Recently, the management of some public universities announced an increase in tuition fees amid a worsening economy. Those institutions included the University of Lagos; Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife; the University of Maiduguri, Federal University Dutse, Federal University Lafia, the University of Uyo, and others. The affected universities attributed this development to the rising cost of learning materials and the need to adequately fund activities in their respective institutions.
As stakeholders, we must ask ourselves two important questions. First, considering the current economic situation in the country, is this fee increment justified? Second, were relevant stakeholders consulted before these decisions were made? It is evident that public universities in Nigeria have been neglected in terms of funding. Most of them are not adequately funded. The consequences of these decisions will have a profound impact on both the nation and its students. Those unable to afford the increased fees may be forced to drop out of school, potentially leading to an increase in cybercrimes, kidnapping, banditry, armed robbery, and terrorism, to name just a few. Additionally, the country will suffer as there won’t be enough qualified manpower to handle national affairs.
Some of the challenges we face in this country can be attributed to the misplacement of priorities and the politicisation of our projects, programmes, and activities. Why is it that the education budget has consistently been inadequate over the years? To answer this question, let’s examine the budget preparation process. The Federal Ministry of Budget and National Planning is responsible for preparing the national budget. The budget preparation process typically begins in January each year with a circular sent to various ministries, departments, and agencies. In this circular, MDAs are requested to prepare their annual budgets for both recurrent and capital expenditures. However, it is crucial to remember that UNESCO has recommended that at least 26 per cent of our annual budget be allocated to the educational sector. Unfortunately, this recommendation has not been consistently implemented over the years. This is a regrettable situation.
I believe that the Federal Ministry of Education and the National Universities Commission should engage with members of the National Assembly to ensure that the 26 per cent recommended by UNESCO is consistently allocated during budget preparation.
It is essential to acknowledge that our political elite prefers government projects to be located in their respective regions. This raises questions about the proliferation of universities in the country. I am not against having numerous universities, but we need to ask ourselves several questions: Do we have adequate resources, including human capital, funds, and materials, to sustain these institutions? What is the quality of graduates being produced annually? Can these graduates compete globally, and are there job opportunities for them upon graduation? These are questions that demand answers.
Developing our human capital is vital if we intend to catch up with the rest of the world. Human capital development is critical for national development, and that is why education is a top priority in many other parts of the world. The problem with the increase in school fees is that it is coming at a challenging time. The nation is grappling with hyperinflation, the removal of fuel subsidies, and the depreciation of our local currency, and these have affected all sectors of the economy.
I have repeatedly emphasised that when the government introduces new policies that impact the masses, either positively or negatively, it is imperative to involve relevant stakeholders to gather their input. There have been cases of poorly formulated and implemented government policies, such as the naira redesign policy.
I will recommend to the Federal Government to reintroduce grants, loan schemes, bursary awards, and scholarships to assist indigent students who may be struggling to pay tuition fees. Also, the Federal Government should enact a law that mandates international oil companies operating in the country to contribute 10 per cent of their annual profit to the TETFUND account to support infrastructure in these institutions.
Ministers and members of the National Assembly can also contribute 10 per cent of their annual salaries to the TETFUND account as part of their contribution to national development. Allocating 10 per cent of the security votes accruable to the 36 governors to the TETFUND account to support tertiary education infrastructure can also be recommended.
I also believe that alumni associations can be engaged to provide scholarships for indigent students and well-equipped functional laboratories. In developed countries, individuals often make substantial donations to education by giving money and materials to their alma mater. Additionally, there are international agencies and organisations that provide research grants and scholarships. Our universities can explore collaboration with such agencies for possible assistance.
In conclusion, we must remember that our youths are future leaders, and it is our responsibility to provide them with quality education to become responsible citizens who can contribute to national development. Revamping the educational sector requires collective effort.
Oladele Oladipupo writes via [email protected]