How My Student Guild Dropped the Ball on GATE and Why They Need Our Help

Failing to Act: March 2016 – July 2016

10th March
GATE Task Force Appinted
Media publishes the appointment of the GATE Task Force tasked with reviewing tuition expenditure. The Task Force is expected to submit a report to the Education Ministry by July 2016. The UWI Guild President is a representative on the Task Force.

7th April
The official result of the UWI Guild Elections 2016 published.
Makesi Peters, the incumbent candidate, was elected President 2016-2017.

8th April
Media: CNMG, Student perspectives on the National Budget
Makesi Peters, President and Michael Rajnauth, Vice President of the UWI Guild of Students offer comments on the budget review.

13th April

Media: CTV, Student perspectives on the National Budget
Makesi Peters, President and Darrion Narine, National Affairs Chairperson express that students have “concerns” about the status of GATE.

“The big question is what is going to happen to GATE?” Peters asked. Peters does not explicitly state a student position on GATE.

16th May
GATE is on the Inter Campus Guild Council Agenda (16th May – 20th May, 2016)
On the opening day of ICGC, Michael Rajnauth, Vice President, presented “The future of Gate for Trinidad and Tobago” on Agenda Item No. 4.

27th May
Guild Representation at the University Finance and General Purpose Committee (F&GPC).
Makesi Peters, Presidents posts to the Guild Facebook page that a talking point will be “Tuition payment plan for students.”

31st May
The Guild Council retreat is convened.

5th June
Councilors do the Running Man Challenge to build team spirit

23rd June
Media: CTV, discussing GATE
Makesi Peters, Guild President, Johnathan St.Louis-Nahous, Treasurer and Shenell Felix, FHE Representative discuss further “concerns” students have on GATE.

23rd June
UWI Student Guild advertises a public forum “CALLING ALL TERTIARY STUDENTS: FUTURE OF GATE” to be held on Saturday 25th June, at 1pm (two days after the advertisment was published online)

On record, Makesi Peters took the recommendations from the single consultation (which was poorly attended) as the “stance” of the students and Student Guild. (see: 3:15-3:56, )

6th July
Pokèmon Go released
What is GATE? I found a Pikachu on the Waterfront walking next to the Attorney General, Faris Al-Wari!

10th July
On a Saturday, the UWI Guild Council communicates that a “Patrick Manning GATE Fund” will be established by the Council in order to address the “pending changes” to GATE.

12th July

Vice President, Michael Rajnauth issued a ‘Memorandum’ titled, “New Tuition Payment Response.”

It opens, “It is important to note, that I myself do not sit on the GATE Review Task Force.” Here, Rajnauth critically distances himself from his Guild President and then goes further to list the individual work he has been done at the campus level. Then, he adds, as a result of his presentations at ICGC, the Guild developed a position on Tuition Payment. He notes, “The request entailed that a new policy be implemented where the University allows students to make monthly or even weekly installments for their tuition fees.” It is both strange and very interesting that his Office independently issued a statement. The PRO and Guild President was yet to communicate the Council’s position. In addition, the letter suggested an anxiety about “tuition payment plans”. This matter was presented at F&GPC since the 27th May. For the first time, the matter was being publicly raised. Are there adjustments to tuition fees and/or GATE that the Guild Council was privy to knowing about but have not raised with the student body?

14th July
The UWI Guild Council position on GATE:
1. Students in the currently enrolled in University should not pay for tuition (8:01 – 8: 10)
2. Prospective students should be treated with a cost-sharing model for tuition fees, if GATE is no longer fully sponsored by the State ( 8:11 – 8: 18)

REF: Hema Ramikissoon, CNC3. “The Uncertainty of GATE.” Accessed July 18, 2016.

The UWI Guild Council dropped the ball:

1. Too Slow To Act

The timeline of public communications suggest that the UWI Guild Council did not establish an official position for the students until the end of June. However, the Task Force, the constitution of members and terms of reference, was established since March. Since the appointment of the task force, it was already explained that a Report will be submitted to the Education Ministry in July 2016. For this reason, we are only left to believe that the “consultation” on the 25th June, given with two days notice, was a political attempt to “save face”, at worst  and/or to hustle in some Student talking points for the Minutes in the Task Force, at best.

