Sunday, 3rd December 2023

Tinubu-Watch: Don’t remove education ‘subsidy’ 

By Martins Oloja
30 July 2023   |   4:00 am
The dust raised by the removal of the controversial fuel subsidy hasn’t settled. It is worth writing about. There is an issue in Tinubu’s inconclusive cabinet-making.

The dust raised by the removal of the controversial fuel subsidy hasn’t settled. It is worth writing about. There is an issue in Tinubu’s inconclusive cabinet-making. That too is a good topic this weekend. There is a governance garbage in Pa Ajasin’s Ondo State, where there is a paralysis of analysis that correspondents covering the state appear to be covering up in a curious manner. That too is a big jigsaw puzzle for analysis this weekend. The Nigerian representatives’ scandalous mockery of the “wretched of the earth” in their (un)-hallowed chambers in Abuja could wake up Frantz Fanon, the oracle, at the weekend too if there was an opportunity to contextualise it. All these are topical issues, especially at this time that the powerful men in Abuja are beginning to appear unable to read the writings on the walls of time.

They haven’t read about the values of the Sons of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel ought to do. They don’t seem to be prepared for the challenges of the rampaging rot that they inherited. They behave like dinosaurs who don’t understand the digital times that disrupt governance processes daily, even in the global context. Strangely, they have hinted at creating more ministries and agencies to satisfy cronies who are hungry for power in this wilderness of debt, even as concerned citizens are daily calling on them to cut down the cost of governance. The cosmic spirits that control the power of migration from darkness to darkness appear to be on the prowl again. As I was saying the other day, they don’t seem to understand the bush fire that has been burning without consuming the bush yet. They want to exercise power without control; they want to ignore the writings on the wall, again. They want the poor to die miserably. Therefore, I have an appeal this week instead of musings on the issues highlighted above.

I would like to write a redemption song. I want to appeal to all our leaders through the National Economic Council (NEC) where all the leaders who control the levers of power in this very fragile, but complex federation meet regularly to discuss the state of the national purse and other related matters. I want them to build some consensus that no matter the state of the nation’s economy, no matter the state of insecurity in the country, they will not introduce policies to remove even the invisible subsidies on education. Yes, subsidies on education. We don’t need to start another debate on whether there have been subsidies for education. All I am pleading is: whatever our leaders want to become, they should ensure that the noise level of arbitrary increases on incidental fees in public schools across the country is reduced at the moment. Here is the thing, our leaders must ensure that they do all that is humanly possible to stem the tide of increase in the number of out-of-school children, and adults at this time. We have written several times here that the collapse of education is the collapse of any nation. They should stand firm together so that they can say no to tax and fees-increase policies that will lead to more of our children and adults being out of school. There have been conflicting figures regarding the number of out-of-school children, with some putting it at 14 million, while others say that it is only 10 million. But let’s not quarrel about the figure, instead, let’s be concerned about the reproach of having more children out of schools in Africa’s most populous country, as well as, a glimmer of hope for the black people of the world. Let our leaders in Abuja and 36 state capitals take seriously, the one-point agenda of saving education so that we can have a future, and hope for a better tomorrow, which Ngugi Wa Thiong’o said is the only comfort you can give to a weeping child. The dismal stories are trickling in already.

In a story in The Guardian (Nigeria) last week, there was a preface to anarchy in education thus: “In a move that has raised concerns on the fate of indigent students, authorities of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) have made a startling decision to increase school fees substantially, a decision that has been widely criticised by all concerned…”

The University of Lagos (UNILAG) and other universities have been announcing increases in fees ahead of the commencement of the 2023/2024 academic session. And expectedly, students, parents, and stakeholders have expressed concerns about their fate. According to the news peg on the (federal) University of Lagos, the announcement has caught many students unawares, as school fees were raised from N21,000 to a staggering N190,750 sparking heated debates and discussions both within and outside the school.

Some federal and state universities have equally announced new fees payable by new and old students, heightening fears that education may be out of the reach of the poor sooner than later. While universities battle the increasing costs of running schools, cases of higher fees are raising concerns about access to education and the potential impact on learning and development.

Two weeks ago, UNILAG also announced an adjustment in fees for both returning and new students of the institution. The increase is coming amid soaring food inflation and the high cost of living in the country. The new fees payable by fresh and returning students range between N120, 750 and N240, 250, depending on the course of study. Until the latest announcement, returning undergraduate students on campus paid between N26, 000 and N76, 000 and depending on courses.

