Federal varsities’ fees hike unsettles Nigerians

The recent hike in school fees of some schools across the country, particularly the increment by the federal universities, has continued to attract the ire and condemnation of Nigerians, especially parents and students.

The Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, the umbrella body of teachers in the universities has also added its voice to the growing concerns, warning that if the trend was not reversed and adequately addressed, it would lead to mass dropout of students from the universities in the next two years.

The ASUU president, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, who handed down the warning, predicted that between 40 and 50 percent of students in the universities would definitely drop out of school in the next two years if the trend was allowed to continue.

The university don lamented that the people’s standard of living is at its lowest ebb following the high cost of living as a result of continued downward slope in the value of the naira against the dollar and other foreign currencies, and instead of finding a way to improve the living condition of the people, the university authorities are adding to the people’s pain and misery.

He said: “Today, universities are arbitrarily increasing tuition fees. Is that correct in an environment, where the minimum wage is N30,000 per month, and where they have to pay rent and pay heavily for transportation? And you are enforcing this thing on the students?

“As a result of this, I can assure you that if nothing is done about this heavy fee being introduced all over the country today, in the next two or three years, more than 40 to 50 per cent of the students who are in school will drop out.

“If you say school fees of N300,000, how can the children of somebody who earns N50,000 a month be able to pay such fee?”

He condemned the government attitude to education funding, even as he urged the federal government to increase its education budget from the paltry 3.8 percent in 2022 to about 15 percent of the overall budget sum if the government is serious about developing education in Nigeria.

This, he said, would not only contribute to education development, and by extension to the overall development and growth of the country’s economy, but also relieve parents of the strain of paying expensive fees for their children.

Many public colleges and universities have raised tuition fees in recent months to reflect what they called the current country’s economic realities in the country.

At the last count, no fewer than three federal universities have announced an increment in their schools fees, forcing students to respond with peaceful protest.

On September 12, students of the University of Jos, Plateau State, took to the streets to protest what they called an outrageous increase in their school fees. The placard-bearing students had stormed the streets of the Tin City State to reject a 300 percent increase in their school fees.

According to the students, the school had, in 2017, increased its fees from N27, 000 to N45, 000; an increment that was collectively agreed upon by both the university authorities and the students/parents through negotiation. They lamented that barely five years after that agreement was reached, the university authorities woke up this current session to announce a 300 percent increase, forcing the 100 and 200-level students to pay a whopping N213,000, and N160,000 for the 300-level students, respectively.

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Recall that similar protests had earlier rocked the University of Nigeria Nsukka, and the University of Lagos, where similar arbitrary increments were pronounced by the university authorities.

According to reports, the UNN recently increased the school fees for the 100-level and 200-level students, despite protests by students on December 1, 2022, when fees were raised by 100 percent for the 2021/2022 academic session. The recent increment raised the fees from the old N45,000 for returning students to between N85,000 and N95,000, depending on the course and faculty.

It was also reported that after the students’ protest, there was a deduction of N10,000, bringing it to between N74,000 and N75,000 respectively for old students, while new students are required to pay between N114,650 and N120,650, respectively. Going by the latest increment, a returning student in the school is expected to pay about 90,750, depending on the faculty and department.

Even with the reduction in the school fees following students’ demonstrations as can be seen in UNILAG, Prof Osodeke is concerned that parents/guardians may find it difficult to pay the new fees.

However, many believe that the recent increment in school fees by some universities is not unconnected with the recent subsidy removal in education and the introduction of students’ loan.

Those who hold this opinion argued that although the constant increment in school by federal universities has been there, they became more prevalent a few months after the Students’ Loan Act was signed into law by President Tinubu on June 12, 2023. The law stipulates that students can fund their education through the loan and repay within two years after completing their National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) programme.

But the ASUU president does not believe that the students’ loan would change anything. He expressed fear that the loan scheme would fail. He stressed that if the scheme must be effective, then the lending policy must be examined.

Prof Osodeke is not alone in his world of scepticism about the students’ loan scheme as many students have also continued to express similar fear, insisting that the loan would not work due to the high unemployment rate in the country.

But, tertiary institutions have remained adamant and unperturbed as they have continued to increase the school fees. They do so in the firm belief that with the students’ loans, no student would drop out of school. But, students are saying that even if they would be able to repay the loans after school, accessing the loans is very tasking.

A student from the Department of English and Literary Studies, Lagos State University, Ojo, James Okunade, lamented that the conditions for the approval of the loan were unbearable.

“The process is overly rigid. If one manages to obtain the loan and then struggles to complete his or course of study, finding a job within the stipulated time becomes a big problem.

“Again, depending on loans as a student could mean graduating not just with a degree but also with a debt certificate. In addition to this particular loan, many students take out other loans just to access education, leaving them with both degrees and debts.

