With a new schoolyear starting on the Dutch side it was interesting to read in Monday’s paper about incentives the Collectivité will provide students who plan on returning to French St. Martin after completing their education elsewhere to be employed in certain fields for which local trained personnel are lacking. The announcement listed teaching, healthcare (medical doctors, nurses, pharmacists, midwives and psychologists), the civil service, construction engineering, tourism development, urban planning, the environment and sustainable energy, new digital and information technologies, as well as law and justice.

That’s a rather broad range, so quite some people should be able to qualify. In turn they must simply make a commitment to come back and apply for a job.
The annual amounts mentioned of 2,500 euros for one- or two-year programmes, 3,000 euros for Bachelor’s degree candidates, 3,600 euros for Master’s 1, 4,200 euros for Master’s 2 and 6,000 euros for PhD may not seem like all that much, but can certainly make a difference in covering the often significant expenses of studying off-island. In addition, recipients will get this help “without consideration” of their own, other resources.

But perhaps most important is that it regards grants rather than loans, which tend to burden young professionals just starting to make a career. It’s well known that many from the Dutch Caribbean who obtained study financing especially for the Netherlands in the past were having trouble repaying their loans; among other things, due to the euro increasing in value compared to the US dollar to which the Antillean guilder is pegged.

In September last year the Parliament of St. Maarten unanimously approved a new study financing law to replace the old one dating back to 1961 and confirming policies applied since 1994, anchored in a 1997 regulation that had not yet been properly legislated. The current student loan/grant division is 60/40, but the loan part may go up depending on the parental income.

There is also a more favourable scenario for students who come back to work in the country at least three years. Their debt will be reduced by 20 per cent, which can be significant depending on the total amount involved.

However, there’s also little doubt that more could be done to stimulate the return of a greater number of college graduates. Returning needs to be a worthwhile choice.