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Finding panacea to varsities financial challenges

By Iyabo Lawal
07 April 2022   |   4:20 am
Experts have noted that Federal Government’s financial contributions to run public universities are hardly sufficient; resulting in government directing universities to source for 10 per cent .....

National Universities Commission building

With an average Nigerian living on less than $2 a day, it has become difficult for parents to fund education of their children. Also, as Nigeria struggles in the face of economic recession, the debate whether the Federal Government should continue to funding of university education alone. Or payment of tuition should be introduced has again come to the fore, writes IYABO LAWAL

Experts have noted that Federal Government’s financial contributions to run public universities are hardly sufficient; resulting in government directing universities to source for 10 per cent of funds needed to keep them running.

The need for alternative generation of revenue by the universities was emphasised by the implementation committee of the National Policy on Education that the institutions must device means to be self-sustaining and “use their internal reservoir of initiative and ingenuity in finding alternative options in the face of the challenges of financial stringency.”

Prof. Comfort Akomolafe and Mrs. Esther Aremu, at the Ekiti State University, in their research on alternative sources of financing university education, argued that funding remains vital to the provision of functional education that can lead to national transformation.

They, however, noted that between 2000 and 2017, the real value of government allocation for university education declined by 27 per cent even as enrolment grew by 77 per cent. For three years, N196bn was allocated to federal universities (which is only 14.8 per cent of the required N1.3249bn). This is despite the fact that Nigeria is currently witnessing increased enrolment of university students as provided.”

Some have claimed that inadequate funding of university education illustrates a lack of commitment to the future growth and transformation of the nation on the part of government, even though more than 90 per cent of university funding comes from government.

Without government subvention, it is unimaginable to see how Nigerian universities will continue to exist. But the funding is not enough as demonstrated by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) through its perennial strikes.

A few years ago, the Committee on the Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies headed by a former Head of Service, Stephen Oronsaye, recommended how federal universities can be salvaged from financial challenges.

One of the panel’s recommendations that caught the eye is the introduction of school fees in federal universities.

To the former civil service boss, the government’s tuition-free policy is a reason there is a decline in the quality of standards in tertiary education.

According to the committee, non-payment of tuition deprived federal universities of adequate funding, which could have been used to provide much-needed infrastructure and educational materials.

The Oronsaye committee asserted that while it has been difficult to introduce tuition in federal institutions, the need to do so was inevitable to save tertiary education system from the doldrums.

The committee suggested that it costs N450, 000 and N525, 000 respectively to train arts and science students per session in Nigerian universities, therefore, recommending that the government should, over a five-year period, stop funding universities – the University of Ibadan, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, University of Lagos, Obafemi Awolowo University and the University of Benin – with effect from 2013.

“Unlike in other climes where universities are rated among the best in terms of reputation and academics, the existing government tuition-free policy exempts undergraduates in federal universities in Nigeria from paying school fees. The consequence of such a policy is that federal universities have been denied adequate funding to contribute to quality education in terms of infrastructure and educational materials.

“The committee is, therefore, of the strong opinion that tuition should be reintroduced in federal universities. The committee is aware that the reintroduction of tuition would be very challenging having operated a free tuition policy for many years. Nevertheless, it is an inescapable reality that all stakeholders must have to face,” the Oronsaye committee said in its report.

It, however, sounded a note of warning why the federal government should not drag its feet over the matter: “This is because deferring the action would be tantamount to setting a time bomb that will ultimately go off someday.”

The federal universities were urged to complement their funding by looking for alternative funding. So far, most of the public institutions had increased their collections to augment what they got from the federal and state governments.

In UNILAG for instance, a tuition of N14, 500 became N63, 500; at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), the school fees went from N27, 000 to N41, 000; at University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), it went from N60, 450 to N66, 950; at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, the tuition rose from N19, 700 to N55, 700.

Others are Nnamdi Azikiwe University, from N20, 100 to N65, 920; Bayero University, Kano, from N26, 000 to N40, 000; the University of Abuja, from N39, 300 to N42, 300 and Usman Danfodiyo University, from N32, 000 to N41, 000. The National Open University of Nigeria, from N36, 000 to N48, 000; the University of Benin, from N12, 000 to N49, 500; the University of Ilorin, from N16, 000 to N75, 000 and Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), from N13, 560 to N83, 940.

Similarly, the Federal University, Minna increased its tuition from N20, 000 to N37, 000; the University of Calabar, from N30, 500 to N42, 750 and University of Uyo, from N71, 000 to N84, 250.

ASUU, in a statement, noted that public education was not taken seriously because most children of the rich and top government officials do not attend universities in the country.

