Free university education is no longer viable in Nigeria, by Olabisi Deji-Folutile


The National President of the Union of Academic Staff of Universities, Emmanuel Osodeke, revealed a few days ago an aspect of the negotiations between Nigerian university professors with the federal government that many of us probably did not know. He revealed how the union rejected the government’s plan to raise tuition fees for all university students to 1 million naira during its latest negotiations with professors.

Speaking at a one-day “state of the nation summit” hosted for ASUU members by the Bauchi zone of the union, Osodeke also said the government’s plan was to open an education bank and grant each student a loan of 1 million naira per year at an interest rate of five percent. rate to sponsor themselves to school and then repay when they graduate and start working.

Osodeke said if the union had accepted the offer, people would have accused its members of fighting for their personal interests and not for the collective good of Nigerians.

I fully understand ASUU’s point of view and can imagine their dilemma. It is inconceivable that a government that has offered free university education for more than six decades could think of introducing a fee of one million naira per session, especially in a country where the majority live on less than a dollar a day. . At least one would have expected the government to start small if it really wants to do anything. I guess the FG was not bold enough to do what it should and was only trying to tie its decision around the ASUU’s neck so that the union could take responsibility for its action.

Indeed, the issue of tuition fees at federally owned universities and other higher institutions in Nigeria is a sensitive topic. It is something that people avoid talking about. The government is afraid to touch it for fear of the outcry it could generate. Student unions, ASUU and others are avoiding it like the plague. As determined as Olusegun Obasanjo was as President of Nigeria, he also vehemently opposed the idea when advised to do so. Not because he didn’t know it was the right thing to do, but because he was afraid of the backlash.

You can’t blame him. It was during his military rule that Dr Jibril Aminu, then secretary of the Nigerian University Commission, announced that students would pay extra fees due to the high cost of living in the country. This led to the famous ‘Ali must go’ protest, which is today described as one of the most violent student unrest in Nigeria. This demonstration was also reputed to have triggered the biggest political crisis of the Mohammed / Obasanjo military administration of 1975-1979. So, as civilian president, Obasanjo did not want to face the problem of yet another crisis regarding tuition fees in Nigerian universities. He said he would prefer to push this decision to others to make. Unfortunately, none of his successors have had enough nerves to dare it since he left office.

I’m also expecting a lot of public reaction against my stance on this issue, but that’s fine with me. We have to be frank with ourselves. If we truly aspire to world-class universities, we must be prepared to do whatever it takes to achieve a world-class education. There is nowhere in the world where university education is cheap. It is either the students who pay or the government finances it through heavy taxes. The search for technological innovations costs money.

After all, the foreign countries that Nigerians flock to for their higher education also charge their own citizens for this service. This despite strong funding from government and the private sector. Isn’t it a tragedy that as a people we are willing to spend millions of our scarce foreign exchange resources on education in other countries, but unwilling to pay for the same in our own? country ?

For example, the United States is pleased to recall that Nigeria has no less than 14,000 students in American universities. Nigeria was ranked as the top source of African students to the United States in 2017., a higher education research platform, reports that the number of Nigerians studying in the United States has increased by approximately 93% in the past 10 years. And to encourage more Nigerians to keep coming to the United States for their studies, the United States has set aside scholarships worth $ 28 million to entice its students. According to available statistics, Nigerians spend half a billion dollars a year on school in the United States alone.

Overall, Nigerians have reportedly spent over $ 28 billion on education abroad over the past 10 years. Isn’t that enough to fix the rot that could have happened in our education sector back home? Have we ever paused as a nation to find out why Nigerian students have become the toast of countries like the US, UK, Canada and others? Why are these countries prepared to do everything to ensure that Nigerian students are admitted to their higher institutions? Is it because they love us? The answer is no.

They love us because we have become a huge source of income for their education systems. In these countries, foreign students pay much more than locals. They need our money to run their systems. Their own citizens cannot afford to pay for university studies. For example, post-secondary enrollment in the United States fell by 2.9 million from 2019 to 2020. The cost of a university education has been identified as one of the reasons for the decline.

