MPs unanimously pass law on study financing | THE DAILY HERALD

PHILIPSBURG–Students who receive study financing in the future will be given the part grant, part loan funds under the stipulations of a new law on study financing that was passed unanimously by Parliament on Thursday afternoon, if the law goes through the trajectory required for laws passed by Parliament before going into effect.

Before the law was passed, Education Minister Wycliffe Smith told Members of Parliament (MPs) that there was no law on study financing previously. Students were granted the financing based on policies and a draft ordinance.

He said the overall goal of the new law is to regulate the execution of certain practices, but the main objective is to afford “young talented St. Maarteners the opportunity to pursue professional development and career opportunities.”

The draft law includes incentives to stimulate graduates to return to the country and regulates the use of parental contribution to determine how much study financing will be a grant and how much will be a loan.

After Smith’s introduction, MPs passed the 43 articles in the draft law as well as the draft in its entirety. Chairperson of Parliament Sarah Wescot Williams said that if the minister and government are expedient in co-signing the law, it can go into effect soon, hopefully without bottlenecks.

On August 17, Smith elaborated the content of the ordinance, which he termed “well-rounded.” The general rule is that, once eligible, students receive study financing representing a 40 per cent grant and 60 per cent loan. The ratio is only favourable if the student returns to St. Maarten, which is one of the incentives established with the ordinance.

However, it is possible that the ratio is less favourable, depending on whether the annual taxable income of the student’s parent(s) falls between NAf. 100,000 and NAf. 250,000, when the ratio is 20 per cent grant and 80 per cent loan.

If the parental taxable income is more than NAf. 250,000, the study financing will be 100 per cent loan.

An incentive for students to return to St. Maarten and contribute to “brain gain” is that students who have decided to come back to Sint Maarten and work for at least three years can have their debt lowered by 20 per cent.

Legally, the system cannot guarantee job security. A system in which it is mandatory to come back and work is therefore not possible. Instead of giving fines or penalising the students, the ministry has opted for incentives and a reduction in debt for those who do return.

Study financing from Government covers completely or in part the cost related to tuition, living expenses, housing and study materials. Travel cost to the place of study is reimbursed on the basis of the Government’s official travel policy.

Study financing recipients must provide information on the income of their parents annually, as this can have an effect on the amount of study financing that will be paid out. Students must also provide their study results twice a year, on December 31 and July 15, so that their study progress can be monitored. They also have to provide their contact information. Not earning sufficient credits or failing to send in the study results may result in reduction or termination of the study financing payment.

If students do not fulfil their obligations they get one month to rectify and fulfil the obligations. If a student fails to do so, study financing will be suspended until the obligation has been fulfilled. In unforeseen situations, recipients can also request a suspension themselves; for example, in cases of illness. In that case students do not run the risk of losing their right to study finance, due to unforeseen circumstances outside of their control.

The suspension is maximised to one year, after which the study finance can be terminated. The student does not receive study financing during the suspension. Students therefore are directly affected by it and in practice, students tend to rectify and fulfil the obligations as a result. After the criteria have been met, the student receives study finance as usual. The period that was not paid is not reimbursed; otherwise, the suspension would not have any effect.

The ordinance sets rules on the termination of the study financing. The Education Minister is allowed to terminate study financing in cases in which study finance has been granted in breach of the ordinance or in cases where false information was given (fraud); cases in which the student, after one year has passed, did not improve the study results; and cases in which the student did not send in the study results and six months have passed.

Procedurally, it is important to know that in the event that study financing is revoked, the student will be informed in writing about this decision along with the repayment scheme. The student can file a formal complaint against this decision. The Complaint Committee will handle the case and will review the case. After the decision has become final, the student has to repay the loan according to the repayment scheme.

In normal cases, where there is no fraud or misuse, the student starts to repay after two years. In cases of fraud or misuse, the student has to start repaying immediately. Furthermore, in those cases study financing will become 100 per cent loan so that even the grant part has to be paid back. This penalty is to prevent fraud or misuse.

For all students, termination has the effect that students cannot apply for study financing for the same study. This is also a form of penalty. Only when a student applies again for study finance for study of a higher level can a student apply for a second time.

After graduation, students have to repay their loan. Also in cases where the study finance was terminated, students are obligated to repay the interest-bearing loan. This is to ensure the long-term sustainability of the study financing funds.

Study financing will be stopped after graduation. However, students have to inform the Division of Study Finance of their graduation. If they do not, and do not send in their study results, the study finance will be terminated automatically after six months. When students do not apply for an extension the study finance will stop automatically.

Study financing also ends at the end of the nominal study duration, and during the nominal study duration in cases in which students do not send in the required information based on article 23.

If a student stops studying, the study finance stops as well and no decision has to be made.

Source: The Daily Herald