PLP calls scholarships cap ‘mean-spirited’
Government scholarships have been capped at $35,000 — but the time covered has been extended from three to four years.
The controversial bill, brought to the House of Assembly by Economic Development Minister Grant Gibbons, raised the hackles of Opposition MPs who decried the cap as mean-spirited.
Ultimately, the amendments to the Bermuda Government Scholarships Act were cleared.
Dr Gibbons told MPs the legislation had to be seen within “broad financial realities that can’t be ignored”.
Students aged 16 to 25 can now apply for the scholarship, as opposed to 17 to 23, and the four-year coverage can be extended to five.
Amendments in 2008 gave it unlimited funding for tuition, which made it impossible to determine its actual cost until after it was awarded, Dr Gibbons said.
He said in the last five years, annual funding has ranged from $17,000 to “a high of nearly $75,000”.
“We would not be responsible government if we continued to create unfunded obligations.”
While many in Opposition agreed that spending needed to be cut, Progressive Labour Party MPs characterised the bill as a slap to the Island’s students.
MP Walton Brown said Dr Gibbons sounded like “an accountant going through a balance sheet, without any compassion for the people who lie behind the numbers”, and suggested Government could alternatively reduce the number of scholarships from its current eight.
Mr Brown also suggested there was a “trend” of Government putting the international business before people.
Opposition Whip Lovitta Foggo branded the amendments “a backward step”, although both she and Mr Brown supported the extension of coverage to four years.
Independent MP Terry Lister said he had heard a number of sensible arguments from both sides of the House on the issue and, after considering the facts, said he intended to support the amendment.
“I don’t have a problem with this,” Mr Lister said. “I had a problem up until about 6pm. I was not prepared to support this at all until I had the information to make the decision on.
“I heard the facts — and I’m okay.”
Mr Lister also encouraged the Government not to be afraid to come back to the House to ask for the scholarship values to be increased — as permitted by the Act — should deserving students appear.