IS it fair to expect peace at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile Ife, after the authorities there jacked up tuition fees from N7,000 to N50,000 per session for returning students; and from N17,000 to N74,000 for freshers?
But then, is it also fair – or realistic – to expect the university to attract top brains globally and maintain high academic standards with the somewhat laughable tuition fees regime previously being charged by it?
So, where should the funding for the OAU, and indeed most public tertiary institutions in Nigeria, come from – federal allocation, made up of mainly oil revenue, as usual?
These are some of the posers that Nigerians must resolve, truthfully and forthrightly, if the country is to march into the future and achieve success.
It is not in doubt that education should be a right of all Nigerians. This partly explains why free education (as and when Nigeria can afford it) is provided for, among other rights, in Chapter Two of the 1999 constitution. The Chapter Two rights are, however, non justiciable as they simply constitute the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policies.
According to media reports, the students of OAU are angered by the decision of the university’s authorities to raise the school fees, in addition to N20,000 acceptance fee for new intakes.
The message that can be drawn from the students’ protest is that there is a big disconnect between the desire of Nigerians for qualitative education and the provision of the means to attain the goal.
For far too long, Nigerians have been made to believe that free education should be provided by the government without a sustainable scheme for providing the funds in a way that will not hurt even the financially weak parents.
It is a well known fact the current reliance on oil wealth for the funding of virtually all national projects portends grave danger for the country since that is a vanishing resource. The over-reliance on oil wealth to fund the education sector, as well as many other sectors of our national life, has resulted in atrophied educational infrastructure, poor health services, dilapidated roads and general malaise.
The current regime has left Nigeria missing in the list of the world’s first 1000 universities.
Could the country, therefore, devise a means that will make universities charge competitive fees yet insulate parents from the harshness that such a policy will occasion?
We have argued – pleaded, indeed, — on this page in the past that Nigeria should take a cue from colonial Britain which operates a National Insurance scheme through which working adults are taxed and the sums so contributed form a pool that provides education loans to students of tertiary education, qualified free education as well as social security for the unemployed, the aged and the infirm.
A scheme by which working adults can pay, say N1,000 monthly will provide a big pool of funds that will remove the burden of school fees from parents yet allow universities to charge as high as N1 million per session.
That way, the universities will be able to meet their basic needs and will stand the chance of competing favourably with their peers globally, yet parents will not be put under any financial strain than the, say, N1,000 that they contribute monthly whether they have children of school age or not. That fund will also help improve the current National Health Insurance Scheme that Nigeria currently operates. It will also remove education and health from Chapter Two of the constitution. In about 10 to 15 years, such a pool of funds will also make housing a fundamental right of Nigerians. That way, the provision of these basic needs will not be subjected to the vagaries of oil resources. Oil wealth can then be channelled towards providing mega national projects.
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