Finding panacea to universities’ financial burden

Education Minister, Malam Adamu Adamu

With an average Nigerian living on less than $2 a day, it has become increasingly difficult for parents to fund the university education of their children. Also, as Nigeria struggles in the face of economic recession, the issue of the federal government’s sole funding of university education and payment of tuition has come to the fore again, writes Head, Education Desk, Iyabo Lawal

In February 2010, irate students at the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State, were reported to have gone on rampage setting ablaze supermarkets filling stations, and raiding banks. The students were protesting the hike in school fees from N26, 000 to N76, 000 for full-time and from N30, 000 to N100, 000 for part-time students.

Last year October, the university students again protested what they called a 400 per cent increase in tuition. Their grouse was that the fee was increased from N47, 000 to N160, 000 for some faculties and N200, 000 and more for others.

On the other hand, university workers are complaining of lack of adequate funding for tertiary institutions.
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) for five months in 1992, 1993, 1994, and 1996, went on strike because of it. They downed tool again for three months in 2001; two weeks in 2002; six months in 2003; three months in 2007; four months in 2009; five months in 2010; three months in 2011; and six months in 2013.

Funding and tuition payment are some of the most contentious issues to deal with in universities all over the world – Nigeria’s federal universities may have had more than their fair share.

In countries around the world, tuition can cost an arm and a leg. In Nigeria where an average citizen lives on less than $2 a day, the federal government has had to subsidise university education. But has that been enough? What can the country’s higher institutions do to keep the ivory tower running smoothly – without hiccups as occasioned by strike actions and sometimes violent protests?

Experts in tertiary education funding have noted that federal government’s financial contributions to run the universities are hardly sufficient resulting in the government demanding that the universities should source for 10 per cent of the fund needed to keep running.

The need for alternative generation of revenue by the universities was emphasised by the implementation committee of the National Policy on Education that the universities must device means to be self-sustaining, and “use their internal reservoir of initiative and ingenuity in finding alternative options in the face of the challenges of financial stringency”.

Prof. Comfort Akomolafe and Mrs. Esther Aremu at the Ekiti State University, in their research on alternative sources of financing university education, argued that funding remains vital to the provision of functional education that can lead to a national transformation.

They, however, said, “Unfortunately, there has been an outcry against poor funding of education in the country most especially at the university education level. Between 1990 and 1997, the real value of government allocation for university education declined by 27 per cent even as enrolment grew by 77 per cent. For three years – 2004-2006 – N196bn was allocated to federal universities (which is only 14.8 per cent of the required N1.3249bn billion). This is despite the fact that Nigeria is currently witnessing increase enrolment of university students as provided.”

Some have claimed that inadequate funding of university education illustrates a lack of commitment to the future growth and transformation of the nation on the part of the government even though more 90 per cent of university funding comes from the government.

Without government subvention, it is unimaginable to see how Nigerian universities will continue to exist. But the funding is not enough as demonstrated by ASUU through its perennial strikes.

A few years ago, the Committee on the Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies headed by a former Head of the Service, Stephen Oronsaye, recommended how federal universities can be salvaged from financial hemorrhage.

One of the Oronsaye panel’s recommendations that caught the eye is the introduction of school fees in federal universities.

To the former civil service boss, the government’s tuition-free policy is a reason there is a decline in the quality of standards in tertiary education.

According to the committee, the non-payment of tuition deprived federal universities of adequate funding, which could have been used to provide much-needed infrastructure and educational materials.

The Oronsaye committee asserted that while it would be difficult to introduce tuition in federal institutions, the need to do so was inevitable to save tertiary education system from the doldrums.

The committee suggested that it cost N450, 000 and N525, 000 respectively to train arts and science students per session in Nigerian universities, therefore, recommending that the government should, over a five-year period, stop funding universities – the University of Ibadan, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, University of Lagos, Obafemi Awolowo University and the University of Benin – with effect from 2013.

“Unlike in other climes where universities are rated among the best in terms of reputation and academics, the existing government tuition-free policy exempts undergraduates in federal universities in Nigeria from paying school fees. The consequence of such a policy is that federal universities have been denied adequate funding to contribute to quality education in terms of infrastructure and educational materials.

“The committee is, therefore, of the strong opinion that tuition should be reintroduced in federal universities. The committee is aware that the reintroduction of tuition would be very challenging having operated a free tuition policy for many years. Nevertheless, it is an inescapable reality that all stakeholders must have to face,” the Oronsaye committee said in its report.

