Education Ministry officials said last week that significant improvements have been made to the government’s scholarship programme since a 2009-2010 review found a right mess there.
Education Minister and Cayman Islands Deputy Premier Rolston Anglin has long since expressed concerns about the state of the scholarship awards process.
“There were significant weaknesses in the vetting of applications and the monitoring of [student] performance,” Mr. Anglin said. “The fact that there was only one staff member managing the budget and process was also an issue.”
Internal auditors who visited to the programme in July 2011 found staff had increased from one to three and that managers had implemented “the majority of the audit recommendations” made following the 2010 report.
Mr. Anglin said the government scholarship programme is based on merit, supporting access to university education for all who qualify. He said scholarship recipients had come from “all strata of society” and had made meaningful contribution to the territory.
The minister said there had been an increase in warnings and suspensions of funding for students who do not meet academic requirements in the scholarship programme, as well as improved response times in the awarding of scholarship funds. The government had also improved on documentation requirements for scholarship recipients, he said.
The initial internal review of college scholarships granted by the Cayman Islands Education Council caused a stir when it found that some grants were awarded to students whose families earned 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.
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.