7 Sept 2008

A word to the wise...

Ministry offers foreign schols without money

I applied for a scholarship advertised by the Ministry of Public Administration in the local newspapers in April to pursue a Master of Science at a British university.

I had more than given up hope of receiving this scholarship as it was already the last weeks of August and my course commences in September. Lo and behold I received a call from the Scholarships and Advanced Training Division (SATD) of the ministry informing me that I was successful in my application and had received a scholarship that would cover tuition, living expenses, books, return airfare and the cost of a laptop computer. I was in seventh heaven that day.

However, I came crashing down to Earth when I visited the offices of the SATD in the National Library. I knew that I would run into some difficulties in my quest to further my education because I was informed that to obtain a visa to study in the United Kingdom, my passport had to go the US, and school starts in a couple of weeks. But I was appalled at the information given to me by the ministry employee I spoke to.

I was told that funding for the scholarship was not organised and that the SATD did not know which company would be sponsoring me. I asked the employee if I would be able to defer the scholarship until September next year so that they would have more time to source my funding.

To my surprise I was told that this was not possible and the furthest I could defer it to was January. However, to my knowledge there are no master’s courses in the UK that begin in January.

This was a complete shock to me because I know someone who received a scholarship last year and was able to defer it for one year. On the other hand, it appears that a year is not enough time for the SATD to source funding as in a recent conversation with my friend, the same employee informed him that the ministry did not receive his funds.

Furthermore, the employee informed me that if I accepted the scholarship I would have to use my own money until she could obtain the funds. However, when I asked how long it would take for me to receive the monies promised to me by the scholarship, the employee could not say.

Moreover, this employee, who is the person in charge of all “scholars” at foreign universities, informed me that she would be on annual leave the following week.

Well, if I could afford to do a foreign master’s on my own I would not need a scholarship now, would I? And the last time I checked the exchange rate was hovering around £1 to TT$12, tuition was about £18,000 and living expenses about £700 a month.

Is this Vision 2020? Seems more like a vision clouded by cataract.

Samantha Dumas, San Fernando

It's interesting to read of this writer's experience in the whole scholarships scheme.

But taking her second to last paragraph (in italics), that figure of £700 in living expenses is only about half of what is really necessary for survival in the UK, especially in London, which is the most expensive city in the world to live in.

Consider that most people coming from Trinidad to England to study have no idea what life is like here... and movies and TV does not in any way prepare you for what the reality is.

First of all the writer did not say where she will be studying but for the sake of arguments let's assume it is London.

Rent in London is very high, and the only way to avoid the excessive rent is to bunk with family... or generous friends. A bed-sit (a bedroom with a small stove, table and chair, and a shared external bathroom) may be about £500 a month. An apartment is definitely out at that rate she quoted, even a 1 bedroom apartment. those range above £1000 a month. Panday paid £2000 or so for his daughters' apartment in a basement. Granted, it's in an upper scale neighbourhood, but it gives you a fair idea of rates.

Add the cost of food (eating out is very costly), winter (or cold weather) clothing, transportation cost (a day pass around London is £7, multiply that by 28 days and you'd have an idea of what a month-long pass will be, less a few pounds). Add the cost of heating bills (gas and electricity) and water which tenants are supposed to pay for. Council tax is higher in London than anywhere else in the country, (my friend's parents pay £2500 a quarter, or £10,000 a year - as he says, they cannot afford to retire, and are working well into their late 70's!). Council tax is compulsory and a conviction for non-payment is a criminal record, by the way.

Now add in entertainment - the basic colour TV licence (yes, you have to pay a license to watch TV) is £139.50 per annum, or about £13.95 a month (you are required to pay all of it in 10 months). You've read of theatres and plays and other shows but the prices are high; most times beyond the reach of a foreign student on a scholarship.

Every time you do not have enough funds in your account to make a payment, the bank charges you £39 per payment, every payment, not just £39 overall per month.

Think, a student most likely may need a computer, so factor in Internet fees at about £10 to £15 per month, after paying about £500 for a PC/laptop. Are we adding paper and pen and textbooks there yet? Smaller items aren't covered by a scholarship. Oh, and add about £20 a month for a mobile phone and calls.

I'm sure there's a few things I forgot or did not add, like an occasional trip around the country to experience life in the UK or see a new place. Even a visit to Madame Tussauds will cost about £22.50, and a visit to the London Eye is £15.50.

I estimate life in London may require about £1500 a month. Elsewhere, about £1000. The writer of that letter has a rude awakening forthcoming.