Council says awards based on ‘academic merit’
An internal review of college scholarships granted by the Cayman Islands Education Council found that some were awarded to students whose families made between $95,000 and $186,000 per year.
The government’s Internal Audit Unit looked at a representative sample of 30 scholarship awards given to students studying abroad between July 2009 and June 2010. The report was just released to the public following a Freedom of Information request made by the Caymanian Compass.
“We noted that the families of five scholars earned a combined annual income ranging between $95,000 and $186,000, while the income of the families of 18 scholars was below the $95,000 range and another seven did not have documentation of their families financial means on file,” auditors noted. “However, all were awarded overseas scholarships.”
Section 41 (2) of the Cayman Islands Education Law states: “The financial means of the parents or guardians of the candidate shall be taken into account in the award of any scholarship”.
In addition, some of the references filed on behalf of those scholarship awardees could not be located by auditors.
“We were advised that all applicants are required to submit the required reference letters, but because of the transfer of the secretariat to a new office these may have been misfiled or lost,” the Internal Audit Unit reported. In addition, three medical students who attended St. Matthew’s University were awarded $20,000 per year from the scholarship fund by the Education Council. However, those three did not go through a panel interview process or sign student performance agreements, known as bonds, according to auditors.
“We … could not validate compliance regarding the awarding of scholarships and we were concerned that the lack of clarity in the requirements and assessment procedures could result in inconsistency in scholarship awards, as well as negative public image for the Education Council,” the audit unit noted in its report.
Problems with government scholarship awards were well reported during 2009 and 2010, shortly after current Education Minister Rolston Anglin took office and talked publicly about some of the issues he had discovered about the scholarship awards system. The internal audit report is dated from about that time.
Local scholarship grants were not prioritised, Mr. Anglin said during a 2009 meeting of the Legislative Assembly. No distinction was being made between those from lower-income families, who might need the assistance more, he noted.
The minister also noted some scholarship recipients were not keeping up their grades.
“A large proportion of the individuals on scholarships had GPAs that were alarmingly low, some 1.0 or less,” Mr. Anglin said. The scholarship programme requires a 2.5 grade point average during the first year of study and a 3.0 thereafter.
“Many of these had low semester averages over the previous year, but had not received any follow up or warning letters by the ministry,” he said.
The Education Council noted in its response to the Internal Audit Unit report that previous efforts to establish a “means test” for scholarship awardees were unsuccessful.
A 2009 review of scholarship awards done by a government committee found: “The committee was of the opinion that means testing of students is unfair and unworkable. It … recommends that students receive funding, or not, based on academic merit, the priority lists and their high school records, including two references.
“We shall consider the merits of retaining the provision of the [Education Law] and develop procedural guidelines to implement it or recommend its revision to remove the means test from the legislation,” the council stated in its response to the audit.
The council also noted that scholarship application forms were re-formatted in 2011 and that it has ensured all successful applicants have one academic and one personal reference included.
The reason for the three St. Matthew’s scholarship awardees not being interviewed or signing student bonds was because their applications were treated as “local” applications, not overseas, according to the Education Council. Local scholarship applicants are not required to sign the student bond and scholarship recipient commitment agreement/contract.
“Local applications, including St. Matthew’s applicants were dealt with administratively and not taken before the Education Council,” the audit response noted. Later recommendations from the council asked that St. Matthew’s scholarship applicants be treated as overseas university applicants.