It, however, sounded a note of warning why the federal government should not drag its feet over the matter: “This is because deferring the action would be tantamount to setting a time bomb that will ultimately go off someday.”

The federal universities were urged to complement their funding by looking for alternative funding.

By the middle of this year, it was reported that at least 38 Nigerian universities had increased their school fees because of poor funding by the federal and state governments.

The Chairman of ASUU, University of Ibadan Chapter, Dr. Deji Omole, reportedly said in a statement that public education was not taken seriously because most children of the rich and top government officials do not attend universities in the country.

He said, “The latest increment might be attributed to poor funding by the federal and state governments as ASUU rated poor President Muhammadu Buhari in the area of funding of university education.”

In UNILAG a tuition of N14, 500 became N63, 500; at ABU, the school fee went from N27, 000 to N41, 000; at UNN, it went from N60, 450 to N66, 950; at OAU, the tuition rose from N19, 700 to N55, 700.

Others are Nnamdi Azikiwe University, from N20, 100 to N65, 920; Bayero University, Kano, from N26, 000 to N40, 000; the University of Abuja, from N39, 300 to N42, 300 and Usman Danfodiyo University, from N32, 000 to N41, 000. The National Open University of Nigeria, from N36, 000 to N41, 000; the University of Benin, from N12, 000 to N49, 500; the University of Ilorin, from N16, 000 to N75, 000 and Federal University of Technology, Akure, from N13, 560 to N83, 940.

Similarly, the Federal University, Minna’s tuition went from N20, 000 to N37, 000; the University of Calabar, from N30, 500 to N42, 750 and University of Uyo, from N71, 000 to N84, 250.

Prof. Des Wilson of the Department of Communication Arts, at the University of Uyo, once told a newspaper concerning the necessity to increase the tuition, “My opinion is that we do not even have tuition in the federal universities. The only thing that is approved by the government is for students to pay N45 for accommodation, though the universities have found some other ways of getting around that challenge. We know that the space that is occupied by a beggar on the street is more than N45, let alone school accommodation.

“The question of review is a matter that is for the conscience of Nigerians. Let parents be involved and pay something more, no matter how little. If they are talking of reviewing to compete with Covenant University or the American University in Nigeria and charge millions, they will hit a brick wall because as teachers, we will not support that kind of situation. They will tell us that they are ready to pay. But these are people who are privileged, while there are millions of Nigerians who do not have the wherewithal to pay those fees.”

Speaking further, he suggested that the federal government should provide a national loan scheme through national university banks, where students who cannot afford to pay school fees can get loans to fund their academic dreams.

“They will then get money to pay their fees and have some kind of arrangement that by the time they graduate and begin to work, they will pay back such money,” Wilson said.

For Prof. Benson Osadolor at UNIBEN, reviewing the school fee is needed. He was quoted by a national newspaper as saying, “It is justified, of course, in terms of quality and the cost of education that we give to our children. University education in a country like Germany is free. Germany has enormous resources; the state actually contributes 100 per cent to the resources of the university system. We also have industries and foundations supporting government efforts. This explains why they have high standards and good resources, particularly for teaching and learning.

“Here in Nigeria, a third-world country, the resources are not there. Students are crammed into very small lecture theatres. In some cases, they have no chairs, no benches, and tables. Do you think this can continue? No. We should sit down and reassess our future and the future of higher education in this country and think of what we can do to support government efforts. We do not have foundations, institutions or organisations committing their resources to fund higher education in Nigeria.”

According to him, the government being the sole financier of the federal universities is responsible for university workers’ salaries being owed for months.

“So, if there is an upward review that will create opportunities for us to manage resources very well in the interest of our students that will be great. I know that the school fee(s) of some universities is about N14, 000, N12, 000 and so on. And in some cases, for those in (departments of) Medicine and Pharmacy, it is a little bit above that.  You look at the phones that students’ use, the clothes they wear, it is more than that. But we are just asking for a slight adjustment that will provide facilities and resources for our students,” the professor argued.

There is no clear-cut consensus whether the federal government should increase the tuition but all parties involved in the debate agreed that the government alone cannot successfully fund tertiary education in the country.

According to the World Bank, the crisis of finance in the Nigeria’s federal universities can be resolved to a large extent if other viable means of funding them are explored.

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