St. Maarten Govt ends S4 services

St. Maarten’s Government is terminating the service level agreement with St. Maarten Student Support Services S4 in the Netherlands effective July 1, 2015. Two student counsellors will be guiding the new students instead.
St. Maarten’s Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport Affairs Rita Bourne-Gumbs informed study-financing recipients in the Netherlands by letter on March 19 of her decision to terminate the agreement with S4 and of the consequences this would have for St. Maarten students. In an invited comment on the matter Bourne-Gumbs said via the Press Secretariat on Wednesday that S4 had not been complying with the agreed-on responsibilities over the years and the Ministry was in the process of completing a new approach to assist students. She said the details would be shared when this process was completed. In her March 19 letter the minister cited as main reasons for this decision. “
Deficiencies in the level and quality of services provided by S4, the need to increase the return on investment by promoting studying within the region, the need to reduce cost and increase efficiency, and the need to reorganise and restructure the care, guidance and supervision in the Netherlands to better meet the needs of students.
“For years there has been much debate with reference to the level and quality of services being provided by S4. This was also highlighted in various internal evaluations conducted by the Division Study Financing and the Return on Investment Survey,” Bourne-Gumbs stated in the letter to the students.
The news has come as a great shock to S4 and its personnel, said S4 Board Chairman Rinaldo Hassell on Wednesday. S4 was in the process of negotiations with the St. Maarten Government at the time of the decision and already was executing measures to improve efficiency. “We knew that there were some strategic visions – for example, to promote studying in the region – but still the decision came to us as a great surprise,” Hassell told The Daily Herald. The decision has considerable consequences for S4, a foundation registered in the Netherlands. “It has hit everybody hard and direct, but our main concern is for the students,” Hassell said.
S4 has a staff of six, including three student counsellors. It is not entirely clear what will happen to the staff. There are also some 30 mentors, spread throughout the Netherlands, who help and coach students on a voluntary basis. S4 also services students of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba. The services for these students will be transferred to another, yet-unnamed organisation. S4 is finalising talks with the Dutch studyfinancing organisation DUO on this matter. Not much will change for the students of these three islands, as there will be no interruption of the services for them, Hassell assured.
Under the new arrangement, as decided by Minister Bourne-Gumbs, first- and second-year students from St. Maarten can turn to two guidance counsellors who are being recruited by the Division Study Financing (DSF). “Care, guidance and supervision services will only be provided to first- and second- year students. All other students will be served on a needs basis,” Bourne-Gumbs stated in her letter to the study-financing recipients.
As of July 1, 2015, students will have to communicate directly with DSF in St. Maarten about their books allowance and other studyrelated matters such as medical insurance premiums. DSF will become responsible for processing all requests for tickets, book money and medical reimbursements. Effective July 1, 2015, study-financing recipients pursuing their studies in the Netherlands for more than one year will be responsible for paying their own medical insurance premiums. However, they will be eligible for reimbursement of the cost of their medical insurance premium on submission of proof of payment, a valid insurance policy of the insurance broker NNAM and valid proof of enrolment and study results. To ensure that study-financing recipients are not affected negatively by this new measure, all students may request an exemption from having to pay their own insurance premiums for a period not exceeding six months. The St. Maarten Government wants to make students more independent and responsible for their own affairs.
The main factors of the care provided to first- and second-year students will be “empathy, concern and interest, effortlessly trying, attentive and support.” The main factors of the guidance will be empowering and advising. The main factors of the supervision will be encouraging of autonomy. The minister’s letter to the students was dated February 27, 2015, and received by the students on March 19. The media were not informed of the decision, but there is information on St. Maarten’s Division Study Financing website www.studyfinancing.sx .
S4 Chairman Hassell said the foundation had sent a letter to Minister Bourne- Gumbs early this year in which it expressed its concerns. The minister was reminded of the fact that government’s new course had direct consequences for the several hundred St. Maarten students. “We feel responsible for the youngsters who are studying in the Netherlands and we are truly concerned for their welfare,” said Hassell. The S4 board is preparing a letter for Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs in which it intends to request clarification, also regarding the decisiontaking process. “We have questions on how this decision came about. We want clarity whether things went according to the rules and regulations,” said Hassell. The S4 board also will address the matter when it meets with Minister Bourne- Gumbs, who is slated to visit the Netherlands at the end of May. Hassell said the S4 board was keeping all options open to still reach a possible solution.
Since its inception late 2004, S4 has provided services to St. Maarten students that have been especially important for those in the first and second years. New students always were welcomed in a special ceremony on their arrival in the Netherlands. The newly-arrived students would take part in a weeklong activities programme to get settled in. It is not clear what will be set up for the new students arriving in the Netherlands this summer. S4 helps to secure housing for the new students. The foundation provides mentoring and coaching to students especially in the first and second years. Also, S4 has been acting as an intermediary between students and the St. Maarten Government. S4 has close to 300 students in its database and is located in the same building as the Cabinet of St. Maarten’s Minister Plenipotentiary in The Hague.

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