Months after a furore about two government ministers securing scholarships for study abroad, the Department of the Public Service says it is working to ensure transparency in the system.
Questions were asked about the propriety of Ministers in the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Public Infrastructure, Nicolette Henry and Annette Ferguson, respectively, applying for and securing scholarships last year.
It had been argued that overseas study scholarships should be reserved for the cream of the academic crop. It was also contended that ministers were there to serve the public and should be fully engrossed in that service. Furthermore, it was posited that ministers would have an unfair advantage in the application process versus ordinary citizens.
A statement yesterday from the Ministry of the Presidency reporting on an interview with Permanent Secretary of the Department of Public Service, Reginald Brotherson said that in addition to transparency, an online application process for National Scholarships by 2018 was being worked on. This is running parallel to the Department’s efforts to improve the process and ensure public accountability and transparency.
“Since I have been here, we have been facilitating scholarships to the University of Guyana and the Guyana School of Agriculture for freshmen and students, who are already in the system as well as abroad,” he said.
The release said that while during the previous administration, applicants were often handpicked and shortlisted by the Ministry of the Public Service, Brotherson related that the Department now has a National Panel, the first in this regard, which consists of professionals from the Education Ministry, private and other sectors who are entrusted with shortlisting and interviewing applicants. The panel comprises veteran educators: Ingrid Fung and Donna Chapman, Private Sector Commission Representative, Elizabeth Alleyne, Claudette Austin from the University of Guyana (UG) and Executive Director of the Public Service Staff College, Randolph Leitch. From July 2015 to date, more than 500 applications have been processed, the statement said.
Applicants must be 35 years or under and in good health to qualify, must gain entrance to the University they wish to attend and must have a valid Guyana passport. All applications are reviewed by this panel and applicants are shortlisted and invited for interviews.
During the interview process, applicants are graded in five main areas: qualifications (10 points), relevance of scholarship (10 points), adaptability (4 points) and ability to cope in a different environment (for overseas students), experience in the field (for Post Graduates), maturity (for Under Graduates) (4 points), acceptance of scholarship conditions (2 points) and knowledge of the field of studies. Once the points have been totalled from the interviews, the recommendations are then sent to the Permanent Secretary and the Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, who has responsibility for the Public Service sector.
As the country pursues a ‘green agenda’ and with the potential for a booming oil and gas industry, Brotherson said that the Government will also give special consideration to applications for studies in the environmental sciences, oil and gas development or any other related fields.
The Department is currently supporting 186 students studying abroad and another 705 who are pursuing studies here. For 2016, over 350 students were supported at tertiary institutions across the country. At present, students here and abroad are receiving support to pursue their Bachelor’s, Master’s or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D) Degrees.
“This year almost a record number of scholarships are being offered because of the floodgate that was opened, both at the University of Guyana which has 83 percent of the scholarships offered locally, and the rest to the Guyana School of Agriculture. The government is not in a reactive mode, the government is in a planning mode, and we recognised that it is necessary that we must have investment in education,” Brotherson asserted.
The local scholarship packages cover all costs including local field trips, tuition, facilities’ fees and final year projects including the completion of the research paper. Beneficiaries are also availed a travel allowance and a book allowance among others. Local scholarships at the University of Guyana are available in fields such as Forestry, Agriculture, Dentistry, Medicine, Environmental Health, Optometry, Pharmacy, Biology, Computer Science, Mathematics and Environmental Studies, the statement added.
While overseas-based awardees have their tuition and airfares paid for by the host country in most cases, the Government here also provides some allowances.
The Department also offers public servants who would like to further their studies the time necessary to do so. However, Brotherson said that this is done with strict adherence to the Public Service rules.
All applicants, upon completing the education programmes, will be provided with jobs, a binding agreement offered by the government, encouraging them to serve here for a period of three to five years, the statement said. However, if the applicant wishes to end the contract, Brotherson explained that the cost of the training along with a 12 percent interest would have to be repaid.