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“So, both the government and the school authorities should recognize the fact that these approaches are ineffective. Nigeria has not yet reached that level. I’ve heard that Unilag has reduced its school fees. I urge other institutions to follow suit. If the government truly wants this country to progress, they should prioritise education,” he stated.

Decrying the development, a 200-level mass communication student in Unilag, Mary Ayodele narrated how she struggled to pay her school fees for the 2021/22 academic session, lamenting that she couldn’t register her courses.

She added that it had a serious negative effect on her final results as she lacked concentration when she wrote exams for the courses she did not register before the exams.

She expressed doubt about her ability to pay the current school fees.

“The school fees were supposed to be N74,000, but they later increased it to N90,750. It will be hard. I haven’t told my dad the actual amount we’re meant to pay now, but I know it won’t be easy. He might get furious and stop funding my education,” she stated

Checks by revealed that Miss Ayodele is not alone as many students face the same dilemma.

The protest in UNILAG was not only against the increment of school fees, but also against what they called police indiscriminate arrests to prevent disorder in the school environment.

According to a report on September 6, teargas canisters were fired at the protesting students. They protested again on September 13. The school authorities later cited reasons for the fee increment, and insisted that there would be no further reduction after it recently reduced the fees following a collective agreement with the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS).

Speaking on the development, the president of the Mass Communication Students’ Association, (MACSA), Unilag, Samson Soremekun, said: “The reason for the protests is obvious. Many students attend federal universities, not just for the quality but also because the fees are moderate and within the reach of average parents.

“Today, most parents can’t afford the fees. So, students believe and hope that peaceful protests would draw attention to their plight.”

However, institutions like the UNIJOS, the UNILAG, the UNN, and others including private universities cite insufficient budgetary allocations and economic hardships as reasons for the increments in school fees.

The negative effects of the sudden hike in school fees by some of the federal universities extend beyond students to parents, families, and even the society.

The effects range from psychological distress, to reduced academic focus, low performance, increased dropouts, shattered dreams, depression, and even suicides. For parents, it could lead to stress and high blood pressure which may also result in death.

According to the MCSA president in Unilag, a 2022 UNESCO report noted that about 20 million Nigerians were out of school, mainly due to poverty.

“If more students drop out due to fee hikes, the idea that the youths are tomorrow’s leaders might never be realised. Education is a critical investment for the common man, and its neglect could lead to societal problems,” he explained.

In his contribution, a 300-level engineering student of UNN lamented that the government had lost interest in funding federal institutions, even as he expressed fear that the fee hike would force many students to drop out.

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He noted that while the UNN management had decided to allow students to pay school fees by instalments to lessen the burden on them, the amount being paid today is frustrating, especially for those sponsoring themselves.

The Director of Academics, Department of Combined Social Sciences, UNN, Chijioke Ogenyi, noted that the increment was in response to the harsh economy which the university is not insulated from, but urged the school authorities to be considerate because without the students, there won’t be teachers.

He asked: “How can there be quality education for students who cannot afford the fees? There’s no teacher without students, and there will also be no students without teachers; they work hand in hand.

“Our institutions should be considerate because without students, they wouldn’t exist. You pay school fees of N25,000 today, and next semester you’re asked to pay ₦100,000. It is said that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, and individuals who drop out may resort to illegal means to make a living, creating more problems in society.

“Obviously, the dreams of those who drop out of school exist only in their imagination. They are filled with regrets and frustration, as they can’t pursue professions like law or medicine that require certification because of high school fees. Their parents’ hopes for a better life are dashed, as they often struggle to invest in their children’s education for a brighter future,” he stated.

Speaking on the implication of the latest hike in school fees, Ogenyi said: “One of the implications of high school fees is a corresponding high dropout rate.

“For instance, the trending issue among young people is cyber-crime such as internet fraud, popularly called the yahoo yahoo, which damages Nigeria’s reputation internationally. Other social vices like prostitution, child trafficking, armed robbery, kidnapping, and banditry will continue to increase if the current increments in school in these federal universities are not properly addressed.

“Keeping students in classrooms will make them occupied and take their minds away from criminal activities. Any serious nation must prioritise its future generation and education is paramount in achieving that.

“For Nigeria to become one of the world leaders in science and technology, it must get the education of its citizens right. Improving our healthcare system hinges on education. Education can bring numerous benefits to society.

“Therefore, let the Nigerian government, under the leadership of President Bola Tinubu, show compassion and take a critical look at the constant fee increments in the federal universities.”

Also, decrying the development, a Lagos resident, Mr. Christian Uduak, whose two children are currently studying in the UNN, said: “We, parents, are likely to suffer from hypertension or depression when we see our children unable to achieve their dreams due to our inability to afford their school fees.

“We are not even notified before the increment, and the percentage is usually too much to behold. Many of us couldn’t attend higher institutions, and that’s why our prayers are always for our children to succeed and achieve what we couldn’t achieve due to circumstances during our youthful days.

“When our children fail, we see ourselves as failures, and it could lead to over-thinking.”

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