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The needless controversy over university tuition in Ondo

The needless controversy over university tuition in Ondo

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Niyi Akinnaso

There are two major sources of funding for university education worldwide. The first, and more recognised source, is subvention. This is provided by the proprietor, which may be the government; an organisation or association; an individual; or a group of individuals. In addition to subvention, the proprietor may also provide financial aid in the form of scholarships, bursaries, or loans.

The second major source of funding is Internally Generated Revenue, typically derived from tuition and other fees; endowment; research funding; donations by corporations, alumni association, and others; and business ventures by the university, including consultancies. Of these sources of IGR, tuition and other fees provide by far the most significant yield.

Over the last 25 years, universities all over the world have been increasing tuition and related charges in response to declining subventions from their proprietors. This applies to both public and private universities. In the United States, for example, tuition fees increased to the point that tuition revenue had outstripped government subvention by 2012.

Today, the average annual cost of tuition in American universities is about $35,000. This translates to over N12m, excluding boarding and other fees. Of course, this figure may be lower in some smaller state universities and much higher in elite universities. There is also a difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition, depending on the location of the university relative to the applicant’s state of residence. International students normally pay the highest fees.

A similar situation obtains in the United Kingdom, where the then Labour Government introduced tuition fees in British universities in 1998 in order to meet shortfalls in government subvention. From a modest fee of just £1,000 in 1998, university tuition in Britain has gone up steadily to a cap of £9,250 for the UK and the EU students in 2017-18 and up to £30,000 for international students. At least, 75 per cent of the UK universities charge the maximum tuition allowable.

True, Nigeria’s peculiar social and economic conditions must be taken into account, it is nevertheless necessary to view the recent hikes in university tuition across the country in light of global practices. There are many reasons why university tuition must be raised. The public universities throughout the country are in a state of prolonged neglect and disrepair. The standard of university education has fallen accordingly.

This was particularly emphasised by the Nigerian Universities Needs Assessment in 2013, which highlighted major gaps in every segment of university education, particularly infrastructure, teaching and learning facilities, the number and quality of teaching staff, and management problems.

Similarly, the 63-page report on the Needs Assessment of Nigerian Education Sector, produced by the International Organisation for Migration, highlighted skills and competency gaps that must be filled if the declining Nigerian education sector were to be revived.

Yet, the nation’s economy has been in decline since 2014, making it difficult to meet even salary obligations to workers. For example, Ondo State realised less than 60 per cent of its estimated budget in 2017. This has made it even more difficult for an administration that inherited a burden of arrears of university subventions and salaries for up to seven months as well as a debt burden in excess of N200 billion. That’s why debt repayment (on principal alone) and statutory transfer gulp as much as N20bn annually.

It is instructive to listen again to Governor Rotimi Akeredolu in his 2018 budget speech to the Ondo State House of Assembly in December 2017 as he catalogued his administration’s predicament: “On assumption of office, Mr. Speaker, we met a worrisome state of affairs, with the economy of the state almost comatose.  We were confronted with very serious social, economic and difficult challenges.  We were faced with severe economic uncertainties, with stunted economic growth, massive youth unemployment and underemployment. Aside from these, several of the roads and education infrastructure were in very poor state, the industrial sector was in a coma and above all, we met a highly demotivated workforce as a result of non-payment of salaries as and when due.”

It is against this background and global practices, as outlined above, that tuition fees were raised in one of the state’s universities, namely, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko. I was a Contract Professor at the AAUA for five years, where I established and directed the Teaching and Learning Centre. I left early in August 2017 at the end of my contract. I received my July 2017 salary only on Monday, April 16, 2018. It was my experience at the university that led me to argue repeatedly, even when the state was still buoyant, that the tuition of just N25,000 was ridiculous. Unfortunately, the tuition was kept low for political reasons, even when other state-owned higher institutions, including Rufus Giwa Polytechnic in Owo, were paying much more.

I was on the foundation Governing Council of the Ondo State University of Science and Technology at Okitipupa over seven years ago, when undergraduate tuition was set at no less than N100,000 for any course. As the AAUA Pro-Chancellor, Dr. Tunji Abayomi, argued last week, it makes no sense for a Science student at Okitipupa to pay that much, while an AAUA student pays  a paltry fraction for the same course and in a sister state university.

Governor Akeredolu is not alone in raising university tuition fees. This is especially necessary in the case of the AAUA for comparative purposes. Within the past year alone, over 40 Nigerian federal, state, and private universities have raised their tuition fees in order to meet subvention shortfalls. Some, like Osun State University, raised tuition by a modest increase of less than 50 per cent, while others, like the Universities of Benin and Lagos, did so by as much as 400 per cent.

There is, however, value in the argument that the increase should have been graduated over a few years in order for parents and students alike to prepare much better for it. The parents are as much a victim of the economic recession as the state is. I addressed these issues in two previous articles in this column, namely, “Increasing tuition fees in the nation’s universities” (The PUNCH, May 5, 2015) and “Let’s be realistic about university tuition” (The PUNCH, May 26, 2015). In the concluding section of the May 5 article, I had this to say: “The argument really is no longer about whether university tuition and other fees should be increased in Nigerian universities. Rather, the argument is about when and how to go about it”.

I can understand the students’ argument if they were asking for graduated increases in tuition fees over the next few years. However, to ask for no increase at all should be out of the question. Akeredolu has responded well, by reducing the increase by as much as 50 per cent. He should seek to preserve the integrity of his government and that of the new Governing Council of AAUA, by not wavering further on the new fees.

On their part, the AAUA students need further education on how to negotiate with the university authorities and the government. Good a thing, they did not start destroying university property as they did in the past. No purpose is served by destructive or disruptive protests. They should realise that they now have a great weapon in social media, which they can employ in disseminating their views and demands.

Finally, the Akeredolu administration and the new AAUA Governing Council deserve commendation for facing current realities squarely, by taking the bold step of increasing the university’s tuition fees. It is a political risk worth taking.

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