Shortly after the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) revealed the Federal Government’s plan to review upward the tuition payable across federal higher institutions of learning, then comes that of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH’s). Many believe that the plan to hike tuition fees is part of a grand plan to make education unaffordable for children of the poor, while others argue that to have quality education, the new fee regime must be introduced, writes Solomon Odeniyi
The Nigeria National Policy on Education is predicated on 5 premises which are: the building of a free and democratic society, a just and egalitarian society, a great and dynamic economy, and a land of bright opportunities for all citizens. However, it is being said that one of the ways this could be achieved is if education is provided free for the citizens.
Even though, free education at the post secondary level is a good policy, as this will ensure the development of education, it is on record that only 35 of the 180 countries of the world offer free education at the tertiary level, four are African countries while the rest are dominantly European countries. The 35 countries include; Algeria, Argentina, Barbados, Buttan,Brazil, Cuba, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, Estonia,Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, India, Iran, Ireland, Kenya, Kuwait, Venezuela , Uruguay, UAE, Turkey ,Trinidad and Tobago ,Sri Lanka, Somalia, Scotland, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Oman, Norway, Netherland, Morocco, Mauritius and Malta. Joining them would be Liberia whose president last week announced a free education at the tertiary level, though, it remained a source of concern to pundits, being a country with a not so strong economy.
Nigeria is said to be practicing a subsidised form of education particularly at the tertiary institution which are either owned by the state or federal government. Amidst this, one of the contentious issues over the years dominating the educational space has been how to increase funding of tertiary education in the midst of the parlous state of the economy of Nigeria which has been one of the major factors militating against this. In the past years, due to poor economy solely hinged on the crude oil price, which has been unstable, the allocation to education sector has been significantly low.
The commitment of government to the sector, according to analysts is gauged by the financial commitment it makes for that sector in its budget. In the 2017 budget, the government allocated N398 billion to the Ministry of Education while it allocated, in 2018, N435 billion, representing 7.04 per cent of the total budget which is far below the UNESCO benchmark.
As at today, no fewer than 41 Nigerian universities have increased their school fees because of poor funding by the federal and state governments. Some of the varsities include the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife; Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Enugu; Bayero University, Kano; University of Abuja, Abuja; Usman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto; University of Benin, Benin; University of Ilorin, Ilorin; and the Federal University of Technology, Akure .
Others are the Federal University of Technology, Minna; the University of Calabar, Calabar; the University of Uyo, Uyo; Anambra State University, Imo State University, Plateau State University, Enugu State University of Science and Technology, the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomoso, Adekunle Ajasin University, Ondo, and University of OsunState University, Osun among others. This is following the recommendation of a Committee on the Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies headed by a former Head of the Service, Stephen Oronsaye, where it was pointed out that school fees in federal universities as the tuition-free policy is the reason there is a decline in the quality of standards in tertiary education.
However, the alarm raised by ASUU over the school fees hike, though denied by the federal government was just an event waiting to happen.
Out of the 180 million estimated populations, 87million people are living below the poverty line, that is $1 and 90 cents per day. Theresa May, prime minister of the United Kingdom, while speaking in Cape Town, South Africa, in August described Nigeria as a home to the highest number of very poor people in the world. Considering the poverty rate, many believed the allegedly new tuition fee regime would draw the hands of the clock of the country backward educationally. Having failed to reach any of the global education goals, the 2015 Education For All (EFA), Global Monitoring Report (GMR), with the ambitious goal on providing quality education for all by 2030 where UNESCO made the suggestion that countries would have to allocate at least 26 per cent of their national budget to education might just be heading for the rocks.
LAUTECH ASUU chairman Ogbomosho chapter Dr, Biodun Olaniran said ASUU was against the increment in tuition fees at both the federal and state-owned tertiary institutions, saying the ASUU’s fights with the government has not been only about the union, but giving what is due to the public which include free education at all level.
He said, “By now, the public should know the Union stand on some of its policies. We have said it times without number that our own union ASUU is against commercialization and privatization of education in the country, therefore we oppose any increment in tuition fees. We are even calling for free education at all levels because we believe that education is a social service.
“Particularly, the major challenge of LAUTECH is funding, that is why we have told the administrators to come out and tell the people what they have for the university. LAUTECH was established through an edict which states that it is a public university and must be funded by government.
The LAUTECH ASUU chairman maintained that fees hike was not the way to go for LAUTECH and other government-owned institutions, adding that the simple way is that the governments must come out to state their own commitment as against them stopping to fund it.
Olaniran who noted that Education in public school should not be a profit oriented venture noted that if the government is reducing the subvention paid as a result of the economic countdown, it is understandable but to stop funding means government is trying to shy away from its responsibility.
He insisted that tampering with tuition fees wouldn’t be a lasting solution, as it would take education out of the reach of the poor, and serve as obstacle for children of the poor to attain greater height in life, stressing that education is the only thing that can liberate everybody.
Olaniran enjoined management of the university to look inward so as to see other areas they could venture into to improve their IGR.
