The Lucian People’s Movement (LPM) has expressed grave concern about the slow pace of tertiary education in Saint Lucia, including the high cost for the average local family that would like to send their children abroad to study.
Reacting to the government’s decision to guarantee EC$3.25 million in loans for 23 students to study in the United States, the leader of the LPM, Therold Prudent, said that students can receive comparable and more affordable education for their dollar by considering other tertiary markets in order to fulfill their dreams of earning a respectable degree.
“If the aim is to accelerate the pace of tertiary education in Saint Lucia and to transform our island from a developing country to a modern, industrial economy, then the government must lead the way via a more efficient and well-coordinated effort that seeks to explain to the populace its vision for transforming our nation through affordable education,” Prudent said.
“Encouraging our students to study in countries where the exchange rate is low, but the quality and value of their education systems rivals those of the traditional education markets (which we have often depended upon but have proven very costly to our nation) can pay great dividends to Saint Lucia’s economic future,” he continued.
South Africa has an expanding education market that the government of Saint Lucia may want to explore, he pointed out.
Prudent said that not only are there a number of accredited, world-class universities in South Africa, but the cost of educating Saint Lucian students there could amount to a considerable saving compared to educating them in England, Canada or the United States.
He highlighted the universities of Stellenbosch, Cape Town, Pretoria, Rhodes, Witwatersrand and even the University of South Africa, among many others, all of which have sound academic histories dating as far back as 1829.
“These institutions may well hold the key to our dreams of educating thousands of our young people in their specific areas of interest, which potential investors often require and, thereby, producing the kind of human capital that is required to drive economic growth on the island,” Prudent said.
Prudent believes that there is no reason why a country the size of Saint Lucia, with a population of fewer than 175,000 people, cannot become the first of its kind within the Caribbean region to adopt an out-of-the-box approach that seeks to educate its young people en masse at a significantly lower cost.
The LPM leader also claimed that he is very troubled about the plight of young people who return to the island after studying and are without any prospect of landing a job.
He said that, whereas the economic downturn in the international market may have contributed further to a higher level of unemployment on the island, a lot of the blame should fall on the shoulders of successive governments, including the current administration of Dr Kenny Anthony, for not having a serious or practical plan to address Saint Lucia’s educational needs and unemployment problems in a holistic manner.
He said that, given the hardships that many returning students are currently facing, it may be an opportune moment for Anthony to sit down with the various lending institutions in the country and work out an agreement that will allow eligible students to participate in an income-based repayment (IBR) program.
Such a program would, for a specific period of time, cap student loan repayments at 15% of the students’ monthly discretionary income and, thereby, allow them sufficient time to either find or create higher paying forms of employment and make the adjustment to living and working on the island again.