“The increment might be attributed to poor funding by the federal and state governments as r President Muhammadu Buhari has not performed well in the area of funding of university education.”

Prof. Des Wilson of the Department of Communication Arts, at the University of Uyo, said: “My opinion is that we do not even have tuition in federal universities. The only thing that is approved by government is for students to pay for accommodation, though the universities have found some other ways of getting around that challenge.

“The question of review is a matter that is for the conscience of Nigerians. Let parents be involved and pay something more, no matter how little. If they are talking of reviewing to compete with Covenant University or the American University in Nigeria and charge millions, they will hit a brick wall because as teachers, we will not support that kind of situation. The students and their parents will also not support it. I know that even if we say that government should consider an upward review of the fees or whatever they are charging now, some parents will oppose us. They will tell us that they are not ready to pay. But these are people who are privileged, while there are millions of Nigerians who do not have the wherewithal to pay those fees.”

Speaking further, he suggested that the Federal Government should provide a national loan scheme through national university banks, where students who cannot afford to pay school fees can get loans to fund their academic dreams.

“They will then get money to pay their fees and have some kind of arrangement that by the time they graduate and begin to work, they will pay back such money,” Wilson said.

For Prof. Etim Nelson at UNIUYO, said reviewing tuition paid in universities is needed. “It is justified, of course, in terms of quality and cost of education that we give to our children. University education in a country like Germany is free. Germany has enormous resources; the state actually contributes 100 per cent to the resources of the university system. We also have industries and foundations supporting government efforts. This explains why they have high standards and good resources, particularly for teaching and learning.

“Here in Nigeria, a third-world country, the resources are not there. Students are crammed into very small lecture theatres. In some cases, they have no chairs, benches and tables. Do you think this can continue? No. We should sit and reassess our future and that of higher education and what we can do to support government efforts. We do not have foundations, institutions or organisations committing their resources to fund higher education in Nigeria.”

According to him, government, being the sole financier of federal universities, is responsible for university workers’ salaries being owed for months.

“So, if there is an upward review that will create opportunities for us to manage resources very well in the interest of our students, that will be great. I know that the (school) fee(s) (of some universities) is about N14, 000, N12, 000 and so on. And in some cases, for those in (departments of) Medicine and Pharmacy, it is a little bit above that. Look at phones that students use and clothes they wear, it is more than that. But we are just asking for a slight adjustment that will provide facilities and resources for our students,” the professor argued.

Public analyst, Suleiman Suleiman, said if majority of the students in the federal and state universities in the country are from middle-income homes, whose parents paid for their primary and secondary education, should government continue to pay for their university education 100 per cent?

Suleiman noted that tuition remains free in Nigerian public universities, as students pay only other charges, which in most cases, is not more than N60, 000 a year, less than the fees per term for the average private primary or secondary school.

“How then should public universities in Nigeria be funded henceforth? This final question is important because it is at the heart of the face-off between ASUU and the federal and state governments who own, but cannot fully fund public universities. The answer lies in three alternative funding mechanisms.

“First, it is time to introduce some tuition fees into public university system, capped at say between N250, 000-N500, 000 over the next 10 years. Consider a university with 10,000 students. A tuition fee of N300, 000 a year will provide the university with additional N3 billion a year of funding. When this is added to what public universities receive from Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), which in some years went above N1b a year – which is minus payment of salaries – the typical university would have enough to pay for expanding teaching and learning facilities, research and academic staff development, the real things universities need.

“Tuition fees don’t have to be paid for upfront. They can be borrowed and paid for later over the course of one’s career at government legislated interest rates and a provision that repayment can only start if the borrower earns a certain minimum annual salary, say N1.2 million. If a student borrows N2 million for tuition and living expenses at a fixed interest rate of say 20 per cent over the course of a four-year degree programme, the student can pay back the total N2.4 million owed over say a 20-year period, translating to about total repayment of N10, 000 monthly from a salary of N100, 000 per month. Those who don’t earn that much would not need to pay, yet.

“Third, universities would need to diversify their funding sources. Older universities can tap into a sea of funding from their alumni. For example, older universities can launch an alumni funding scheme whereby each former graduate is required to pay just N1, 000 a month. If properly communicated and utilised, many former graduates of the school will enroll. Thus, a university with 10,000 enrollees into such a scheme will attract additional N120 million a year, enough to cater for the entire library needs of Ahmadu Bello University, to give a single example. Of course, many alumni will be happy to pay more,” he added.

According to the World Bank, the crisis of finance in public universities can be resolved to a large extent if other viable means of funding them are explored.