On his part, a public affairs analyst, Ayodele Agboola said, it has been realized that the cost of running qualitative and functional first grade institutions was becoming unbearable if the current fee is maintained, adding that the cost of educating a student in Nigeria amounts to over a million of naira per year.
He argued that the available infrastructures and facilities are limited and cannot cater for the number of available students, noting that the insistence on the government to provide free education for the citizens might thus aggravate the situation and continue to generate tension in the country.
Agboola said, “the fact is that funding has been a challenge. Embarking on investment alone can’t solve this problem as the profit on investment may not be handy. In advanced country, the fees are equally high but there are jobs for students to do, while there are also scholarships.
“For us to run an effective and quality tertiary education system in Nigeria devoid of frequent strikes, the fees would have to go up but it has to be reasonable. The system has been tried in Uniosun. There were hues and cries when the tuition fees was hiked but since then, there has been no strike and from available records the VC of university of Osun claimed to pay staff 25th of every month, even with little or no subvention from the government . There are two things, if we need quality service there’s no way we won’t pay high.
“If you are considering the fact that the take home pay of parents is limited, we have to come down on this. I am not saying indigent students should not access free education, I went to a tuition free university but we would be comparing the incomparable pairing that period with the current reality on ground. One reason for this is the population of those seeking higher education, secondly, economic downturn”, Ayodele said.
An educationist, Faith Okedoyin noted that Goal 4 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which is focused on ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting life-long learning opportunities for all would have been defeated if the tuition fee across the federal institutions are raised to the allegedly proposed N350,000.
She added that even when the fee is still at a subsidized rate, many students have seen neighbouring countries as a better place where they can complete their tertiary education.
“As it is now, if the fee is low, students would be able to attend school regardless of their parents’ ability or willingness to pay. We have forgotten that the cost of giving tertiary students, who are dominantly youth education, is far outweighing the cost of not educating them. Most of them see acquiring tertiary education as escaping poverty even when unemployment is more pronounced.
“Why would any government want to just dash the hopes of those who are willing to get themselves out the vicious circle they are? I see increment in school fee as sheer wickedness on their part as well as an attempt by the government to alienate the poor from education. It is an attempt to generate massive revenue for the state from the poor.
“Many parents are civil servants, traders and artisans for crying out loud. When Bill Gate was in Nigeria, he advised the government about the way to go. Education was one of the 3 sectors he advised Nigeria must massively invest in to develop. It seems that, has fallen to deaf ears. What is observed is that the governments shun spending on education in favour of elephant projects, since diversion of money would be easier there”, she said.
Okedoyin also raised the fear that if the new school fee regime is allow to stand, it would surely open the door for both private and state owned tertiary institutions to be the same interms of fees payment, making education very expensive for students to acquire.
Oluwatobi Owaseye, a social commentator suggested that increased participation of private sector can help generate fund into the purses of public tertiary institutions, rather than placing the entire burden on students.
According to her, parents, especially the wealthy ones apart from meeting the private cost of educating their children should assist more in financing education through generous donation of money, equipment and construction of buildings.
“Although, each registered company in Nigeria is indirectly contributing to primary education financing through 2% Tax, being deducted from their assessable profits annually, more are still required from them most especially the buoyant ones. Donation of money, equipment, construction and renovation of buildings for schools will be welcomed
He added that should the government increased tuition, it must re-introduce Education Loan for Students with interest free or reduced interest which parents can process for their children/wards.
Mr Sola Imoru, head Publicity and Protocol Unit, Adekunle Ajasin University said, universities have to explore the possibilities of getting loans especially outside the country so as to invest in education and ease the burden on parents.
He was also of the view that corporate organisations should be made to invest in the public owned tertiary education, adding that the alumni association also have critical roles to play, citing Harvard, where Alumni, according to him contributes a reasonable amount to the University’s budget yearly.
”Also, the universities should establish consults, they should be run as business and one of the ways of doing this is by detaching them from the bureaucracy of the University, be an independent body and get people who know about business to run things there. They should get professionals to see to its operations and be paid special salaries with targets given to them. When you put all of these together, the burden on parents would be eased and education would be accessible by all”.
He also advised against the appointment of Pro-chancellors based on politics, adding that if well done, investors could come through them.
Imoru added, “We are aware of what Afe Babalola did at the University of Lagos. We are also aware of what Wole Olanipekun did at the University of Ibadan. The two of them were the pro-chancellor and chairmen of councils. We must move away from dashing this appointment to political associates. The universities should look at those who can make impact so that we can get our university to the next level.
On if the 26 per cent UNESCO benchmark could be met, he said, the structure of budget in Nigeria does not always support it, saying in some instances, recurrent expenditure takes away about 75 per cent and at the end of the day, the sharing would no longer allow the 26 per cent for education.
He said, it is the ideal way to make education accessible by all “but we have to be strategic in thinking and implementation of policies. We have made policies that would make our economy strong and run well, but with the way things are, it will rupture a lot of things in other sectors. It’s a gradual thing that must be handled as such”