that a good investment in terms of students actually participating in full-time or diploma activities and is it reflected in actual results?”

Dame Jennifer said she would get the data for the Minister and provide it to him at a later date.

She said the college had a reduced budget in 2011-12, hence the idea of discounted rather than free tuition.

The college's overall budget for the coming fiscal year is $18.1 million, compared to $19.8 million in 2010-11. That amounts to a reduction of $1.7 million or nine percent.

Dame Jennifer said the college's enrolment had increased overall by three percent, with a 75 percent rise for culinary arts, a 23 percent rise for applied science and technology and a dramatic increase in the numbers taking part in professional and career education (PACE) courses.

But Dr Gibbons challenged that, arguing that the number of full-time students was dropping.

He said answers to parliamentary questions revealed the number of full-time students who enrolled in autumn 2009 was 358, compared to 295 in autumn 2010.

He said 271 full-time students enrolled this spring, compared to 286 last spring. The Opposition MP noted it was not dramatic but said it did show a decline.

He said the percent increase for enrolment on the culinary arts course might sound impressive on the surface but the actual number of students taking part 25 was discouraging

“We need to do a much better job of getting young Bermudians interested in doing an associate degree or diploma programme in some of those hospitality areas.”

He questioned whether there was a problem with the way the programmes were run and said something needed to be done differently to get Bermudians into the hospitality industry.

“We all know that there are thousands and thousands of non-Bermudians here,” said Dr Gibbons.

He suggested it was a similar story with low numbers enrolling on applied science and technology courses and just six graduates last year.

“With all kudos to those who have graduated, that doesn't give us a lot of encouragement that these programmes are pumping out all the people needed.”

The UBP politician said he wasn't blaming the college but questioned whether the Island was getting value for money from the facility.

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Published March 08, 2011 at 8:54 am (Updated March 08, 2011 at 8:54 am)

Discounted fees may replace free tuition at Bermuda College

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