Morality and UG Student Loans

The audit of the UG Student Loan Facility did not provide any surprises save exposing the names of several prominent members of our society who contributed to the .6 billion in principal and interest outstanding as of December 31, 2014. Back in 2014, the then Minister of Finance Ashni Singh, while announcing the moderate increase in fees at UG, had pointed out the unwillingness of students to repay their loans even though many were in a position to do so. He hoped the delinquent defaulters would respond to moral suasion and “do the right thing”.
Almost two years and a new administration later, it is clear that the moral argument did not find any takers. And it is in this fact lies the future of the Student Loan Agreement, which is issued by the University of Guyana Student Loan Facility and funded by the Finance Ministry. There has to be a robust system put into place immediately to ensure that loans issued pursuant to written agreements are repaid, or else penalties are applied. As it stands now with both entities being responsible but neither taking responsibility, they merely resort to the usual bureaucratic response: pointing fingers at the other.
But there is another question of the UG loan programme: what is its purpose when most of the graduates are specialising in fields which Guyana do not need in such abundance? How can we possibly absorb thousands of specialists in International Relations and Sociology? Why not use the loans to steer students towards engineering, for instance. With the US forced to cope with US.26 trillion in delinquent student loans, they are rethinking their underwriting of programmes that will have no impact in reviving their exhausted economy. We should do no less, since we are not even on the development point they achieved in 1776.
Another noteworthy point is if the individuals identified – all graduates of the highest institution of learning in the land – did not feel their written promise to repay money meant anything, should we be surprised that tax evasion is also rampant in that same cohort? This is the mentality that has kept us mired in poverty and underdevelopment for the past 50 years. We are all consumed with our “right” to an education, but spare not a thought at our “duty” to fulfil our obligations.
What has developed in Guyana is a culture in which individuals who are supposed to be exemplars on the civic responsibility of citizens actually dodge and weave from those responsibilities. As illustrated by the names of those in the judiciary who are delinquent in paying their obligations, these are the very persons who are remanding and sentencing transgressors of far lesser crimes to Camp Street Prison. There are also the politicians promising to “develop” the country even as they ignore that it will take money to bring about that development: money they used but refuse to repay.
And we are not talking about just a handful of persons. The figures show that while 25,335 persons secured loans for programmes at UG between 1994 and 2014, just 1776 persons paid off their loans, including interest. Some 17,562 or 69.4 per cent were delinquent and this does not include the recent graduates and those who are merely late with their payments. A statistic that was not mentioned in the audit was data provided by the World Bank that 89 per cent of Guyanese tertiary graduates have emigrated. So it is not that 69 per cent of UG graduates are free riders, but most of them have also absconded with their qualifications to develop other jurisdictions.
If today we accept “there are no free lunches”, then there is certainly no “free education”: it all is eventually paid for by the Guyana people. It is patently unfair for them to have doled out over billion to “educate” tens of thousands of persons who were not even educated to accept their moral responsibilities.