Schools in the throes of recession
Donor grant administration, execution of capital projects, provision of essential municipal services, as well as effective administration, are some aspects of university operations that have been rocked by the ongoing recession. Schools at lower levels are also offering incentives and fee cuts in order to retain their students. ENO-ABASI SUNDAY and UJUNWA ATUEYI write on how schools are battling the economic downturn.
When the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and sundry groups deplored the inclusion of all federal government-owned educational institutions in the blanket implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy of the Federal Government, on the ground that it was crippling their efforts to deliver on their set objectives, not many thought matters would get from bad to worse so soon.
But the economic downturn, which has given birth to a recession, has hastened the doomsday for these institutions. Tertiary institutions are not alone in this dilemma, as the impact of the hard-hitting economic malaise has engulfed the entire education spectrum, in one way or another.
In simple terms, a recession is defined as a period of temporary economic decline during which trade and industrial activities are reduced, generally identified by a fall in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in two successive quarters.
Its impact in the education sector, many parents and stakeholders fear, could lead to poor quality service delivery in these institutions, some of which are already lying belly up, owing to multi-faceted challenges.
At the tertiary level, only the managements of a few federal-owned institutions have come out to openly state the grueling impact of recession on their operations, while many afraid of being sanctioned by the government have remained taciturn. Even those that elect to divulge any details of their sufferings prefer to do so anonymously.
However, the acting Vice Chancellor of Obafemi Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Prof. Anthony Elujoba, remains one of those that have cried out publicly that recession is affecting the provision of essential services as well as the effective running of universities.
In an address he gave during the matriculation of 7, 500 students for the 2015/2016 academic session, Elujoba, who was represented by the Chairman, Committee of Deans, Prof. Adeagbo Amusan, however, assured the new students of good conditions of living in the school despite the recession, just as he appealed to them to ensure proper use of municipal facilities in order to reduce cost.
“Your admission to the university coincides with a period of obvious economic recession in the country. The implication is that funds are not readily available for provisions of municipal and other essential services. However, I assure you of our readiness to continue to ensure that issues affecting students’ welfare are addressed as prompt as possible within the limited resources.
“As the university is ever willing to go the extra mile to make you succeed in your studies and other legitimate endeavours, you are also under obligation to make judicious use of all the resources that are provided.”
Vice Chancellor of the Redeemer’s University, Ede, Osun State, Prof. Debo Adeyewa, recently laced his view regarding the recession with an advise to President Muhammadu Buhari, to seek the services of tested economic experts to help him steer the country’s economy out of recession.
At a briefing to signal the commencement of activities marking the eight convocation of the university, he maintained that the education sector was not insulated from the economic logjam.
“The change the people are expecting is a positive one, so they have to work extra hard to effect it. The government should look for seasoned economic advisers wherever they can get them. It may be from the universities, from labour unions, the private sector or anywhere. It does not mean that these economic advisers must be from a particular political party,” the vice chancellor stated.
He insisted that the, “Solution does not lie with the International Monetary Fund; it does not lie with the World Bank, the solution to the economic recession lies within us.”
Adeyewa added that the school was trying its best to ensure that the quality of lives of the students was not adversely affected by the recession, hence its decision not to tinker with school fees despite the fall in the value of the naira.
He called on the Federal Government to help private universities to grow by enunciating policies that would facilitate that.
His words: “We need polices which will allow us to grow. So many universities where Nigerians are trooping to abroad cannot compare to our own here in Nigeria. Some of them have just one story building and that is all but their government allow them to grow,” he added.
Spokesperson of a federal university, who craved anonymity told The Guardian that “Both the TSA policy and the ongoing recession have dealt harshly with the operations of federal universities.
“Before now, issues like power cut, water problems and the likes were handled with dispatch by the school management because of their capacity to cause discontent on campus. The TSA has worsened the scenario now. To get as little as N50, 000 out of the system, we have to wait for at least 72 hours. Sometimes getting funds out could take up to 10 days. This does not make for effective running of a university,” he stated.
The spokesperson also added that providers of certain external grants are not pleased with the management of the monies because of the sloppy manner of release, which is occasioned by the TSA.
Another spokesperson, who also craves anonymity said, “With the way things are going, it is only a matter of time before compromise will start setting in. Right now, many private universities are cap-in-hand looking for students, as parents who can hardly feed their families are not looking their way. It is only a few parents who can still get a little money from here and there that are giving a thought to sending their wards to private universities.
“Now, private universities are increasingly engaging the services of marketers to get them new students. Those who had marketers before are, like banks, increasing targets for them in order to cover lost ground.
“Already, some private universities are contemplating payments of fees in up to six installments, away from the three installments which some schools currently practice. In addition to this, there are strong indications that some private universities would end up cutting down their fees,” he added.
