The arbitrary high acceptance fees being charged by some public universities on new students across the country may have become a matter of great concern to many families but it should also be seen by the relevant authorities as a consequence of unaddressed challenges of funding of higher education.
Amid rising frustration over the exorbitant fees, indigent families of new students who are being forced to pay the fees are bemoaning the unusual development, especially, against the backdrop that federal universities are still tuition-free.
The fact that the fees are discriminatory, varying from one institution to the other, shows that they are unauthorised and therefore there is something still wrong with the so-called university autonomy that does guarantee freedom of the governance processes in the universities.
For instance, while some of the institutions are charging minimal fees, others are charging very high and some others are not charging anything at all. This raises the question as to whether the institutions were not established under the same law.
Reports say students who couldn’t pay some charges are losing their admission, which is sad and not in the interest of the country’s future. The emerging trend needs to be addressed, especially, as some institutions are not charging acceptance fees at all.
It needs to be stated that charging acceptance fees is not altogether out of place, so long as they are minimal and affordable. In the 1980s, for instance, universities charged N5.00 (five naira) as acceptance fees. Today, with the high rate of inflation, charges ranging from N5, 000 to N10, 000 could be considered reasonable and affordable.
But a situation where some universities are charging between N50, 000 and N80, 000 as acceptance fees raises some questions about the funding issues that the federal and state authorities have failed to address.
Reports from across the country show that some universities are openly fleecing students in the name of acceptance fees. The situation varies sharply between the northern and southern universities, with southern universities charging higher acceptance fees than the north without any cogent reason.
Investigations in some universities have revealed that University of Benin is charging from N60, 000 to N80, 000 as acceptance fees depending on the course of study. This may be among the highest in the country.
Imo State University is charging N70, 000 while Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike Umuahia charges N50, 000. The Federal University of Technology, Owerri charges N42, 000. University of Nigeria Enugu Campus charges N25, 000. While the University of Lagos charges N20, 000; the University of Ibadan charges N35, 000 depending on faculty.
Going up north, University of Abuja charges N42, 000 while Federal University of Technology Minna charges N20, 000. The Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria charges between N25, 500 and N44, 500.
Usman dan Fodio University Sokoto charges N5, 000 made up of N3, 000 acceptance fee and N2, 000 screening fee.
But Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi and Federal University Kashere, Gombe State do not collect acceptance fee from students.
The foregoing is a tip of the iceberg, which shows the discrepancy in the management of universities in the northern and southern parts of the country. While most students in the north enjoy free tuition, or minimal charges, those in the south are being exploited, yet both under the same unitary educational system.
The exploitative universities didn’t stop with acceptance fees; they also have a long list of sundry charges ranging from registration fee, departmental fee, faculty fee, result verification fee, examination fee, information technology fee and endowment fee, among many others ranging from N120, 000 to N150, 000, in the southern parts of the same country.
While many frown at the myriad of charges in the universities, this newspaper believes that good and quality education requires robust funding. And we have continued to reiterate this fact. In other words, we support a school of thought, which believes that students should pay to get quality education that the country needs.
We are aware that this would present a challenge as most parents can’t afford to pay and this is due to the economic situation that has affected a large segment of the people in the country. As we have repeatedly noted here, there should be ways of addressing the needs of the poor whose children should also be educated.
One way out is to determine what it costs to train a student in the university in different disciplines. Once this is done, the cost would then be spread between the parents and the government. Proper funding of education is critical in this regard.
The other strategy is to resuscitate the education bank that could grant interest-free loans to indigent students. The resuscitation of scholarships and bursaries should also be part of the framework to assist indigent students.
University learning is not the only education that should be available to students. The issue of technical education should be brought to the front burner. This newspaper believes that in this age when employability has become a key factor in skill set that should disrupt curricula of studies, technical education should not be discounted. Without delay, our policy makers and public officers at all levels, political party leaders should enunciate policies for quick revival of all moribund and dead technical schools. It is tragic most skilled workers in the building and maintenance industry are available only in some neighbouring (West African) countries. What is more, experts are daily warning about emergence of mediocrity in the polity just as a few skilled citizens in some sectors are making good money more than white-collar workers. If we must be entrepreneurial as a nation, we should be intentional in investing robustly in technical education at all levels.
The dearth of technical colleges and intention to phase out polytechnics without proper funding have complicated the quest for exceptionalism in Africa’s most populous nation. The rush for university education against technical studies does not also augur well for the country.
This trend should be reversed. Universities’ proprietors, whether public or private, should fund the institutions adequately to reduce undue exploitation of students through various charges. But the roots of charges must be addressed. There should be real autonomy for the tertiary institutions. There should be a freeze in establishing new tertiary institutions that cannot be funded. A situation whereby water resources as well as humanitarian and intervention agencies are getting higher budgetary allocations than education is a preface to tragedy. The only way you can destroy a nation is to destroy its education system. Authorities in Abuja and the 36 states of the federation should note this as they begin implementation of their 2020 budget details.