Whether with respect to those institutions that have since announced and executed the policy or those that recently made their decisions known, the fact before the public as we speak is: If not all, virtually all Nigeria’s tertiary institutions have and run with new utility and obligatory charges.
Not too long ago, The Eagle Online published a commentary on the subject: “That uproar over increase in fees charged by federal universities” https://theeagleonline.com.ng/editorial-that-uproar-over-increase-in-fees-charged-by-federal-universities/.
This Editorial was published when debate on the new charges, announced by some universities in the Southern part of the country, began. It was established then that as the development appeared new in this (Southern part) of Nigeria, the opposite was the case in the North, as many higher institutions there had introduced and started collecting new charges, some as far back as two years ago.
Now, with the 50 percent slash by the management of Obafemi Awolowo University OAU, between 10 percent and 20 percent reduction by the University of Lagos, and almost zero reduction in new charges announced by institutions up North, it’s definitely a new dawn in our citadels. We must quickly re-establish here that if the latest charges would facilitate the expected capital development, just as our previous Editorial canvassed, it’s all a good experience and a welcome development.
However, it’s equally important to stress that as our universities begin a new charge regime, the Federal Government should and must play its expected roles. By this, we refer to the Students’ Loan scheme, which bill has been assented to by President Bola Tinubu. We are taking this administration by its commitment – that the law would become effective at the beginning of the new 2022/2023 academic session. So, we are asking: What is the update on the take-off of the scheme?
Back to the new charges proper. We wish to state categorically that what has just happened in our citadels was a demonstration of autonomy in the real sense of the word. Recall that the former Super Special Presidential Aide, now Minister of Solid Minerals Development, Dele Alake, spoke when the charges debate first raged. According to Alake, the charges are sundry and remain at the discretion of the university authorities, maintaining that they are not tuition fees. Alake declared then that fees in federal universities remain free!
Indeed, this declaration is a challenge to the Universities’ management. As mentioned earlier, the new charges should and must go with real, physical and seamless development from now on in our universities. Accountability and transparency are very important. The universities must be seen to justify their new collections, which they enjoyed freedom to decide upon and which of course they would also have liberty to spend.
In our previous Editorial on this topic, we submitted that the manner of funding our university education system is unprecedented. And to say that the approach is not sustainable is to say the obvious. Where the universities wait for the Federal Government’s handout this century and this time to run and sustain themselves is strange. This approach, we posited then, cannot and will not draw desirable and real time development. And this is the challenge the public universities face today. Unlike the private, most of the public tertiary institutions have the structures, but absence of adequate and quality teaching facilities up until now remain the challenges. Real funding is lacking in our public universities. This should be the concern of all critical stakeholders. There is a need for dynamism, creativity and a positive attitude to resolve the problems that have been with us for long.
This takes us to one of the key stakeholders: the Academic Staff Union of Universities. First, in this conversation, we urge ASUU to retrace its steps overtime and juxtapose them with its long advocacies, which basically include development and autonomy. We must establish that the body’s positions and pronouncements on the approaches to new dawn in our institutions are not consistent with what it claims to be agitating and craving for.
For instance, when the Students’ Loan Bill was just signed into law, ASUU National President, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, was heard asking the questions on how would the students without jobs after finishing from universities be able to pay the loans? In other words, the ASUU leader was raising concerns about lack of employment and difficulty in paying back the loans. However, this position at best can be described as putting the cart before the horse. To be simply put, can a graduate remain permanently unemployed? Agreed, there can also be setbacks of underemployment. Still, all of these shortcomings cannot be permanent. More so, if true autonomy is entrenched in the universities, they can even take some of the fresh graduates as the institutions expand in terms of students intake and witness increase in infrastructure.
Again, on the new charges by the universities, Prof. Osodeke recently in his reaction while being featured on a television interview programme warned that about 50 percent of university students may drop out of school within the next two years, if the government fails to stop continuous fee hikes. He insisted that heavy fees being imposed on students across the nation would result in massive dropout of students due to their inability to cope with the payments.
He restated: “If nothing is done about these heavy fees being introduced by schools all over the country, in the next two or three years, more than 40 to 50 per cent of these children who are in school today will drop out.”
There are so many references in our previous Editorial on this subject. In it, we established that ASUU is always claiming to fight for the interest of the students and parents. Which students? Is it the one who won’t aspire to be trained and taught with adequate and state-of-the-art equipment, facilities and teaching aids? Or the parent who invests in a child for him or her to enjoy the best of stay in all senses while on campus?
Again, before now, Nigeria runs the cheapest university education system almost in the world ranking! And we did establish that if ASUU really wanted development and facelift, it must review its stand on questions relating to standard, quality and sustainable tertiary education.
Talking about its interest and agitations. As we pointed out then, a good number of undergraduate students in federal universities attended expensive private secondary schools. Whereas, most children who are believed to be from poor backgrounds ended up in state universities due to stiff competition and certain admission conditions. We however take caution in this assertion as there are still exceptions. Still, ASUU should and must be wary of its demands and positions on this matter.
In summary, if ASUU is really for infrastructural renewal and revolution in general, in our universities, it must brace up and join the train heading to a new dawn.
For example, we expect ASUU to assume an oversight role in university management spending, especially in this new era. The body must be seen to be vigilant and critical in this regard. Findings have shown so many huge Internally Generated Revenue avenues by some universities, but with poor accountability. Among many other instances is the conduct of the Joint Universities Preliminary Examination Board scheme and post-Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board examination.
A federal university in the South West charges as high as N500,000 per student for JUPEB from not less than 2,000 students every session. Shockingly, about 200 (in all) candidates who secure the required points for different courses are offered admission! To worsen the situation, it was learnt that the space for incoming candidates is not really available. So what usually happens is that the students who had in the previous academic session gained admission through the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board’s Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination and who just advanced to 200 levels in Medicine, Pharmacy, Physiotherapy and others are sent back to other Science Departments with the excuse of not having the required Cumulative Points to continue with the courses they were originally admitted for, just to create space for the new JUPEB candidates!
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Another money making avenue is from hostel charges, with some universities even offering private investors the opportunity of Build, Operate and Transfer after the number of years agreed for the recouping of the investment. One of the major reasons for the postponement of the resumption of the University of Lagos, for instance, was the brouhaha over the charges for hostel accommodation, especially the one named Shodeinde, where close to N600,000 is charged per annum. Yet these hostels are overbooked, with balloting done eventually to determine those who make it into such hostels.
We believe this is absurd. What the scenario suggests is that the money being generated through the programme is the ultimate interest. Now, the questions: On what have the university managements been spending huge incomes they have been generating? What about the income generated through the conduct of post-UTME screening tests?
If truly, ASUU wants our universities to be developed and desire that they become grounds to train graduates with international standards, the issue about transparency and accountability by the university managements should be of paramount interest to it. However, if it were the choice of the union to close its eyes and let all the shenanigans go and thrive, then we dare say that the respect it used to command would continue to wane.
Again, we reiterate that to move our tertiary education system forward, all hands must be on deck. As the new session is about to commence in most higher institutions, the Federal Government should update the public on the Students Loan scheme; universities’ authorities who have had field day with new charges should be set and willing to run open accounts and most significantly ASUU, whose members are like compass to the undergraduates, should embrace and support bold initiatives that would deliver their long desires. We understand that changing gear in this regard to ASUU looks tough, still, its leaders and other relevant stakeholders must vacate their comfort zones, ultimately for our common good.