Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Sweet relief for vet students - Government reverses decision to remove tuition subsidy for current batch

Published:Sunday | April 10, 2016 | 4:00 AMRyon Jones
First year veterinary student, Brianna Schwapp, in action.

A weight was lifted off the shoulders of the six first year Jamaican veterinary medical students at the University of the West Indies (UWI) School of Veterinary Medicine in Trinidad and Tobago last week as the Government reversed a decision to no longer fund their tuition.

The worried six finally exhaled as they were told that the Government would continue to fund their tuition for the remainder of their academic programme, which is slated to run until 2020.

In early 2015, a Cabinet decision led to the discontinuation of the 85 per cent subsidy which has been given by the Ministry of Education and Youth for the past 20 years to new dental and veterinary students attending their respective programmes in the University of the West Indies Faculty of Medical Sciences at St Augustine as of the 2015-16 academic year.

This decision was not communicated to the newly accepted applicants until they had gone to the school to matriculate.

Following reports in The Sunday Gleaner, a meeting was held with executive members of the Jamaica Veterinary Medical Association (JVMA) and a decision was made by the education ministry to fund the six veterinary students for one year, pending a further Cabinet submission on their behalf.

The students were, however, last week informed that a letter had been sent to the pro vice chancellor and principal of the UWI, St Augustine Campus, from the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education advising that the Government would be funding the current cohort of students for the duration of their programmes.

LETTER FROM THE GOV'T

The veterinary programme costs US$27,000 (J$3.2m) for each student per annum.

"The Government of Jamaica will commit to make payment for the present cohorts who were recruited prior to, and in the academic year 2015-16 to the conclusion of their programme.

"However, the cost for re-examination of any subject/course due to failure or negligence will be the responsibility of the student. A progress report will be required for each student at the end of each semester," the letter sent to St Augustine read in part.

First year veterinary student, Brianna Schwapp, who is currently in Trinidad studying, said she and the other five Jamaican students were thrilled to learn that their tuition would be subsidised for all five years.

"It was very nerve-racking to not know for so long how we would be funding our education, and it was a tremendous relief to know that all six of us will be able to have such a huge weight lifted while we pursue this demanding path," Schwapp told The Sunday Gleaner.

According to Schwapp, the students view as fair the Government's stance that it will not pay for failed courses or assist students who have to repeat a semester or year.

"I will say, though, that there are specific circumstances where the failure may be due to serious external or personal issues under which exceptions could be made," Schwapp said.

But Dr Paul Cadogan, public relations officer for the JVMA, plans to engage in further talks with the ministry in regards to the future training of veterinarians, as the removal of the subsidy is still set to be applied for new students enrolling in the 2016-17 academic year.

"When we had met with them last year October, one of the things we had discussed was the possibility of having a system of scholarship whereby a fixed number of students could be funded," said Cadogan.

"We really don't want an absolute cut-off of veterinary students going to the school."

ryon.jones@gleanerjm.com