Govt slashes higher education scholarship fund
Government has imposed a cap on scholarship funds which have provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in financial assistance to gifted students.
New legislation tabled in the House of Assembly today will put a ceiling of $35,000 on each of eight grants awarded annually to academically brilliant Bermudians who cannot afford to pursue higher education overseas.
Under the current scholarship scheme, Government foots the bill for the total cost of student tuition fees and living expenses — regardless of how expensive those fees may be. The scheme cost the taxpayer nearly $900,000 last year, but the new limit will reduce the annual cost to a maximum of $280,000.
At a press conference yesterday, Education Minister Nalton Brangman explained that the current system “does not match the financial realities of the Ministry of Education and the Government of Bermuda”.
“The current [Bermuda Government Scholarship] regime is not sustainable, nor is it fiscally manageable,” Sen Brangman said.
“The BGS regime would be challenged even during booming economic times because the monetary value of each scholarship varies depending on the school that each recipient attends.
“If left unchanged, the existing provision threatens the entire provision of scholarships and awards as there would simply be no money left for existing recipients and potential BGS candidates into the future, or for other smaller financial awards that help students of financial need to attend post-secondary institutions.”
Shadow Education Minister Walton Brown said he was disappointed with the move.
"I spoke with the Minister this morning and urged him to reconsider....noting that this is ill-advised and will significantly hurt those needing support to advance themselves. With respect to the Bermuda Scholarship I urged him to reconsider the devaluation so that it might retain its status as the premier recognition of academic excellence. He unfortunately would not reconsider."
Sen Brangman pointed out that, currently, it was impossible for Government to budget how much each scholarship will cost, because different schools charge different fees.
“Most scholarships are for a fixed dollar amount which allows the trustees of scholarships to manage their budgets in ways that are fiscally prudent through careful planning and administration,” he said.
“The Board of Education recommends the recipients, but does not choose where they attend college or university, making it impossible to plan and budget for the cost of the BGS. A student could be attending university in a small town in England with a low cost of living and pay UK domestic rates, while another might attend an expensive private university in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
“We therefore propose to change the scholarship from one that covers airfare, food and accommodation, and an unlimited amount of tuition to a fiscally manageable regime where accommodation and tuition are covered up to a cap of $35,000. This will allow the Ministry of Education to better predict, plan and budget for the maximum annual cost of Bermuda Government Scholarships going forward.”
The Minister did point out that the fund will be extended to cover four years of education for each student. Currently awardees are only covered for three years of schooling, even if they are taking four-year courses.
And both younger and older students will be eligible for scholarships. Currently only students between the ages of 17 and 23 can qualify, but the amendment will expand that range to between 16 and 25.
“These changes to the BGS regime reflect the current economic times, but also acknowledge the need to be fiscally prudent at all times, whether in periods of economic boom or an improving economy,” Sen Brangman said.
“While the newly proposed BGS regime will result in a more responsible budget and spending for the BGS, it is done for students so that important investments in education are sustainable and will benefit students for years to come.”