Vincentian students in Cuba have opted against returning home despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said on NBC Radio on Wednesday, that Ellsworth John, Kingstown’s ambassador in Havana had informed him of the students’ choice.
“The students in Cuba, Ambassador John told me yesterday that the students have decided to stay because the universities have opened back and they have 60, 90 days of instruction and if they come home, they will miss that and, therefore, they don’t know what will happen to their scholarship because it means that they would have failed the year,” the prime minister said.
He said that the students will have to extend their time in Cuba and will have additional expenses with which the government has to help while they are there.
Meanwhile, the prime minister said that his government is making money available to Vincentian students in Jamaica.
He said that there are “20-something” students in Jamaica with loans from the Disadvantaged Students Loan Company.
Their loan will be extended by EC$4,000 “for them to either stay up there because they will have additional expenses or to use that money to help them to come home because they can write their exams at home and they can do some stuff online,” the prime minister said.
He said some of the students prefer to remain in Jamaica.
“In fact, some of them, albeit a minority — I think there are 72 students in all up there and I think 50, 51 or thereabout would probably like to come home,” he said.
Gonsalves said that regardless of the students’ choices, they would get the money if they are on the student loan programme.
“In relation to those who are on grants or scholarships, the Chief Personnel Officer and the Ministry of Finance are the ones who deal with that and the Chief Personnel Office had sent out a request for those who require the assistance.
“So they will get a similar kind of assistance and they can stay up there or they can come home with it but I am waiting on the Chief Personnel Officer.”
He said that about 40 parents are paying the US$975 that One Caribbean, a Vincentian airline is charging each student for a one-way flight home from Jamaica.
“We will facilitate One Caribbean in terms of all the legal requisites to enter Jamaica and to leave, wherever we are required,” the prime minister said.
Regional carrier LIAT had charged EC$75,000 for the flight, which translated to US$1,339 for each student, almost three times the regular rate.
Regarding the monies that the students will receive, Gonsalves said:
“So we are not, in a sense, paying for you to come home. You are getting the assistance and you can make your decision, which is the way in which free and democratic societies do it.
“I don’t want to stampede students one way or the other. You notice the mature manner in which we do this thing. I am not involved in political opportunism here you know. I am dealing with straight principle and I am looking at the welfare of students.”
One Vincentian student in Jamaica wrote a commentary in iWitness News outlining the financial and other challenges they were facing there amidst the pandemic.