2. The Student Body Was Not Involved

Perhaps the conditions of confidentiality that accompany Government advisory committees confined Makes Peters to a tight lip on the nature of the report. At the same time, the constitution of the Task Force was fundamentally anti-student. The Task Force included one student representative of the sixteen (16) representatives who constituted it. There is no doubt that Makesi Peters may have felt alone in the negotiations and it is obvious that no student leader would wish that a national issue of this significance and damaging effects would fall on their lap. This, however, does not excuse the meaningful student representation required. ALL Guild Councilors who would have internally discussed GATE could have built a campaign on sensitizing students, shaping public opinion and facilitating greater participation in the articulation of a student position on GATE.

3. Students are also responsible. Not equally. But they are responsible too.

In the 2016 Guild Elections, on a campus that boasts a 90% Trinidad and Tobago student population, GATE should have been the defining issue to hold candidates accountable to. It was not. Moreover, at the “consultation” on the 25th June, the nature of students feedback descended to discussions on them as “abusers” of GATE, evening students versus full time students and ill-informed means-test analyses. The first meeting students should have instituted among themselves is around solidarity and what unites them in this struggle. Then, a candid engagement with the UWI Guild Council, in particular, the Guild President, on what they should anticipate come September. At the “consultation,” the refrain, “we are not at liberty to discuss this right now,” as a mantra to defend the Task Force members from divulging information was insufficient. Students had every right to call representatives to account and demand answers. Establishing the terms of reference for student critique by the terms of reference by a State-led task force is unproductive to our cause.

But the Game is Not Over. They Need Our Help:

1. Fixing the problem of isolation and disunity

The UWI Guild President was isolated on the GATE Task Force. This does not excuse his inaction but it helps create a context to understand the difficult conditions upon which he was sat there. I do not believe that the UWI Guild Council should be the national voice for students. All student guilds should convene a forum among themselves to have a united voice on the “good and bad” recommendations and decisions to be made by the Cabinet. GATE is neither a UWI issue nor any single University issue. It is a national student issue that involves credit facility the state provides for student access to tertiary education. For the reason of developing a national student movement, the National Students Union of Trinidad and Tobago (NSU TT) was established in 2012. UWI Guild Council after council, since, have thrown it aside as a burden to the UWI Guild treasury and irrelevant to local student politics. Now, the Guild must work 24/7 to build cross-campus solidarity and convene a forum that includes councilors and ordinary Guild members (students) equipped to lead in communicating and mobilising students around a common position.

2. Do not “wait on the Report”

We must define and outline our bargaining position before we negotiate any matters related to GATE. Students have the right to express their concerns, feelings, anxieties and hopes about GATE online and offline. It is productive to harness these feelings into a table of informed positions that students have on GATE.

3. Keep Calm and Stay Vigilant.

Already, politically opportunistic youth have emerged from their political graveyards to “take charge” on the matter. Beware of false prophets. Some UNC youth activists have declared openly, “ent, allyuh vote for dat? Red and Ready!” and many PNM youth have put short-term political career ambitions over the national interest. These politically driven sentiments are also rife in the UWI Guild Council.

As University students, it is our duty to develop researched and intelligent positions on national affairs. As we wait on the publication of the report, we can begin to:

a. Develop arguments for the continuity of GATE in the context of an economic recession

b. Articulate a student-led conversation on the abuses of GATE and solutions

c. Until the GATE Task Force (2016) report is published, read the JSC’s Report on GATE (2013) to contextualize the State’s concerns about the programme:

d. Join student community pages, comment and engage the topic. Solidarity is only possible through deeper connections with our comrades in the same condition.

Concerned Student,

Amílcar Sanatan

2 thoughts on “How My Student Guild Dropped the Ball on GATE and Why They Need Our Help”

  1. Interesting is the Presidents stances on this and how it when from one point of view to the next and as you mentioned he was on the Task Force…. More interesting is the memo send out by the VP…. Then you have Minister Garcia saying he is “surprised……… …. seeing that the President sat on the Task Force and even signed off” … So forgive me if I’m a bit confused that the guild is also confused…

  2. .
    Interesting is the President stance on this and how it went from one point of view to the next and as you mentioned he was on the Task Force…. More interesting is the memo send out by the VP…. Then you have Minister Garcia saying he is “surprised……… …. seeing that the President sat on the Task Force and even signed off” … So forgive me if I’m a bit confused that the guild is also confused…

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