OBSERVER: NOTING the important role the Students' Loan Bureau (SLB) plays in the service delivery of education to the country, Minister of Education Senator Ruel Reid has indicated that he intends to have a look at how his ministry can assist the work of the bureau.
He pointed out that currently the SLB does not fall under his remit as education, youth and information minister, but the partnership within the governance structure encourages that he work with the institution.
“Our point is that as the Ministry of Education and Youth we need to be integrally driving the policies that govern the operations and execution of the Students' Loan Bureau to assist the beneficiaries, which are the students,” he said.
In responding to questions of the concerns of students regarding the ease of doing business with the bureau, the minister said: “I hope to have further dialogue — we've had preliminary meetings — to see how we can improve the service delivery [at the SLB]. People have this bad impression of the public sector that we're not customer-centric or we're not customer service- driven, and I am very high on customer service. So I'd love to see that as part of our transformation, and I believe in the context of the public sector transformation and reform, the Students' Loan Bureau must be seen as that exemplar of that excellence in the service delivery.”
Last year April the Government, in a move to ease the burden on students, introduced a reducing balance calculation on repayment amounts. This was aimed at passing on significant savings for beneficiaries, compared to the previous add-on interest rate. The monthly amounts payable by beneficiaries under reduced balancing method will be reduced by approximately 28 per cent.
“We are largely funded by the taxpayers through the percentage taken off from the proceeds of the education tax, and I know they're trying to pay off some of the debt they had before, and to that end we even want to accelerate that so as to streamline funding from the education tax,“ Reid said.
The minister acknowledged the hardships faced by students to access and fund tertiary education and spoke to the challenges that recent graduates experience.
“We had committed in the manifesto to extend the amortisation period and that's one of the things we'd like to see done. But there was an 'Obama prescription', which, by the way, is now endorsed by UNESCO; their proposal is to cap the loan repayment at 15 per cent of gross salary when students begin work. That I believe would be music to ears of borrowers. As the minister of education that is my medium-term objective, to negotiate with my Government and SLB for that reform to make things manageable,” Reid said.
He went on to commiserate with students, citing his experience when he served on the appeals committee of the bureau, and singled out the nurses whose challenges he was familiar with.
Reid highlighted that the ministry has worked with central government to increase the funding to SLB as demands on its resources continue to increase.
In speaking to the achievements of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, Reid highlighted that $200 million has been reassigned to the SLB from the HEART Trust/NTA. Admitting that more will be needed as more positive student outcomes are achieved, he said that this is an area in which he committed to see improvement.
CAPTION: REID... the Ministry of Education needs to be driving the policies that govern the operations and execution of the Students' Loan Bureau