University of Ibadan: Of access, cost and quality of education
The combination of access, cost and quality is a major challenge confronting higher education in Nigeria. Figuratively, these three components are the three lumps of clay set to support a vessel over a fire of refinement intended to process raw students into finished products. An absence of one component automatically disrupts the balance. Nigeria currently has 142 universities with federal government funding 40, another 41 being run by various states, while the remaining 61 are privately owned. Yet, these 142 universities are grossly inadequate to take care of the educational needs of a population of about 180 million people.
Obviously, the problem of access to higher education stares in the face. Little wonder, many young Nigerians desirous of university education troop to foreign countries, shamefully, including the small fry next-door neighbours such as Togo, Ghana and Gabon. Perhaps, nothing could be more glaring in demonstrating the difficult access to higher education by Nigerians than the recent revelation of Executive Secretary, National Universities commission, Prof. Julius Okogie who said only 400,000 out of the 1.5million candidates that wrote 2016 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) would gain admission to universities while the remaining 1.1million others “will find their levels”.
However, in a bid to create more access for Nigerians, government in 1991 liberalized the education sector by allowing private groups, individuals and religious bodies to set up private universities. 61 private universities are currently operating in the country. The question now is, how many families in the countries can afford to send their children there? This is where the issue of cost comes in. Many of these private universities charge as much as N1.5million per session, while the lowest free is around N200, 0000 per session.
Given the level of poverty in the country, coupled with the social class stratification, the question remains: how many of our burgeoning candidates can afford to go to private universities? This writer would not have tasted university education were it not for a federal university like University of Ibadan. Some of the state universities as well, do not help matter. Some state universities charge as high as N200, 000 per session even in the face of poor facilities and inadequate manpower. Quality, without doubt, is compromised.
More poignantly, the only option left for the children of the proletariat to explore is the federal university system where fees are heavily subsidized, facilities fairly guaranteed and quality, relatively sure. This explains the reason for the survival of the fittest competition to gain admission to federal universities including Ibadan, Nsukka, Zaria, Ife, Ilorin, and Lagos among others.
For instance, at the university of Ibadan (UI) which is the first and the best university in the country, every admission year is an epic battle. An average of 50,000 candidates usually contest for admission capacities of about 3,500. The reasons are obvious: tuition fee is cheap, quality is guaranteed, but the access is tough. Those who manage to secure admission to UI are considered as extremely lucky.
But now, there is a conundrum! The current economic tornado in the country appears to be hitting the 67 years old indisputable primus inter pares university hard. The system is groaning and writhing with financial nightmare that racks rigorously. This challenge, however, is not unconnected with the fall in the prices of crude oil, which is the mainstay of the federal government – the proprietor of the university. The UI, which had really enjoyed the benefits of “first born” in the 60s and 70s when there was oil boom, is today gasping for financial breath.
Since last December, the UI Vice Chancellor, Prof Abel Idowu Olayinka has been having it rough, contending albeit stoically, with paucity of funds to run the university. As a result of inadequate funding from the government, staff members under the aegies of different unions, saved Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) had confronted him. Why? Some allowances and full salary could not be paid following the shortfall in the personnel cost received from the government.
As financial resources of the university get plummeted, the fortunes seem dwindle, municipal services such, as water and electricity could not be supplied regularly. Those who are socially discerning and sociologically perceptive can only glimpse the multiplier effect. Students soon kicked. Their murmuring snowballed into protest. Pronto! The university was shut down on Tuesday April 26.
However, while recently addressing parents and other stakeholders on the challenges facing the university, Prof. Olayinka did not hesitate to cite poor funding as the ample of discord in the university. In his words, “the crisis in this university since December last year has to do with allocation of scarce resources. We usually receive two types of grants from the government: personnel cost and capital projects fund. Since December, we have been having a shortfall of about N100million in personnel cost. The amount received from government can only pay 92 percent of the salary. Some workers insist that the university must pay in full. Where are we going to get more money?”
The VC further revealed, “last year, we got N140million as capital projects subvention for a whole year, this can barely pay the cost of cleaning the university. We spend N12million on cleaning the campus every month. We pay between N30million and N35million for electricity every month. We finance so many capital projects with our Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), unless federal government really decides to fund education, we still have some distance to destination.
What else does one need in order to know that public university education is in a dire strait? Touched by the VC’s presentation, few parents sympathized with the situation and mooted the ideal of contributing money to assist the university. But those who probably have not received salaries in the last five months grumbled in rising decibels to kill the idea.
Apart from the issue of paucity of fund, which was a major feature of the stakeholders’ forum, concerns were raised about the conduct of some of our students particularly during the protest and after. Prof. Olayinka shared his horrible experience to the amazement of many parents. Some of the students went on a rampage like manic bulls, stomping and stamping on everything. They willfully disrespected, derided and despised the Management with reckless abandon! How does one describe a particular student who posted the VC’s picture on the social media with a satanic and mischievous RIP inscription? This was not only preposterously distasteful, but also morally and culturally reprehensible! Perhaps, it is apposite at this point to call on parents and guardians to pay close attention to the activities of their children even on campus.
The university is aware that the students need electricity and water throughout their stay on campus, even when such necessities are unavailable in the larger society. However, they must know that the situation in the country is stifling. Nobody enjoys agony and suffering, but where the Management is incapacitated, the students should show understanding rather than embarking on a time – wasting protest.
By and large, people must come together to save public university system. Government must allow individual university to charge appropriate fees if quality will be assured. The UI enjoyed prime attention when there were few universities in the country. Now that the government has 40 federal universities to fund, the capacity to do that well appears effete. Education is one of the ways with which optimal human happiness and fulfillment can be guaranteed. It is a key determinant of social and economic mobility.
Saanu is with Directorate of Public Communication, University of Ibadan.