Government pulls the plug on vet students - Twenty-year programme of 85% funding of tuition fee discontinued
The Government has discontinued its financing of the training in veterinary medicine and dentistry by Jamaican students in Trinidad, leaving some fuming as they warn that this decision could come back to haunt Jamaica.
For the past 20 years, the Government has paid 85 per cent of the tuition fees for students studying veterinary medicine and dentistry at Mount Hope in Trinidad and Tobago through an arrangement with the University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus.
But in May, the Cabinet made the decision to no longer pay the 85 per cent starting with the 2015/16 school year. However, this was not communicated to the students until earlier this month.
"By Cabinet decision taken earlier this year, it was decided that the Government of Jamaica would no longer fund new cohorts of students going into any of the two programmes come September 2015, and the information was sent to the receiving institution which is St Augustine, Trinidad," permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education Elaine Foster-Allen told The Sunday Gleaner.
"But it appears that they didn't inform the applicants to the programme in time. So we only knew that this wasn't done when individual students' parents started to call us in early September that they were being told that the Government was no longer supporting new cohorts of students," added Foster-Allen.
She said that the education ministry is now working with the Ministry of Finance and University of the West Indies to try and find a way to assist the about six students who are looking to start the 2015/16 programme.
commitment to support
"We have a commitment to continue to support the cohorts that were in place before 2015/2016," said Foster-Allen.
"Because of the type of dilemma that the students now face who started in 2015, we have had to seek permission, because the Cabinet decision was made in March, to find ways of supporting these students.
"We were saying maybe up to 50 per cent of the fees for this school year, because of the fact that these students having not been told would have gone down to Trinidad without there being any knowledge of the fact that they will not been supported."
According to Foster-Allen, the decision was made to no longer fund the programme because over the 20 years that it has operated the students have not been returning to practice in Jamaica after graduation.
"I don't know of any of the students that have been trained on that veterinary programme having come back to give service to Jamaica," said Foster-Allen.
"I have asked my tertiary-level people to do some research and it does not appear so. So they get a scholarship, they are training and they do not necessarily come back to Jamaica to give service.
"I think that was perhaps negligence or oversight on our part that we should have been more careful in ensuring that the students are bonded," added Foster-Allen
But Dr Paul Cadogan, public relations officer for the Jamaica Veterinarian Medical Association, says Foster-Allen has been misinformed as the students are coming home to practice.
"The ministry's claim is nonsense. The majority of Jamaican UWI grads for vet med have come home," said Cadogan.
"Fifty-eight have returned since 1998, with four this year (two still with registration pending) and six last year. Forty-one registered School of Veterinary Medicine (SVM) grads are currently resident here, pretty much half of the active veterinarians in the country with nine of the 17 vets employed by the Ministry of Agriculture at the Vet Services Division being graduates of the programme.
"The list of registered vets is available from the Jamaica Veterinary Board. Obviously, the Ministry of Education is working with misinformation from what source I have no idea," added Cadogan.
He was supported by president of the Jamaica Veterinarian Medical Association, Dr Kevin Walker, who benefited from the programme.
According to Walker, the proposal from Foster-Allen for the Government to pay only 50 per cent of the tuition fee is impractical as the students will still be left with too much to pay.
"Even if they pay 50 per cent it is US$27,000 per year and that is just tuition. They also have to pay for their housing and everyday expenses," said Walker.
"Going forward as well, it will severely affect our profession, because you need a succession plan.
"Agriculture is the sector that shows growth every year and you need veterinary support with herd management, health issues, food safety, for other issues as well. We are not only looking at cats and dogs which are companion animals, you have to look at agriculture on a whole and you need that expertise, that technical assistance and most people cannot afford to go overseas to study," added Walker.
He said he has written to the Ministry of Education seeking a meeting to discuss the matter as he is proposing that the Government follow other countries and put a cap on the number of students that can enrol in the programme annually.
Walker added that he has no issue with the students being bonded as the majority of them already come back to the island to work.