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The Price Paid: Free Higher Education In Trinidad And Tobago Re-Examined

Streete, Denzil Anthony

This dissertation examines the effect of the Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE) Program on the employment outcomes of graduates in Trinidad and Tobago. Having implemented a tuition-free higher education system in 2006, the Trinidad and Tobago government expected that removing the major cost associated with post-secondary education would not only have resulted in the massification of higher education, but would have been the driving force behind becoming a developed country.
A mixed methods approach is used combining analysis of an online survey of graduates of the GATE program, together with interviews of graduates, and other stakeholders. A purposive sampling of post-secondary graduates of the GATE program residing in Trinidad and Tobago yielded a sample of 746 graduates. These graduates responded to an online survey instrument, and 15 of these graduates participated in subsequent semi-structured interviews. Additionally, 5 university administrators, 3 business executives and 5 government officials were interviewed using a semi-structured instrument.
Findings from this study indicate that of the 90.1% of the graduates forming part of the survey sample perceived that they were overeducated. Among the interview participants, it was discovered that some of their overeducation stemmed from the structure of the local labor market, both in the types of jobs available and the role the government plays in the labor market. The dissatisfaction graduates expressed with their jobs after graduation has resulted in a ‘degree epidemic’, with graduates consistently pursuing additional degrees in search of that one permanent job which suited the skills they possessed.
Additionally, the study identifies a misalignment between the goals of the GATE program and the requirements of the labor market. While initially being portrayed as a means of increasing the higher education participation rate and creating a knowledge-based society, GATE became identified as just another social program offered to the public without charge by the government. Provision of tuition-free higher education was thus merely the means by which the government attempted to secure votes from the population to maintain political power.
With spending by the government towards the GATE program approaching TT$6 billion by the 2015 fiscal year, GATE not only provided higher education to the country’s citizens, but was also a substantial source of funds for both public and private higher education institutions. The findings of this study suggest that the true beneficiaries of the GATE program were the myriad private institutions offering programs of study funded by GATE.
With lax oversight by the supervising agency, and little integrated policy direction being offered by the government, private institutions created an industry of low quality programs offered at higher costs when compared to programs being offered by public higher education institutions. The supply of these qualifications offered by the private sector coupled with their chase to increase enrollment and thus increase the revenue they derive from the government, has resulted in an increase of graduates whose qualifications on paper do not match the skills they have obtained in these programs.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Comparative and International Education
Thesis Advisors
Steiner-Khamsi, Gita
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 5, 2016
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