They say the things that come for free can be the most expensive in life. This truism couldn't be more true when applied to tertiary level education in Trinidad and Tobago.
Students are enticed by the prospect of getting something supposedly extremely valuable for free, but unfortunately government involvement in the tertiary education market has tremendous unintended consequences to the ultimate detriment of students.
1. The Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE) programme fosters systemic underemployment among graduates, where employment opportunities are insufficient to the education level of graduates.
The graduate's newly acquired skills paid for by the tax payer therefore go unutilised. This is a phenomenon that can be very frustrating for graduates especially after dedicating extensive time and energy to attaining academic credentials.
2. To add insult to injury because of the over supply of degree professionals salaries / wages of graduates are depressed, extending the payback period within which graduates are supposed to recoup their educational investment.
3. Additional salt is added to the wounds of the graduate because the oversupply of graduates leads employers to raise screening qualifications unnecessarily high or rely on actual work experience when short listing prospective employees.
Alternatively employers may dismiss or discount various qualifications because the perceived value and rigour of programmes are deemed inconsequential. The plethora of new tertiary level institutions chasing government dollars has exacerbated this labour market dynamic.
4. The introduction of GATE has and will continue to lull students to over educate and procrastinate regarding actual on the job
training in the private sector which employers value. Students are inadvertently incentivised to delay entering the working world where they can avoid facing the unpleasant working world reality. They are also steered away from becoming entrepreneurial or unfortunately steered into becoming a cog in the government wheel. Postponing the acquiring of relevant and valuable work experience can therefore limit a student's career path.
5. Sadly students also delay in engaging in invaluable aspects of family life such as marriage, parenting, home building, enjoyable hobbies etc or even entrepreneurship.
The most severe consequences are experienced by female students who after dedicating the prime years of their lives to academia realize they have sacrificed the wonderful benefits of family life. Indeed, after investing tremendous time and effort on the academic front motherhood / family life may reveal itself to be the more appealing option rather than the quintessential career woman option.
6. Because people don't value what they get for free students often do not engage in the university experience seriously, consequently programme completion rates are declining, there's delinquency, chronic repeating and changing of academic programmes.
7. Similarly, a larger number of students pick up bad habits while on campus such as engaging in ill advised sexual activity, alcohol and recreational drug use.
This is the case especially for undergraduates who have no need to work since tuition costs are zero. Prior to education being free student would work during the semester and or during semester breaks, thereby reducing the propensity to engage in less socially destructive behaviour.
There is no doubt that determined and industrious students will make the right choices and succeed academically and in their careers with or without the governments help. The artificial intrusion by the state however skews natural market and social dynamics and yields perverse effects contrary to what was originally intended.
Nonetheless, the programme does fulfil its original purpose: to offer political patronage to an important voting constituent - university aged students and; to promote general dependency on the state from a young age.