Is the current IMF program making it any easier for you to pay for your degree? Do you think it is making the cost of pursuing a tertiary level education any cheaper? In the negotiations happening now, do you know how much effort our government has put into ensuring education is a priority of the program? For all intents and purposes, this analysis will be carried out in reference to the University of the West Indies Mona and the extent to which access to a tertiary level education at this institution has increased since the dawn of this new IMF program.
In a January 2012 Article article entitled ” IMF Talks result in Greater Understanding of Priorities” published on the Jamaica Information Service (JIS) website, it was reported that the major issues in our economy at the time included a reduction in the primary surplus of the central government that was targeted for this fiscal year, and a rise of the overall deficit of the public sector. This, after the PNP administration restarted the conversation with the IMF following their victory in the 2011 general elections to negotiate a new deal with the Fund pursuant of strong policies that would enable Jamaica to address the risks posed by both the global environment and the worsening fiscal realities.
In a May 2013 article on the International Monetary Fund Website (IMF), entitled ” IMF Loan to help Jamaica cope with Growth and Debt challenges”, it was underscored that Jamaica’s very high debt undermines confidence and investment and that the new program will boost growth and jobs, lower debt and improve competitiveness. The IMF’s executive board had extended the arrangement to Jamaica with a loan of JMD $932,000,000 to further the objectives of this new program. The IMF’s mission chief for Jamaica, Jan Kees Martijn, in response to what he considers to be the key priorities in Jamaica for the Fund and the government and the role he envisions for the Fund beyond financial support in promoting these measures, said that adjusting policies to lower debt to a sustainable level and establishing the conditions for durable growth will be the requirement for building a prosperous future for Jamaica. However, it was made clear that the program does have a social welfare component which speaks to the protection of the most vulnerable groups in society (youth in this context). The extent to which these vulnerable groups are protected is the question we are trying answer.
Mr Martijn posited that the new program includes a range of measures to improve competitiveness and the business climate, so that Jamaica can attract investment and create jobs, as well as training opportunities to assist the migration from welfare to work. He went further to say that a second element of the program is requiring a floor on social spending to make sure that it is given priority even when the overall room for government spending is limited. The government, He said, also intends to increase the number and targeting of beneficiaries under the Program for Advancement Through Health and Education (PATHE).
In a June 2014 article entitled ” Prime Minister Says Growth and Employment Highest Priority” published on the Jamaica Information Service (JIS) website, Prime Minister, the Hon. Portia Simpson Miller says stimulating growth and employment is the highest priority of the Government and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), at this time. Madam Simpson Miller reports that the progress made in the first year of our program (presumably January 2012 – January 2013) include: upfront fiscal consolidation and reform; several structural initiatives aimed at improving the business environment and restoring external price competitiveness; while strengthening the social safety net. But does the social safety net here speak to the educational opportunities afforded to Jamaicans at the tertiary level (with reference to UWI Mona)? Specifically, has this net been strengthened such that more Jamaicans can exercise their right to access a tertiary education from the State?
She went on to emphasize that stimulating growth and employment is, at this time, the highest priority of both the Government of Jamaica and the Fund. From these reports, It can be deduced that while the program is successful thus far in meeting the targets it set out to achieve, the social welfare of Jamaicans has been made less of a priority behind lowering unemployment and stimulating economic growth. With 80% of most SME’s (Small and Medium sized enterprises) failing in the first 5 years of operating and a national unemployment rate at 13.2% (32% of which is youth unemployment), one can understand the need to prioritize these issues in the program. But what we need to now ask ourselves is what of the statistics on enrollment at the University level? Are they significant enough to build an argument for a greater focus on improving access to a tertiary level education?
According to the enrollment statistics produced by the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona , over a 5 year period (2009-2014) enrollment into full-time and part-time first degree programs has averaged at 11,358 students. According to Education Statistics produced by the Ministry of Education for 2012-2013; 84,847 students were enrolled in secondary school who were between 15-16 age group; and in the 17-19 age group only 32,697 students were enrolled in secondary schools. Cumulatively, 117,544 students were enrolled in the secondary school system between 2012-2013.
With reference to the enrollment statistics produced by the UWI Mona for the year 2012-2013, only 12,105 students were enrolled into the institution. So of the 117,544 students eligible for matriculation to the tertiary level that year, only 10.3% made the cut to attend UWI Mona. Is this acceptable? What of the other 80.7% students eligible to read for a tertiary degree?? Have they been appropriately placed in the other tertiary institutions island-wide? Collectively, do these other tertiary institutions have the absorptive capacity to enroll that 80.7%? Has our government done enough so far to afford more students that right to higher education? Essentially this is saying, approximately 1 in every 10 Jamaican youth in 2012-2013 had a chance at exercising their right to higher education at UWI Mona.
The fact that the current IMF program fails to produce a positive surplus in our economy affects our government’s ability to contribute more to subsidizing tertiary education than they currently can afford. At present, the Jamaican government allocates a total of JMD $5 billion yearly to UWI Mona, which is intended to subsidize 80 per cent of fees students pay to attend the institution. The issue however, is that this amount has been frozen for some time amidst rising costs to operate the University due to externalities of the same IMF program, such as rising inflation rates. Therefore, we see a unique relationship here which explains the extent to which the Jamaican government can actually further the right to seek a tertiary level education at UWI Mona. Your ability to pursue a degree at UWI Mona hinges primarily on the extent to which this IMF program can yield a surplus to aid in advancing our development agenda.
In the interim, I would suggest to our government that they look to establishing a stronger social partnership with the private sector to offer more assistance where tertiary financing is concerned. Create internships for students in a particular field that will allow them to work part-time with a select firm in the private sector while increasing their ability to finance themselves through university. More public-private partnerships such as the recent housing development between the National Commercial Bank (NCB) and the UWI Mona should also be encouraged in other areas such as facilities upgrading and student mentorship. Firms need to understand that creating that intimate relationship with your customer before they have the purchasing power, is how you create a loyal customer base for the future. Finally, I want urge Dr. Peter Phillips and his team to aggressively advance the notion that greater access to tertiary education should be a priority of this program, and is equal in status to lowering unemployment and stimulating economic growth.