Editorial July 16: The ABC's of government scholarships

There is no better way for the Cayman Islands government to spend its money than in improving a child’s education.

We have seen massive amounts of public resources granted in recent years to the development of two new local high schools as well as millions of dollars spent on university scholarships, both at home and abroad, so school kids can get a first-class education here and continue their studies where they choose.

Many will point to those expenditures by government as proof of its continuing commitment to filling a greater number of jobs available in this country with young Caymanians – a laudable goal.

However, simply throwing money at the education system is not a solution and we still have too many concerns that government is not spending its limited capital wisely in this regard. The high schools project is probably the best example of the Cayman Islands aim overreaching its means, but a watchful eye should be kept on scholarship programmes as well. When dealing with education funding, it is always wise to remember that revenue inputs are rarely directly correlated with cognitive outputs.

For the 2013/14 budget year, the government will spend nearly $10,000 per scholarship recipient. That includes more than $2 million in grants to 112 scholarship recipients under the Nation Building Fund and about $10.5 million for 1,200 scholarships granted by the Education Council. All the grants from various programmes total more than $13 million in assistance to 1,373 attendees of both local and foreign universities and trade schools. This significant spending during the current budget year must be placed in the proper context.

The United Democratic Party government took office in 2009 with then-Education Minister Rolston Anglin grousing about a complete mess in the award of Education Council scholarship recipients. Some students, he said, were not meeting criteria for maintaining grade point averages while at university, but many of these same students continued to receive funds from government despite their substandard performance.

Local scholarship grants were also not prioritised. No distinction was made between lower-income and higher-income families. In fact, an internal review of college scholarships granted by the Cayman Islands Education Council found that some were awarded to students whose families earned between $95,000 and $186,000 per year.

Now, the People’s Progressive Movement party has taken the reins of government and is essentially seeking to discontinue the Nation Building Fund scholarship programme, eventually intending to place the initiative back under the Ministry of Education administration via the Education Council. The complaint about the UDP administration’s plan was that awards of nation building scholarships were completely opaque and based upon criteria that were difficult – if not impossible – to define.

We understand that all governments want to put their stamp on the local education system. That stamp, however, should ensure that the package arrives at the intended destination. If we, the taxpayers, are to pony up for hundreds of university students to continue their education, we should not feel reluctant to demand that those students meet reasonable academic goals in order to justify our continued investment in them.