By Jerome-Mario Utomi
Talking about a recent most serious and most surprising event in the nation’s tertiary education sector that aptly demonstrate that to an average tertiary education administrator in Nigeria, once a direction is chosen, instead of examining process meticulously and set the right course that will help overcome storm and reach safety before we can progress and achieve our goals, they obstinately persist with the execution of such plans regardless of a minor or major shift in circumstance, it is the continued demand for acceptance fee from new students by universities and other institutions of higher learning in Nigeria, despite public outcries, editorial comments and opinion articles by well meaning Nigerians.
Also qualifying the situation as a crisis is that efforts in the past by the House of Representatives to identify, address/abolish the policies that laid the groundwork has been visited with dripping contempt and virulent hostility by these institutions.
Adding context to the discourse, it was in the news that in November 2019, the Nigeria’s House of Representative, following public outcry against excruciating acceptance fee charged by the nation’s institutions of higher learning moved a motion through Honourable Emeka Chinedu, PDP-Imo (Ahiazu Mbaise/Ezinihitte Federal Constituency).
Leading the debate, Mr Chinedu, according to the reports observed that one of the factors contributing to poor access to tertiary education is the “predatory admission policies being enforced by tertiary institutions, particularly the requirement for payment of non-refundable acceptance fees as a condition precedent for admission”.
He said in parts; “it should bother the lawmakers that Imo State University charges N70, 000 as acceptance fee.”“Other institutions like the University of Ibadan charge 35,000; University of Lagos, 20,000; Ahmadu Bello University, 30,000; Lagos State University, N20,000; University of Uyo, 25,000, and University of Benin hovers between N60, 000.00 to N75, 000.00, depending on the department and faculty. In the end, the plenary presided over by the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, described acceptance fee as exploitative and called on Federal Government, to immediately abolish the payment of such fees in tertiary institutions in Nigeria.
When parents and their wards heard of this resolution, they were for two reasons happy.
First, the development portrayed the House as both a responsive and responsible body capped with listening capacity to the yearning of the poor Nigerians. Secondly, The House of Representative’s resolution more than anything lends credence to the global belief that the survival of freedom depends upon the rule of law. The rule of law depends in turn upon the respect each generation has for the integrity with which our laws are written, interpreted, and enforced.
However, at the same time the celebration of the new feat achieved by the House was ongoing, indication emerged pointing to acceptance fees in the institutions of higher learning in Nigeria as a ‘culture’ that will be too difficult to uproot. Out of many that provided watershed to why the directive may not be fully obeyed, particularly as the demand for acceptance fee stems from, and nourished by perennial underfunding of the nation’s education sector, Idowu Olayinka, vice chancellor of the University of Ibadan,(as he then was) made a revelation that is not only new but different.
While informing the media of his institution readiness to comply with the directive on acceptance, he however, explained that the amount accruing to the University of Ibadan, for instance, in a year is not enough to fund the university in a month. “Therefore, the school has to look for alternative means to source for funds”.
“Someone has to take up the bill,” he said. “We have to make up our mind on what we really want. You can’t even run a creche without funds. In a year, we spend at least N200 million on our clinic contactors. Add this to electricity bill and diesel, then you’re talking of over N800 million. “What the university is getting for overhead is less than N100 million. So where do you think the remaining N700 million will come from? Unless you want to close down the whole university,” he added.
Today, such concerns expressed cannot be described as unfounded as no tertiary schools in Nigeria complied with the House’s directive on acceptance fee. Not even the University of Ibadan that initially made promise! But contrary to expectation and to the surprise of stakeholders/observers, instead of schools act in compliance, many retained the prevailing fees while the rest in absolute disobedience, and challenge to the new order had an upward review of their acceptance fees.
Though, I sympathize with the awkward positions in which these public tertiary institutions administrators are placed, especially as the frustration is fed by inadequate funding occasioned by our nation’s inability to heed to the United Nation Educational Scientific, and Cultural Organization [UNESCO] budgetary recommendation for education sectors which pegs it at 26% of nation’s annual budget. .That notwithstanding,, these public universities administrators forgot that any public office holder who breaks the law is a threat to that very structures of the government he pledged to protect.
At this point also, the questions may be asked; what the acceptance fee signifies. Why must students pay the acceptance fee for an admission they voluntarily expressed interest and paid the examination fees?
Looking at this crowd of concern, it will not be characterized as out of order to conclude that, if the time-honoured aphorism which considers education as the bedrock of development is anything to go by, then, we all have reasons to feel worried and collectively work hard to deliver the nation’s universities from the valleys of the shadow of death.
Specifically, the challenge comes in two forms; the first lays out the dilemma posed by the government’s under funding of the public universities which as a consequence; impedes lecturers from carrying out scholarly researches, truncates academic calendar with strike actions, lace Nigerian universities with dilapidated and overstretched learning facilities with the universities producing graduates devoid of linkage with the manpower demand by the nation’s industrial sector.
The second challenge stems from the first but centres more particularly on thoughtless demand for fees of varying amounts/ proposed by the school authorities-a development that is financially squeezing life out of the innocent students and their parents.
The dilemma and menace posed by this practice indicates a considerably higher risk. And except the government commits its resources in getting to the root of the challenge, the potential consequence could be higher than that of other challenges currently ravaging the education sector.
Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via;firstname.lastname@example.org