open letter National Student Loan Company, Ministry of Education and Bank of St. Vincent and the Grenadines
RE: COVID-19 and the exhaustion of semester drawdown
Mr. Stewart Haynes
National Disadvantage Student Loan
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Dear Mr. Haynes,
It is our hope that this communication meets you in favourable health and spirit, as we are all living in an unprecedented time and travailing unchartered waters.
Since the public disclosure of the first cases of the novel coronavirus in China, the virus has drastically altered the status quo of numerous societies. The World Helath Organization (WHO) has posited that the global pandemic has claimed over 80,000 lives and over 1.3 million persons have tested positive for the deadly respiratory disease.
In light of such global impact and the first confirmed cases in Jamaica, the leadership of the University of the West Indies, Mona campus, in an effort to ensure the safety of students and staff alike, moved to suspend the all classes for a month, until April 14, 2020.
The declaration, which took effect on March 13, 2020, saw the order being made for students who are Jamaican nationals to return home. Subsequently, regional/international students who could or wished to return to their home countries were advised to do so.
This saw several Vincentian students who are self-funded returning home. However, the numerous students funded by the Government of SVG via the National Disadvantage Student Loan Scheme were unable to make such a drastic decision as drawdowns are given on a semester basis at the start of each semester and the university, because of the fluidity of the pandemic, had not made a concrete and official decision as to whether classes would resume in a face-to-face mode post April 13.
On March 25, the University made the official decision that teaching/learning will resume in an online/virtual mode on April 14, 2020. This resulted in the anticipated extension of the semester, which was previously scheduled to end on May 15, 2020 and semester 2 has now been extended a month, which means that the teaching period has now been extended to May and the examination period extended to June/July.
At the time that the decision was officially made, the Government of Jamaica implemented several travel restrictions to curb the increasing number of cases. Additionally, the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago had initiated more stringent travel restrictions resulting in the inability of several students who had already booked flights for the end of the semester to return home as the majority do not have US visas to take the Miami route.
We will all agree that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic that is plaguing the world was unforeseen and thus not prepared for. However, apart from its health impacts the pandemic has varying financial bearings — students not spared. Based on the advice from the UWI, the Government of Jamaica and our Honorary Consul in Jamaica, we each stocked up on food and other necessities for the one-month suspension as we were not and still is not allowed to visit each other’s halls of residence to “potluck” and share resources (a practice we commonly engage in to ensure that amidst the tenacious responsibilities of university life, we are all taken care of and our funds maximised). Such unforeseen actions have proven to be quite impactful on the budgets and drawdowns given at the start of the now extended semester (January 2020).
As recipients of the disadvantage student loan and, further, being unable to return home due to unforeseen situations beyond our control, we eagerly watched the Prime Minister’s address and presentation of the government’s stimulus package on March 25, but nothing was mentioned in relation to us. We further awaited correspondence from the National Disadvantage Student Loan Company but to date, apart from an email encouraging us to abide by the rules and precautionary guidelines of the respective countries and to practice good personal hygiene- none was received. Classes have resumed virtually, as decided by the UWI, and the situation and regulations in Jamaica have escalated. As of April 20, the total positive cases stood at 223. This has resulted in the implementation of more stringent regulations regarding shopping and to the quarantine of the parish of St. Catherine. Moreover, several places in Kingston are currently under investigation. We fear possible increase in cases and quarantine of the Kingston area and were prompted to stock up again from our already depleting funds.
A poll was conducted among us, which revealed that past the month of April, many persons funded by the disadvantage student loan would no longer be able to sustain themselves for the extended period of the semester. Against this backdrop, we call on the stakeholders of the National Disadvantage Student Loan Scheme to investigate the unforeseen situation that has resulted in varying implications for students in this time of anxiety and concern.
Recipients, National Disadvantage Student Loan, University of the West Indies, Mona – Jamaica
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