Gabriel Dike, Lagos, Tony Osauzo, Benin, Fred Eze, Abuja and Laide Raheem, Abeoukta
Recent revelation by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) that the Wale Babalakin-led renegotiation committee is trying to woo staff unions in the Nigerian University System (NUS) to accept the introduction of fees in the universities is currently generating ripples.
In the last three months, ASUU had exposed the renegotiation committee proposal to introduce fees in the region of N350, 000 to N500, 000 depending on the courses offered by students in both public and private universities through the Education Bank.
The proposal to introduce the high fees is one of the reasons ASUU gave for pulling out of the renegotiation of the 2009 agreement. In a swift reaction, the federal government through the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Mr. Sonny Echono denied the insinuations but this has not doused the suspicion by the union, students and parents.
In a paper titled: Management, Structure and Financing of Education by N.A, Nwagwu, observed that the financing of education is at the heart of the educational crisis in many countries of the World. He disclosed that in Nigeria, there appears to be a perennial shortage of funds for the education system at all levels.
Nwagwu says politicians, economist and educationists are in constant search for answers to such questions as who should pay for education. He also admitted that the financing of education has always been a very controversial subject and how the financial burden should be shared has remained an unresolved problem.
ASUU RESTATES OPPOSITION TO BABALAKIN’S PROPOSAL
On Sunday, December 23, 2018, ASUU at a briefing held at the University of Lagos, Akoka defended it rejection of Dr. Babalakin’s presentation at one of its meetings for students to borrow N1million from the proposed Education Bank to pay school fees.
The National President of ASUU, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi said Babalakin came up with his proposal for students to take bank loan to pay school fees after a sub committee on funding had presented it report and he (Babalakin) insisted that he has a different position to canvass.
Prof Ogunyemi admitted that there are unresolved issues about the leader of government team, Dr. Wale Babalakin, stating ‘’we have strong reasons to believe that the continuation of Dr. Babalakin as the head of the renegotiation with ASUU would not yield good fruit.
Said he: “He is ideologically fixated on tuition fees and does not agree that education is a public good. ASUU strongly objects to this. Our experience with Dr. Babalakin for over 14 months tells us that Dr. Babalaikin cannot relate objectively to any of the issues in our demands at the negotiation table. We, therefore, once more call on government to replace Dr. Babalakin as the chairman of the renegotiation committee of the 2009 FGN/ASUU agreement.
“Qualitative and public-funded university education is not an option; it is inevitable if Nigeria ever wishes to banish poverty, ignorance, squalor, insecurity, diseases and corruption. It is also imperative if Nigeria’s aspiration to join the league of developed nations of the World is to materialise.
“Babalakin cannot deny he didn’t propose Education Bank, where students will borrow money to pay school fees at one of our meetings. We made our proposal after the sub committee on funding presented their report and he came up with his own proposal’’
The ASUU president recalled that Education Bank was introduced in the 90s and by 2003, it failed due to lack of funding and wondered how students after graduation without job can repay the loan.
BABALAKIN’S PROPOSAL FOR N1MILLION LOAN TO PAY FEES
The chairman of the federal government renegotiation on FGN/ASUU 2009 agreement, Dr. Babalakin acknowledged that 70 per cent of students are not covered by the scholarship/sponsorship of the federal government, stating ‘’this money must be made available if we are going to turn around the university system.’’
Babalakin in his proposal said ‘’Our position is that every student who gains admission to a university and is not able to qualify on merit for the federal government’s scholarship/sponsorship should be entitled as of right to obtain a loan from the Education Bank. A loan of N1million per annum would be made available to every such student per annum. N700, 000 will be paid to the university as tuition fees while the balance will be available to the student as support towards his upkeep allowance’’.
He explained that the loan from the Education Bank is a right for all those who apply for it and that it will be provided at an interest rate of not more than 5 per cent per annum to enable the bank cover the cost of administering the loan.
‘’The loan will be structured in a manner that the student borrower will not expend more than 10 percent of his income in repaying the loan over a given period. It is a policy of this scheme that no Nigerian should be prevented from receiving good quality education because of his/her weak financial circumstances.
‘’The argument has been made that there are no jobs for the current graduates and so there will be no means of paying back the loans. Today’s level of unemployment is largely due to the poor quality of graduates. Once we fix the quality, there will be jobs for the graduates all over the World, especially in Africa,’’ Babalakin pointed out.
The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) commended ASUU for exposing the plans of the federal government through the Babalakin-led committee to increase tuition fees in the universities to N350,000.
