The Virgin Islands scholarship programme is once again open for applications, Deputy Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley announced Monday in the House of Assembly.

The majority of the scholarships will be allocated to graduates of H. Lavity Stoutt Community College for two years abroad, explained Dr. Wheatley, who is the minister of education, culture, youth affairs, agriculture and fisheries.

A specific number of scholarships will be allocated for specified areas of study such as health-related fields, technical fields and administrative fields, he explained, adding that the allocations will be tied directly to the labour demands of the territory.

A specific number also will be allocated for any area of study to the highest achievers.

There will be a limited number of total scholarships every year, and the process will be competitive and take into account students’ overall academic performance, including all local and external exams, according to the minister.

The listing of specific areas will be available by the end of the month, he said, adding that the deadline for the 2020-2021 academic year will be Sept. 30.

Scholarships for the disabled

Dr. Wheatley also announced that government will not add any new students to a scholarship programme for “differently abled” students to attend The Vanguard School in Florida.

While parents said the scholarships have provided an “excellent experience” for the recipients, he said the programme is too expensive to continue.

The $44,000 annual cost per student amounts to $264,000 per year for the six students currently enrolled, adding up to a total of $1,056,000 across four years, he explained.

Dr. Wheatley said that he would rather invest that money in “a local solution which will benefit a greater number of students.”

He added that students currently in the Vanguard programme will be allowed to continue until graduation.

His local solutions, he said, include reconstructing the Eslyn Henley Richiez Learning Centre and prioritising the awarding of scholarships in special education.

He added that he also plans to visit The Vanguard School to learn more about how to better serve special needs students locally.

Enforce bonds

Students who receive scholarships often sign a “bond” promising to work in the territory for a certain number of years.

However, Dr. Wheatley said Monday, those bonds are rarely enforced and many recipients live and work abroad after graduation.

For this reason, he said, government will take measures to enforce those bonds.

“Over the years, we have allocated millions upon millions of dollars to the training of our students,” he said, adding, “At some point the government must see a return on its investment.”