There is simmering restiveness in tertiary institutions in the country over recent hike in school fees. The increase which cut across federal, state and private institutions is seen by the authorities of those schools as one of the ways of shoring up their internally generated revenue in the face of dwindling resource allocation from, especially, the federal and state governments. The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), has raised an alarm on the possible negative implications of the hike on the chances of the poorer segment of the society having access to tertiary education.
This is not the first time the schools are jacking up their charges so as to augment receipts from government sources. ASUU, understandably, is not out rightly against the increase in fees but blamed the inevitable development on the failure of the government to adequately fund the schools as prescribed by the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). In its opinion, the perceived poor funding of education will make it difficult for any higher institution in the country to effectively compete globally.
The problem of funding of tertiary institutions became manifest when the issue was politicised as soon as the politicians took over from the military in 1979. Under that dispensation, students of tertiary institutions had it relatively easy even with the Ali-Must- Go riot as they enjoyed some subsidy from governments. Then, there were bursary awards by state governments for students who were not on scholarship while there were also students loan scheme by the federal government. The institutions had relatively steady funding for research and infrastructural development. During that period, there were only five federal universities: University of Nigeria; Ahmadu Bello University, University of Ibadan, University of Ife and University of Lagos. The number started increasing with the addition of University of Jos, University of Benin, University of Calabar and University of Port Harcourt.
During the electioneering campaigns, Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), promised free education at all levels. Unfortunately, it did not win the federal election but, however, went on with its promise of free education in the states it controlled. The ruling party then, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), felt that that level of funding for the education sector was not sustainable as resources were not sufficiently available to carry on with such budgetary allocation. To blackmail the UPN, it withdrew allocations to tertiary institutions that covered almost free tuition and subsidised boarding. Funding for other projects in the schools also dwindled with time.
The higher institutions started having challenges retaining existing standards a situation that was made worse by even more cuts in allocations from the governments that have persisted till date. Ultimately, the only option open to the schools was a cautious introduction of charges to be paid by students. They were actually not called fees at that time but, soon, the guise had to be lifted.
Today, the higher institutions have removed every pretences in that regard. ASUU had, on a consistent basis, taken up issues with the governments over poor funding of the universities with other academic and non-academic associations joining in the fray. But those have not, in any significant way, improved resource allocations to higher institutions.
Unfortunate as it is, increase in fees is perceptibly, in the circumstance, the last resort in a frenzied effort by the universities’ administrations to restore a semblance of sanity in the fabled Ivory Towers. The number of functional federal universities today is in excess of 38 not counting state owned universities, federal and state polytechnics as well as colleges of education. This entails an explosion in the student population. Add other demands on government revenue that is not increasing in equal proportion, the difficulty in meeting the UNESCO standard becomes easily explicable.
However, and in spite of the scenario painted above, it is our opinion that the governments can do better than they are presently doing with regard to funding of the education sector. What is lacking, in our view, is the political will to make the desired sacrifice. This aversion on the part of governments is worsened by corruption where even the little that is available is frittered away on inessentials if not condemnable diversion of funds.
While we urge the governments to see the urgency to buoy the finances of the tertiary institutions, it also pertinent to admonish the universities to realise the compelling need to tread cautiously on the subject in the interest of the not- so- rich in the society.