According to the statement by the university, all fresh students who study courses without the use of laboratories and studios will pay a flat rate of N156,325, while their counterparts who would be required to make use of laboratories or studios will pay N206,325. The new rates include N10, 000 for toxicology tests and yearly utility charges of N20,000.

For returning students, the charges range between N120, 750, and N170, 250 and that too depends on course of study.

For returning medical students, fees range between N210, 250 and N240, 250. This includes the mandatory N20,000 utility fee and N30,000 for convocation ceremonies. Even education authorities haven’t measured the subsidies in medical and health sciences education in the country. It has been a mystery if we compare what students pay for this even in developed economies.

The University of Lagos used to charge N25,000 for convocation. Items to be paid for by the students include registration, identity cards, examination, library services, information technology and entrepreneurship, medical services, sports, and an endowment fund, among others.
But expectedly, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has warned that the increase may force indigent students out of school. And so teachers and students’ unions have been appealing to the federal government to review the increase by public universities and find a safe landing for the nation’s future leaders.

There is no debating this ancient grudge that the whole thing now boils down to the parents. These have been part of agitations by the academic staff unions who have been attacked several times by federal and state authorities who say they can no longer bear the brunt of funding.

UNILAG is not the only tertiary institution that has increased fees in recent times. Bayero University Kano (BUK); universities of Benin and Abuja, among others, have all done the same. The implications of the new fees are quite clear: children of the poor will withdraw from schools as the much-advertised student loans structure hasn’t been set up. As a union leader has noted, “…We should be mindful of the inherent danger that may accompany such development when it comes to vices, especially among youths. It could become a willing pool to recruit from. It is indeed sad. We hope President Bola Tinubu will review the situation and find a safe landing for our future leaders. The government could set up a high-powered commission that is made up of people of integrity and brain, to review all the issues as it concerns the country’s education sector,”

Meanwhile, let the new authorities in Nigeria not use a recent story that as a consequence of naira devaluation, Nigerian students face tough times in the UK as tuition soars by 60%. According to the report, many Nigerian students are facing tough times in the United Kingdom after the naira equivalent of their tuition fees increased by over 60 per cent following the recent move by the Central Bank of Nigeria to unify the nation’s foreign exchange rates. Barely, two weeks after President Tinubu promised to unify the nation’s multiple exchange rates, the apex bank decided to float the naira at the Investors’ and Exporters’ Window of the foreign exchange market. Since then, the naira has fallen from N471/dollar to N850/dollar and N589.4/pound to N1,112.2/pound. This has led to about a 60 per cent increase in tuition fees for students in the UK. Many policy and risk analysts working for Nigerian governments would like to argue that this rise in the exchange rate has put more pressure on many Nigerians that are schooling in the UK and beyond. The UK is one of the destinations of choice for many Nigerians as 128,770 Nigerian students enrolled in universities in the United Kingdom between 2015 and 2022 according to data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency of the UK. According to the CBN, study-related foreign exchange outflow to the UK rose to $2.5bn in 2022. Nigerian students and their dependents in the United Kingdom contribute about £1.9bn annually to the UK economy, according to an analysis by SBM Intelligence.

Many of these students may now struggle to pay the balance of their tuition due to the sharp decline in the value of the naira.

I have written extensively on how education quality was the critical success factor of Lee Kuan Yew’s success story of lifting his country, Singapore from a Third World country to a First World country. How many times will one write about how education quality has made South Korea become a world power with about 60 million people? Are we still in doubt that education quality is one reason South Africa is ahead of Nigeria in all indices of development? Can we dispute the economic powers of Multi-Choice, MTN, etc, and the value that their highly-rated universities are adding to industrial development in South Africa? Are we aware here that most of the Middle East countries dominated by Islam, including Saudi Arabia have almost reached 100% literacy level while we are still begging our leaders to reduce the number of our out-of-school children? Let our leaders not bring forth any sophistry, any shenanigans, and peccadillos about education subsidies. They should note that failure to fund basic and secondary education for all, which is a fundamental right, will spell disaster for them. And then university education should not become a privilege through fees that we cannot afford here. It is our leaders who need to waste their excesses. They shouldn’t create more bureaucracies at this perilous time. They should read the writings on the walls of time. We need robust funding for education.

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