The Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) has threatened to take legal action against Cabinet over its recent move to revamp the Government’s policy for awarding scholarships for tertiary education.
In a pre-action protocol letter sent to Cabinet’s Secretariat on Monday, the religious body, whose school board manages 43 primary and five secondary schools as well as 20 early childhood centres, claimed that the new policy is “mired with ambiguity, internal inconsistency and patent absurdity”.
“It is systematically unfair and wreaks of maladministration,” the SDMS’s lawyer Rhea Khan claimed, as she contended that it frustrated the legitimate expectation of students, who chose their courses of study without knowledge of the new policy.
According to the SDMS, it became concerned when the policy was first proposed by Cabinet in November, last year, and then modified without consultation before it was published by the Ministry of Education, earlier this month.
Under Cabinet’s proposal, the number of scholarships awarded to students based on academic performance was reduced from 400 to 100, with 500 new bursaries being introduced.
At the time, the criteria for such bursaries included the alignment of a student’s course of study with priority areas of national development; extracurricular activities and community service; academic performance, a purpose statement and a financial means test.
While Cabinet’s proposal gave per cent points for each category, the notice published by the ministry allegedly did not feature such a grading system.
“Perhaps as a symptom of the arbitrary and capricious nature of this new scholarship award system, the ministry has now, by this new document, inter alia removed the respective weighting of the assessment criteria thereby leaving a potential applicant in the dark as to what criteria he/she should focus on or place more emphasis,” Khan said.
It also noted that while the Cabinet proposal stated that academic performance would count for 30 per cent, it was totally excluded from the ministry’s notice.
“It is clear from the published policy document of the Ministry of Education that while ostensibly there may have been some rationalization of expenditure on these scholarships, the Cabinet of T&T has sought to severely curtail the merit-based, transparent and objective criteria for the award of scholarships and replace same with a conspicuously vague, irrational and arbitrary methodology of selection for scholarship,” she said.
Khan claimed that the previous solely academic-based system was better as students seeking to query whether they had been bypassed were allowed to request the grades earned by scholarship recipients and compare their scores.
She was careful to note that if her client was required to pursue the lawsuit, it would do so in the interest of all affected students and not just those enrolled in its schools.
“Our client would take this step on behalf of all students and sectors of the national community that believe in a society predicated upon principles of meritocracy and transparency,” she said.
Khan gave Cabinet until the end of the week to disclose further details of its new policy and agree to revert to the previous before her client’s file and pursue the proposed lawsuit.
“Respectfully, the recklessly imprecise manner of this policy directly undermines the academic potential of a vast number of students destined for tertiary level excellence thereby depriving our country of valuable human resource capital,” she said.
The SDMS is also being represented by Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, Chaguanas West MP Dinesh Rambally, Kiel Taklalsingh and Stefan Ramkissoon.