Strangulated University Education System and the Bola Ahmed Tinubu's Government (Part 2)

I understand with my colleagues still insisting that university fees should not be increased. The argument is that looking at our present economic reality, an average Nigerian can't afford tuition for university education. It appears that we care about Nigerians more than they care about themselves. On its own side, the government is still insisting that it can no longer fund university education. They have put that in action when you look at the annual overhead funding from the government.

The annual overhead has remained constant despite inflation, increases in electricity tariff as approved by the same government, naira devaluation from the same government, fuel subsidy removal by the same government, etc. Most of the public universities can't pay their electricity bills at the moment; ABU just came out of the worst electricity crisis since its establishment in 1962. If the government insists that it can't fund education and the current student's charges are not sustainable to run the universities in today's reality, who will fund them? Do we need to pay more to get educated? Can we afford it?

While the present reality suggests that we are likely going to pay more for University education, there is yet to be any funding model for our public universities from the owner (government) that fits into our peculiarity as a nation. The President, in his inaugural speech, mentioned student loans and university autonomy. True to his speech, he signed into law the student loan bill that was sponsored by Gbajabiamila. The bill has been lying on the table since 2016 and did not receive the attention of NASS members till after the 2022 ASUU-FG crisis that lasted for 8 months. There was jubilation from the students over the Act. It was seen as a positive development by the students. There have been a series of reactions, for and against, the newly signed Act.

Even though we can see farther than them, why should I be worried over an Act that the students and even the parents are happy with? The application procedure is quite simple. I hope a student that is 18 years old and whose family income is over N500,000 can apply as an adult without recourse to the parent's income. Meanwhile, it is not clear what will happen to the guarantors if a student didn't pay back the loan. Will I be willing to serve as a guarantor for a student loan with the country's employment level of 37.7%? I doubt that. I pray each applicant gets two level 12 Civil Servants that won't mind being their guarantors.

The payment plan of the loan is 2 years after NYSC, job or no job, and defaulters risk a N500,000 fine, two years jail term, or both when they fail to repay their loans. What if you don't have a job after the 2 years or you leave the country? Without job creation and an unemployment level of over 37%, still growing, and projected to hit 40.6%, I hope one gets a job within 2 years after NYSC to repay the loan and avoid serving the jail term. 

I was thinking of the sustainability of the student loan system having read about the previous one that failed. With the stated sources to fund the loan program, it should be sustainable if the usual Nigeria (corruption) did not happen to the fund. We hope that snakes and baboons won't start swallowing the funds as they accumulate. The disbursement of the loan is a function of the availability of funds and you need a letter from your VC. So, what happens if at a point there is no available fund to disburse to an applicant who is already a student? Will they defer the session or the university will absorb him/her on credit?

There are two components to students' finances. There is the tuition and other university charges and there are the living expenses. Will the loan cover both or just the tuition? We should not expect students to take a loan for tuition while the parents still struggle to source funds for their living expenses. That is a double tragedy. I hope in the near future, the student loan debt burden won't become a national crisis like it is in the US.

The President wants to give public universities full autonomy to have total control of their finances without any details yet. Will the universities be completely or partly funded with tuition from the loan given to the students? Will staff salaries be paid from the tuition or will the government continue to shoulder the responsibility of salary payment while overhead is funded with tuition? What component of the university funding will the tuition take care of?

If the elitists are bent on tuition and student loans in public universities, background work ought to have been done on the needs of the universities. The current state of the universities needs to be fully assessed objectively. The cost of graduating a student from a public university in our current reality ought to be evaluated. You need to know the practical reality of the cost of running a university before hurriedly passing the tuition fee bill and signing it into law. We need to know what we need to effectively run our public universities Then, a funding model is developed that the loan and tuition Acts will be fitted into.

When you check out the universities around the world, you will find countries like Norway, Germany, and France with tuition-free universities, something similar to our current model. You will see some with subsidized tuition as it's done in South Africa. You find others with full tuition as done in the UK since 1996. What we should possibly be advocating for is a conference of stakeholders to discuss the state of university education and its funding.  

Such gathering will assess the financial need of each university per student and find the average per discipline. Assess the staffing of the universities. Do a cost-benefit analysis on the 1:3 ratio of academic staff to non-academic staff and the implication on the university wage bill. If the tuition fee is to be introduced in public universities, the ratio of the tuition that the government will pay as a subsidy will be agreed upon based on the country's financial reality. The government ratio may be for salary payments and some capital projects. TETFund will keep playing its intervention role but TETFund also needs a clean up 

If full financial autonomy is granted to the universities, each university will receive the tuition subsidy (per student) directly from the government while the students pay the balance like in South Africa. The universities' governing councils will have total control of the finances of the university and decide on staff salaries. It will then be up to the councils to decide whether to use the available funds to employ more non-academic staff than academic staff and sustain the current ratio of 3:1.

But can tuition actually solve the problems of our public universities? I doubt that. We use to have students from neighbouring African countries, why did they stop coming? Will tuition bring them back or make our universities attractive to international scholars and students? More universities have been established while the existing ones are in serious need of revitalisation. It is possibly time to halt the establishment of more universities and focuses on the revitalisation of the existing ones.

With fuel subsidy gone do we still have a reason to complain that there is no money to run critical sectors of the country? The fuel subsidy removal is over and some trillions of naira were saved. Part of it should be deployed for the revitalisation of the public universities. 

Tinubu's government should have a critical look at the public universities' NEEDS Assessment report of Jonathan's administration. It should be reviewed, updated, and the necessary resources to implement the report be deployed. As a developing nation, university education is key to our development and our younger generation should be seen getting the true value of university education. It will reflect on the system. Our university education should be made attractive to students and scholars across the world as it used to be. We need to reclaim the lost glory.

Dear President Tinubu, one of the benefits of the sincere revitalisation of our universities is that education can be a source of foreign exchange if properly planned. International students contributed $45 billion to the U.S. economy in 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. We can also earn forex from education tourism.

International students are a key source of funding for UK universities and a source of revenue for the country. The government estimates an income of over £5 billion excluding tuition fees from international students every year.

Malaysian leaders not beclouded with greed were able to see that education is not just the key to national development but also a source of foreign exchange and they key into it. Education was allocated RM50.4 billion (over NGN4.6 trillion) in Malaysia’s 2021 budget proposal. International students were reported to contribute an average of RM7.2bn (£1.4bn) to Malaysia per year via tuition fees and other living expenses. the expectation in 2020 was to hit a target of 200,000 international students in Malaysia to generate RM15.6 billion.

We need to reposition our universities before the introduction of tuition. Tuition can't revitalise public universities in their current state but can sustain their proper operation after their revitalisation.

To my colleague in the struggle for the survival of public universities and access to quality education, enough has been said and done. it is obvious that you are seeing farther. But unfortunately, the people you are fighting for have refused to climb your shoulders to see what you are seeing. However, I have unpaid 5 years promotion arrears from Jan 2018 to February 2023 and the value keeps depreciating when compared with when the salary was earned. I have several years of unpaid Earned Academic Allowance (EAA) and the value is depreciating when compared with when the allowance was earned. Conference is part of promotion and yet most of us fund it from our salaries. It is a long list.

Maybe it is time to slow down, make members' welfare our priority for now and allow the people to taste the pills. If the pill is bitter, they will start the struggle and reach out to you for support. If every Nigerian can afford the tuition, let's ensure that we will be able to afford it for our kids without any loan.


Prof. Abdelghaffar Amoka Abdelmalik

Copyright © Amoka 24/06/2023

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