Lagos State University Fee Hike: The Big Picture
There are two sides to every argument, and said sides are picked depending on the personal sentiment of the individual. Some of such debates have the distinction of having sensible points on both sides, which makes it more difficult to determine which is right and which is not. This piece is an attempt to merge both sides of a volatile current argument in a bid to see the big picture.
It is not news that the students of the Lagos State University (LASU) were embroiled in a bitter battle with the state government over a tuition fee hike from N25,000 to as much as N348,000, which was an increment of a whopping 1392%. The numbers alone are enough to incite furious indignation in the heart of the most understanding of people, and I for one am indeed very sympathetic to the cause of the protesting students. This seemingly ruthless hike came a short while after the political party which governs Lagos state set ‘free education’ as number six of their ten-point Transformation Agenda. It has now joined the inexhaustible list of examples where the government talks from both sides of its mouth. The resulting backlash and protest from both students and lecturers alike have influenced the governor to announce a reduction in the fees of up to sixty percent of the number from the initial hike. A reduction the students bluntly rejected.
Reduction or no, members of the public are still enraged over what is perceived to be a blatant exploitation of the common man. But let us take a few minutes and put the rage aside. The truth of the matter is, in the grand scheme of things, N348,000 is not an incredible amount of money to pay for quality tertiary education. We can deny it till we are blue in the face, but lack of funding is one of the greatest challenges facing our crippled education sector today. We have ridiculously sub-par education, especially at the tertiary level, because it is greatly devalued.
People, if they can afford it, are willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars to universities in the US or the UK for quality education. We do not question it, and not even the fact that their citizens pay less than half of what we pay as foreigners gives us pause. In a situation where you have tuition fees that are less than a hundred dollars per annum (I paid six thousand in UNILAG for three years and ten thousand for the remaining two), what do we really expect from all the time we spend in these schools? Throw in the birthright of indiscipline we have in Nigeria and you have got yourself a hot mess. On more than one occasion I heard one lecturer or the other make an “After all, your school fees cannot pay my salary”-type comment. When the subconscious sentiment is that the system is doing you a great favor, knowledge will be doled out with negligence, at the whim of the providers. The students, on the other hand, do not feel obligated to take advantage of whatever they are getting out of the schools because it costs them next to nothing to be there. It becomes a depressing cycle when the products of this negligent system become the providers, and on and on we continue.
Let us examine briefly the effect this has on the job market. Anyone who has ever had to interview a group of the current crop pf graduates will tell you that we are saddled with more semi-literates clutching a university degree than should be our lot. More and more employers will hire the graduate from Morgan University over the University of Ibadan alumnus because they generally put more stock in foreign education than the local one, and who can blame them? If things continue this vein, in the next five to ten years, the best of jobs will be unavailable to those of us who are products of Nigerian education.
I am of the school of thought that primary and secondary education, being the bedrock of education, should be free of charge. Tertiary education, however, not necessarily so. I have been told that there are countries like Finland which offer free tertiary education, but we must understand that these countries have citizens who religiously pay tax. The amount of Nigerian citizens who pay tax do not make up the critical mass required to make a significant difference in policy-making across all sectors.
Whether we want to face it or not, one of the steps we must take in fixing the rot in our education sector of today will have to be increased funding. These funds will come from the government, interest groups such as scholarship boards and alumni associations (which, by the way, do not do nearly enough for the universities, but that is a topic for another day) and the consumers, i.e., the students. Harsh as it may sound, it is highly idealistic to expect that quality tertiary education can be available to every single person. For this reason, we must also look at the alternative to universities, which are our much-neglected polytechnics and begin to make amends from now.
Having touched these points, I must now concede that Gov. Fashola’s timing on this tuition fee increment was off, big time, as things are not in place for such a dramatic hike. Such a geometrical increase in these times can be perceived as nothing but anti-people. To paraphrase Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, the increment does not reflect the economic realities of the nation, and at this time, it would have yielded nothing but suffering for the common man.
In the current climate of corruption in this country, you cannot ask people to pay more money only for their hard-gotten cash to go down the toilet of embezzlement. The funds provided by the government are grossly mismanaged at all levels and any extra supplied by the students will undoubtedly go the same way. Once again, our hands are tied by the bonds of corruption (or stealing, if we want to be more politically correct, Nigeria-style).
However, I still believe that this apparent ‘halfway meeting’ sixty percent reduction is tantamount to putting Sellotape over a rip. The problems persist and the students are still paying more, albeit less than what they first thought. This is very reminiscent of the infamous fuel price hike of January 2012. The government will continue to claim that they barely have enough funds to provide a high standard of education and slightly-increased fees will keep being mismanaged. The sensible solution is to hold off any school fees increment until, one, the government can prove to the people beyond reasonable doubt that their money will be accounted for, and two, the education sector is examined and fixed from within and hoisted up to standard. Then, and only then, can the government have a justifiable reason to ask these students to part with even more of their money for the greater good. The holes in the wall have not been fixed, so rubbing paint on it is foolishness and a waste of paint.