Speculations are rife that the federal government has plans to hike university school fees to an unprecedented level of N350, 000 per session. Much as the government has tried to debunk this claim and has expressed its commitment to the provision of quality education for all, most Nigerians are aghast not just because of the prospect of a hike in fee but also by its sheer size. And that is why we agree that it is a rumour by mischief-makers.
Already, two strategic stakeholders in the school system, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) are up in arms against the probability of the increase. NANS, for instance, in its argument, said that an increase in school fees will run counter to the policy of government to make education accessible to all. The government is emphatic in its denial of the alleged plan by it to increase school fess.
In Nigeria, two issues have assumed unprecedented political coloration in recent times- workers’ salaries and school fees, to the point that they have become magic tools that can make or mar the political aspiration of many a politician. In the present dispensation, some governors have been humiliated out of office on account of what is perceived as an erratic increase in school fees in states where free education is seen as a right. That is why we think that the federal government will not dare to be insensitive enough to dabble into the issue of school fees in an election year. At the best of times, school fees are ever so controversial. Why we are worried is that history is replete with situations where such matters enter the public space as rumour. Even when they are denied by the authorities, they manage to take a life of their own and fly.
But beyond the political implication of increasing school fees at this time, or at any other time for that matter is the reaction of Nigerians who will interpret such a move as inconsiderate given the socio-economic challenges that are widespread in the society. No matter the official position to the contrary, it is obvious that the economy is not as healthy as it should be. The spectre of joblessness is all too pervasive. Though there is a misperception of it as being limited to school leavers alone, the truth is that some parents are also caught in the web to the extent that providing for their families’ needs, of which education is one, has become a herculean task especially in circumstances where public schools have become ghosts of what they used to be.
We shudder to imagine the extent of the reverberating effect a hike in fees in public schools will have on private schools. There is no denying the fact that it will encourage those private sector operators to throw caution to the winds and jack up their fees that are already humongous in size. The immediate impact will be decidedly negative as many, especially those at the lower rungs of the social ladder, will find a justified reason to pull their wards out of school.
This newspaper is persuaded to point out that this will be too bad for the country where international opinion is that Nigeria is not investing enough in human capital development. Consistently, over the years, the country has continued to feature very poorly in the human development index of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as well as other agencies that monitor efforts nations make to enhance the wellbeing of their citizens.
There is no gainsaying it, in our opinion, that without education, the chances of an improvement in other indices of measuring standard of living, such as health, will be near nil. Nigeria is regarded, unfortunately, as the poverty capital of the world. That assessment may seem hyperbolic, yet, we think that the poverty level in the country is unacceptable. That assessment will be worse if school fees are increased in a manner that will result in compounding the school dropout rate which is already considered to be excessively high.
It will serve no useful purpose overstressing the effect of young people dropping out of school because their parents and guardians cannot afford to keep them there. The rate of crime, criminality and insecurity in the country, in our view, is sufficient to deter anyone from nursing an idea in the direction of a hike in fees that will certainly worsen the implicitly bad case of the education system. It is from this perspective that we are compelled to argue against any thought by the government of adding to the burden of hapless Nigerians who have had to bear the brunt of most ill-advised policies and plans. We plead that the talk of an increase in school fees must die as a rumour the government said it is.
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