Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : September 19th 2013 Contents B6
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Thursday, September 19, 2013
I still owe the UK government
£15,000. At the current rate of interest
I hope to clear the debt by the time
I m 57 and approaching retirement.
I ve been paying back my student
loan for six years. When I graduated
from university I had amassed £18,000.
Not for tuition fees, for living costs, so
I could eat, pay rent and use public
transport. It still wasn t enough.
I rented out two rooms in my house
to pay the mortgage but even that sub-
sidy wasn t enough to live and study in
I worked part-time during term-time
and full-time during every holiday.
On completing my education and
getting a job, monthly payments began
to be deducted from my salary alongside
tax, national insurance and pension.
There is no escape. Moving to T&T is
not a permanent solution.
The truth is, philosophically, I don t
see it as a hardship, more a fact of life,
an additional tax. Education tax.
What I got for my money was the
three best years of my life and a first-
class honours degree in anthropology
from UCL (University College, London).
The people I met, experiences I shared,
professors I learned from, books I read,
were all priceless.
But there s no getting away from the
fact that student debt can feel like a
millstone around young people s necks.
In 2011, the British coalition govern-
ment allowed universities to raise tuition
fees to £9,000 a year. Added to the
£20,000 loans needed to survive, the
average UK student will be leaving uni-
versity with £50,000 of debt and fewer
jobs available to begin paying it back.
UK university fees for overseas stu-
dents are, frankly, astronomical. Which
makes it all the more amazing that the
T&T government grants scholarships
for students to study abroad, paying all
their fees, living costs, books and winter
The situation in Britain means only
those with rich parents will be com-
fortable choosing an academic route into
adult life. Those from lower economic
rungs will find it daunting at best,
unmanageable at worst. Black British
children will almost certainly become
increasingly deprived of education.
I suppose what impresses me most
about education in T&T, leaving aside
state patronage, is how much better
children fare here compared to children
of Caribbean origin in the UK.
In Britain, black children are at the
bottom of the school achievement tables,
below all other ethnic groups. I relayed
this fact to a Trini, who was shocked to
hear it, but in Britain it s taken as a given
that black schoolchildren do not achieve.
The historical reasons are too complex
to discuss here.
Asian children have historically done
better. Traditional Asian parents
are unmovable on the subject of
working hard at school. The stereo-
type is that Asian parents want
their children to become doctors.
Indeed, a disproportional number
of Asian men and women of my
generation are now doctors. Their
parents or grandparents migrated
from the sub-continent, opened
corner shops, worked long, monot-
onous hours saving money to invest
in their children.
But amongst British Caribbeans,
the importance of education is not
a traditional family value.
With that backdrop, when I came
to T&T I did not expect to find
such high standards of intellectu-
alism. This is one of the world s
most educated countries---a fact
people back home will find it hard
to get their heads around given our
assumptions of Caribbean literacy,
or rather illiteracy.
T&T has not lost the principles
of education instilled during the
colonial era. Rather it has developed
those principles and added to them.
A focus on Caribbean Studies
means children learn their history,
whereas British history is becoming
lost to younger generations.
Parents retain and disseminate
values here. I sense the respect and
importance attached to being edu-
cated. The fastidiousness of detail
in written and spoken language,
the application of facts and theory.
The prestige attached to schools,
the pride people take in their alma
mater, the love they have for their
teachers. It s very Goodbye, Mr
Chips. Some schools begin at 7.25
am---that s some level of dedication.
People aren t sticking when it
comes to learning.
Above all, the fiscal, practical fact
is: Education is completely free
from the age of five until finishing
university---you can even get a Mas-
ters funded. And scholarships are
given to the brightest to study
It s an increasingly rare thing.
The list of countries with free edu-
cation systems shortens all the time.
It is not something to be taken
Education ought to be a right,
not a privilege. But in the UK, ever
since Tony Blair called for "educa-
tion, education, education" in his
Labour Party manifesto speech
before the 1997 election then
promptly introduced charging for
universities, things have gone
The T&T government diverts so
much of the money it gets from
energy into funding education it
makes Britain look quite backwards
by comparison. Maybe if Britain
had a smaller army, like here, it
would stop spending so much on
weapons and wars and more on the
things that really matter.
Education, education, education
UK university fees for overseas
students are, frankly,
astronomical. Which makes it all
the more amazing that the T&T
government grants scholarships
for students to study abroad,
paying all their fees, living costs,
books and winter clothes.
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