Browne Cabinet announces yet another change to students’ bonding requirements

Prime Minister Gaston Browne and his Cabinet appear to have had a change of heart about the bonding system for students who pursue studies overseas.

On January 17, this year, during a signing  ceremony between the Government and the Saudi Fund for Development – for the expansion of The University of the West Indies Five Islands – PM Browne said his administration would be eliminating the need for bonding.

Browne said, then, that while some might fear  a brain drain, he would prefer that citizens leave Antigua and Barbuda qualified and are able to earn a proper living – rather than remain here “uneducated and poor.”

The intention, then, it appeared, was that students on government scholarships would no longer be bonded to return to this country to work after graduation.

However, the Cabinet, during its sitting on February 22, gave consideration to bonding students so that they return to Antigua and Barbuda to work for a fixed period.

This, the Executive says, “would be in repayment of the taxpayer funding which was freely given towards their training.”

Meanwhile, the Cabinet says that many more persons, these past months, have been applying for funding for tertiary education, utilizing the Prime Minister’s Scholarship Programme.

Therefore, a decision has been taken to set limits, which are to be immediately imposed, on new students applying for what the Cabinet says are scarce funds.

However, those to whom pledges have already been made will continue under the same terms, the Cabinet Notes say.

The Executive has also agreed that double-dipping will be disallowed.  Accordingly, persons seeking both a scholarship and study leave will not be accommodated, except under exceptional circumstances.

A source says this move seems to be aimed  at forcing students to study at The UWI Five Islands, hence allowing the Government to make the money to repay the Saudi loan.

However, the source adds, not everyone would wish to study the subjects that are on offer at the tertiary institution.

During the signing ceremony, Browne had indicated that the university will offer subjects geared towards developing skill sets for the 21st century.