Quality Education: Between Fee Increase and Strategic Income Generating Projects

Students of Kaduna State University (KASU) on Wednesday 26 May 2021 created massive gridlock in the state as they protested the recent increment of school fees by the state government.

The state government had increased school fees across its tertiary institutions three weeks ago: the a development that was condemned by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Kaduna State University (KASU) chapter.

The ASUU said 75 per cent of the university’s students may drop out of school due to the monumental increase in tuition fees.

Three weeks before this protest, the Commissioner of Education in Kaduna State, Shehu Muhammad, had announced a 75 per cent increase in school fees from the sum of N26,000 paid across the board by all students.

To about N150,000 to N170,000 paid by students from the state, those from other states are to pay more. Just like most states, the Kaduna State Government fell into the error of believing that their schools must charge high fees to achieve quality education. Focusing more on the gains of having a highly educated population can fix the wrong perspectives.

Education is the foundation of society, as it has the power to transform individuals. It is certainly one of the indicators used by the UN to measure human development. It is not surprising that some of the advanced nations, based on human development index ranking, namely Norway, Switzerland, Ireland and Germany, are said to have some of the best education systems in the world.

In Nigeria, education is in the concurrent list. That means both the federal and state governments have a role to play in the development of the education ecosystem.

However, government’s efforts at reviving the education sector leaves much to be desired. Nigeria remains one of the countries with the highest number of out-of-school children with about 13 million children denied access to education. An estimated 13 million children are between 14 and 15 years. UNICEF presents a worrisome education data for Nigeria, indicating that one in five world’s out-of-school children is a Nigerian.

Read Also: World Education Day: Out-of-School Children In Focus

For instance, Federal Unity Colleges (FUCs), numbering about 120, are designed to be centres of excellence that can promote nation building. But these model colleges have failed to live up to standard as a result of dilapidated infrastructure. Their alumni, the Parents Teachers Association (PTA), among others, just like in many other schools, believe they are entitled to bring in students beyond the capacities of these schools. In most cases, they are in cahoots with the school principals in such an admission process.

The same negative factors have led to the proliferation of unregulated private schools with dismal standards in funding that fail to meet UNESCO’s budgetary requirement, as only 6.7 per cent was allocated to the education sector in the 2020 national budget.

As a way out of the slim budget, a certain amount of money was supposed to be allocated to universities yearly by the government specifically for facility upgrade. This agreement took place in 2009 between the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). Although government officials said investments in the past five years are well over N1.3trn in that sector, education managers say the intervention fell quite short of UNESCO’s recommendation of 26 per cent of national budget provisions.

Minister of State for Education, Dr Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, set up Rapid Repairs Report (RRR) which was a scheme where members of the public could make donations for the purpose of repairing dilapidated schools. Sadly, this effort was frustrated in the Ministry of Education as a result of bureaucratic bottlenecks.

It is time to ignite a conversation around improved funding in tertiary institutions while incorporating reasonably charged tuition, distance learning programmes, diploma courses, consultancy, among others. Revenues generated from these undertakings can be used for the development of the school. This can be achieved if the management has the interest of the students at heart. In terms of supervisory responsibility, the schools have governing councils and management boards that can articulate policies of fairness that will ensure the effective deployment of resources in running the school system.

At the tertiary level, governance training for school managers has not brought about the needed change, as school managements gravitate towards ‘villagisation of administration.’ That is, a system that has allowed staff in tertiary institutions to work in their places of origin. This has become a burden and in violation of the federal character principle which supports the view that the four key officials of the university, namely, the bursar, vice-chancellor, librarian and registrar, must come from different parts of the country.

Certainly, politics and ethnicity are interfering in the school system. Some state governors sack non-indigenous teachers and employ indigenous ones who are most times incompetent, all in the name of providing jobs for their people. They end up creating structures instead of building capacities for their teachers.

There have been tons of petitions against such non-compliance with the federal character principle. What remains to be seen is how the Federal Character Commission and National Universities Commission (NUC) which are overseeing this engagement will resolve the matter.

In spite of this, it doesn’t seem that Nigeria’s illiteracy level has reduced as available statistics from UNESCO indicate that the nation has over 65 million illiterates.

Such illiteracy level is expected given that the tertiary education system is burdened by protracted industrial strikes by both academic and non-academic teaching staff over facilities, welfare and other working conditions. This dates back to 2009.

Recall that the first industrial action by ASUU was in 1981. In other words, the problem of industrial action in tertiary institutions particularly the universities came to a head in 1981. It culminated in the wave of incessant strikes witnessed in the 90s and beyond. We are yet to recover from this experience.

To ensure uniformity of focus in driving the education agenda, there are certain parameters that have been set in motion.

Meanwhile, the Teachers Registration Council was introduced to standardise teaching across the country, and about 2.2 million teachers were registered. This is a paradigm shift from the old system where political leaders influenced teachers’ membership in the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT).

The Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination has been modified for candidates seeking admission into higher institutions of learning by introducing the Central Admission Processing System (CAPS), and making JAMB not only more transparent but also more productive.

For efficient administration and impact, a roadmap to achieve reforms in the education sector between 2016 and 2019 was launched and tagged “Education for Change.” The three-year strategic plan was hinged on some pillars including addressing children’s crises, strengthening basic and secondary education, as well as improving access to higher education. The programme also enhanced implementation of open distance and flexible learning, with about N1.9b intervention fund for each university.

According to statistics, there are now nearly 100 private universities in Nigeria. All of them put together, still do not accommodate up to 10 percent of what the public universities take. That is because the 10 percent in the private universities are asked to pay high fees. It is not as if fee-charging systems do not work. But the primary responsibility of government is to put some sort of level-playing field in school enrollment. And that is what federal universities represent. The Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) was also enacted in 2004 for this purpose at the primary school level.

Simultaneously, private institutions are excluded from Education Tax Fund which has morphed into TETFUND (a product of ASUU’s agitation). Against the old order, TETFUND is now governed strictly by law. It is believed that every university takes its derivation directly from TETFUND. TETFUND is said to be doing well in terms of faculty upgrade, infrastructure, publications, fixing roads on campuses, among others.

The question that then arises is how stakeholder responsibility has impacted the school system. The alumni and students can raise funds to build facilities and infrastructure. Even if a school is charging N50,000 per student, it is up to the management to increase the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), and then use it judiciously.

At some point, the University of Virginia was the best state university in the US. It is owned by the State of Virginia. The university got only 13 percent of revenue from the state. It is the university that generated its fund, and didn’t charge tuition that much. But the money was put to proper use.

Sometimes, it is not about the quantum of money but to what use the money is put. It has been argued that since the Federal Government pays about N11b per annum as salaries to each of some of the first and second generation universities, institutions have every reason to deploy tuition fee and other monies that accrue to them profitably. Research shows that globally, not many countries pay 100 per cent of salaries to both academic and non-academic staff, much less building facilities and giving grants. It is good to know that some Nigerian lecturers do their bit in reducing the infrastructure deficit by equipping some laboratories through their own grants in collaboration with corporate bodies and other international organisations.

If there is accountability and transparency in Nigerian institutions in terms of IGR and tuition management, most of the nagging problems will be reduced. Sadly, when one visits some of the universities, one sees appalling electricity supply, lack of internet connectivity, among other infrastructural deficits.

In all the analyses, what cannot be lost in the mix is that education is a social vehicle that drives a society to prosperous destinations. Handling it with levity spells doom for the nation.