Interestingly, Nigeria already has enough resources to help students finance their studies at public universities and other higher education institutions. The only missing link is the political will to do the right thing. The Tertiary Education Trust Fund Act, 2011 imposes an education tax of two percent (2%) on the profits of all registered companies operating in Nigeria. That’s a lot of money that can be used to fund loans, grants, and scholarships for Nigerian students.

The Tertiary Education Trust Fund, formerly known as the Education Trust Fund (ETF), was established as a response agency by the Education Tax Act No. 7 of 1993 (and amended by later in 1998) to intervene at all levels of education in public establishments. But, in 2011, the ETF was renamed TETFund by ETF Law No. 16 and refocused to operate only in public higher education institutions for maximum impact.
In addition to stopping the decay and deterioration of educational infrastructure in Nigeria’s higher education institutions, Tetfund offers grants and scholarships to the staff of higher education institutions to improve their productivity and the quality of education. Higher Education.

Since this fund is already in place by an act of Parliament, one solution is to revise the law by extending its objectives to provide loans, grants and scholarships to Nigerian students. If students pay tuition fees, it will increase the funds available to operate our higher institutions and improve infrastructure and research at our higher institutions. It will further strengthen the principle of autonomy since each institution would be able to exercise greater control over its finances. More importantly, it will force people in government to think. They will have to create jobs for the graduates to allow them to repay the loan they obtained to finance their studies. Such jobs obviously also cannot be an N-POWER job that pays a graduate N30,000 or less. Members of government will be forced to create an environment conducive to business prosperity. Job creation is a major political problem in developed countries, in part because people have to keep repaying their loans so that others can pay for their education.

The fact that students pay tuition does not mean that the government is shirking its responsibility for funding education. On the contrary, it will only increase the sources of income in our higher institutions. Students whose parents are wealthy enough to sponsor their studies can do so. Students from poor homes can access loans, grants and scholarships to reduce the repayment burden. Bright students can have access to scholarships. This will stimulate intellectual competition. This is the funding model in many developed countries.

This will likely put an end to the unnecessary thirst for a paper certificate, as students will carefully assess what they have to gain before investing their time, energy, and resources into a degree. Students who think they don’t need a degree to function in life can easily opt for alternative studies – certifications, professional studies, etc. This will reduce the burden of over-enrollment and over-enrollment on our higher education institutions.

Let’s face it, how many Nigerian professors who have been awarded scholarships to study abroad through Tetfund scholarships return to the country after their studies. For those who return, how many stay here? Many of these speakers are frustrated with the way things are going at home. I heard of a lecturer who did his PhD in UK through a Tetfund scholarship. He wanted to put into practice what he had seen there, but he couldn’t. Desperate to make things work, he bought a generator and an interactive whiteboard with his personal money. He fed the generator with his money. In no time at all he became frustrated and returned to the UK.

Imagine that! What has Nigeria gained? We don’t just fund the education of other countries, our government also spends our resources on training speakers who end up serving foreign countries. What is that? We train doctors, nurses, engineers, scientists – all kinds of experts who end up benefiting other countries. Those who take courses that these countries don’t care about end up being their cleaners, maids and truck drivers.

I think it is high time to reconsider our position on the payment of tuition fees in our higher institutions. Countries that offer free higher education pay huge taxes. This is not the case in Nigeria. There are other areas that can be explored for loan and scholarship funding. Stakeholders in the education sector should start having a real conversation in this area. ASUU and other unions, including student unions, should reconsider their tough stance on tuition fees at our colleges.

Meanwhile, asking students to pay N1m is ridiculous. These institutions are still expected to be largely funded by the government, so tuition fees should be low. Essentially, government grants should cover the main costs, so students shouldn’t have to pay the full price. The government should consider what is achievable. Definitely, N1m is too high. However, not paying for higher education at all is suicidal! This is no longer tenable!
Olabisi Deji-Folutile (PhD) is the editor-in-chief of and a member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors. E-mail [email protected]


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