“We are forced to take FG’s denial of the planned increment with a pinch of salt. Given the level of underfunding, the threat of tuition fee hike will continue to hang over the education sector like the proverbial Sword of Damocles. Therefore, the only way we can be assured that the government has no such plans is by increasing the funding of education to at least 26 per cent of the budget as a basis to ensure that public and democratically-managed education is accessible to all.”
The group in a statement signed by the National Coordinator, Taiwo Hassan said ERC is of the opinion that the Babalakin-led federal government negotiation team has proven itself to be insensitive by planning to introduce the tuition fees in a country where the paltry N18,000 minimum wage is not being paid regularly. In fact, this team lacks the good faith for such negotiations.
Hassan’s words: “No denial is acceptable from a dubious government that still claim tuition fees has been abolished in the face of the tens and hundreds of thousands paid across our tertiary institutions in the name of maintenance fees. The continual increment over the years and the current cost of learning in most public tertiary institutions which presently averages at about N100,000, further exposes this denial as a big lie.”
STUDENTS/PARENTS REJECTS BABALAKIN’S PROPOSAL
The President, Student Union of the University of Benin, Charles Idehen, kicked against the proposed bank loan of N1million to pay tuition fees of N700, 000 in the universities, stressing the proposal is absolutely not acceptable at all.
According to Idehen, “If the federal government wants to raise school fees to such an exorbitant height, how does it expect the ordinary man to go to school?
How does it expect those who might not be able to afford such fee to go to school?
“The students union and other students’ leaders at UNIBEN are absolutely against it. We are not going to accept this increment and I believe the students are not going to be in support of it.
“Students will resist the proposed increment in anyway they can. The committee is proposing introduction of the tuition fees through Education Bank, without thinking of improving on the facilities in the universities and this action of the government will certainly be resisted”, Idehen said.
The national Public Relations Officer of NANS, Adeyemi Azeez told The Education Report that when the news broke out that the Babalakin committee had proposed between N350, 000 and N500, 000 as school fees for universities through bank loan, NANS issued a statement to condemn the proposal and equally engaged the presidency on the issue, but they denied such proposal.
“Anyway, they may be deceiving us and we are ready to shut down the whole nation, if they try any increment in school fees. Both APC and PDP wasted millions of naira to organise their presidential primaries, yet, Nigerian masses are walloping in abject poverty!
“They want us (students) to suffer for their inability to fix the country. I want to reiterate that if an attempt is made to implement the recommendation of Babalakin committee, Nigerian students will be mobilized to fight the injustice with our last breath.
“All these leaders enjoyed free education and scholarships, both here and abroad, why are they now making it difficult for an average Nigerian students to get quality but affordable education?
The Executive Director, African Students Education Support Initiative (ASESI), Chinonso Obasi, said the quality of education in Nigeria universities ought not to be paid for, not to talk of increase in tuition fees.
He said: “Federal Government might have denied the secret plan by Dr. Wale Babalakin-led renegotiation committee on 2019 FGN/ ASUU agreement, but Nigerian students and its African structures would resist any plan to frustrate efforts of students to get university education.
“We choose to believe it was a mere rumour even though it was widely reported in the media. But if otherwise becomes the case, considering the economic situation in Nigeria and the poor quality of education in Nigeria, then my organization alongside other relevant unions would resist it.”
He suggested to government, precisely the Babalakin-led renegotiation committee to consult widely and accommodate the views of stakeholders before such decision that have multiple effect Nigerians are taken.
President, National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Danielson Akpan, said the entire structure of NANS would be mobilized against the policy if government goes ahead to implement it.
Akpan reminded government of its 2002 order that abolished tuition fees in Nigerian universities. He urged the government to maintain its constitutional responsibility of funding education in Nigeria.
He added: ”The plan is not only insensitive but lacked reasonable logic or human face to support it. You don’t expect an impoverished Nigerian worker with meager N18, 000 as salary to afford such astronomic amount as tuition fee.
Akpan also kicked against establishment of Education Bank for students. “It will only create a back breaking debt burden on students who are not guaranteed of job after graduation. And even if they do secure a job, the debt burden will make life miserable for them.
Also, the Students’ Union president of University of Abuja (UniAbuja), Abeeb Bashir, told The Education Report that the planned tuition fees hike through loan from the Education Bank by students will be totally resisted by NANS at all levels.
He said: “The current NANS leadership is obviously weak. Not only that, they lack moral strength to challenge government policies that could affect students. If it were to be the time of some previous NANS presidents who were more progressive and aggressive in nature, we would have engaged the government and would have taken strong position as regards the planned increase in tuition fees and other sundry issues.”