The image maker regretted that matters have gone so bad that some private and public universities have stopped capital projects even as worst hit private universities are now paying half salaries to their workers.
“Rather than bring in investors, who may end up hijacking their schools from them, some private university owners are downscaling investments in their schools. No capital projects any more. Where unavoidable, big name contracting firms are out of the question as the jobs are given to individuals with considerate charges. Workers are now taking home half salaries and you know what this is capable of causing in the long run,” he concluded
On whether the school has increased its school fees as some have done in other to cushion the effects of the recession, spokesperson of Caleb University, Kola Adepoju said, “For this session, we have not increased our fees. Even though we are still charging one of the least fees among private universities, we are not compromising standards.
“The proprietor and management of this school has also ensured that no single staff in this institution is owed a single month salary or other things due them,” he concluded.
At the secondary schools level, some schools have already slashed fees and also accepted the idea of fee payment in installments. Issues like excursions and foreign trips are some of the areas they are considering shelving.
According to a parent, Mrs. Joy Onwe, “What most parents are contending with now is the school fees and other bills and not renewal of school wears. I have explained to my five children that there won’t be renewal of any item this session as they would all have to manage their old wears. What is topmost on my mind is tuition and sundry fees. I have weighed the pros and cons of changing to another low-fee paying school, but by the time you start buying new uniforms, sports wears and others, it will amount to same figure if not more than. So I have ruled out moving my kids to another school.
“As an individual, I have already meet the school authorities and discussed the mode of payment, and we had agreed on four installments. I have to be faithful with the pact, because I wouldn’t want my children to be embarrassed.
Another parent, Dr. Katty Ayande, is appealing to Buhari to urgently address the economic situation in the country as matters were “getting out of control.”
“For me, we are moving our kids in the primary and secondary schools to another quality, but average fee-paying school. The times we are into do not call for pretense. It is about tackling our individual and family issues head-on. I have discussed that with my husband, and we have agreed. I used the long holiday to search for alternative schools that measure up to the standard we desire. I have found one, and it is also affordable. I do hope, that this economic recession will end soonest,” she said.
For Managing Director of Edumark Consult, an educational consulting firm, Mrs. Yinka Ogunde, “A number of people have called me to ask if slashing of fees by some schools would not compromise quality. Others are alleging that schools that have slashed their fees by about 50 per cent were overcharging. Some are offering up to 50 per cent discount on fees, but the question is how will such schools cope with salaries and increasing costs? Something is not adding up here.
“Clearly it shows that parents must be discerning and ask questions like, have schools been over charging? Are they going to reduce the salary of their teachers or the quality of meals given to pupils? This is a time you must ask questions and ensure you take decisions that are in the best interest of your children,” she charged parents.
But Chief Executive Officer of Global International College, Lekki, Lagos, Mrs. Abolaji Osime, believes that considering what parents are facing at the moment, discount is not a bad idea.
She said, “It is only if you are not a parent that you will not feel what other parents are currently going through, especially those with children abroad. It is called empathy. Nigeria is officially in recession. Parents are struggling to meet up and are asking for discounts and schools are in a dilemma. Do we insist on charging normal fees or do we adjust to current realities, cut costs, operate lean budgets and pass on the gains to parents without compromising quality?
“And guess what, it is not only the education sector that is giving incentives to customers, it’s everyone. Nigerian parents are asking for financial aid in the United States’ universities. United Kingdom universities are slashing fees to encourage Nigerian parents. What GIC has done is to pass on the gains to parents. I will rather give parents discount than pay banks 29 per cent interest. God will see all of us through.”
For Proprietress of New Life Private School, Ikotun, Lagos, Mrs. Gbemisola Emiebor, “We would not increase school fees; rather we would go out of our way to give considerations that might affect our marketing goals. But all would be in the interest of parents. My only fear is that majority of these parents do not keep to their words. And I would not want teachers’ welfare to be affected because teachers’ welfare remains an integral part of our core values.”
While this is lingering, education expert have counseled schools and parents not to compromise standards in these circumstances, but rather try to make the best out of the available resources.
According to the Head of Department, Educational Foundation, University of Lagos, Akoka, Prof. Ngozi Osarenren, “Schools should not reduce fees because it is like a cyclical thing. It is the fees that they will use to pay the teachers. If you want good quality teaching and care for your child, the school fees should not be reduced, else it will boil down to quality issues.
“However, if the fees of the school your ward is attending are too high, then look for another quality quality but affordable school. The problem with most parents is that their choice of school is largely influenced by ego-trip. My child attends this or that school. But when you look at the present realities, they cannot afford it. So it is about reordering priority in the midst of lean resources.”