Fathia Oyeleke and many undergraduates see university education as a ray of light and a way they can legitimately reach their full potential. But as soon as Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, increased its tuition, that brimming light of fulfilment dimmed.
She would have paid less than forty thousand Naira to round off an arduous five-year quantity surveying degree, but judging by the sudden increment, she will cough out at least N101,200. She is in between shock and unhappiness.
“I am certainly unhappy with the increment. We are at a federal university because we don’t have the financial strength to shoulder huge tuition fees. We could not leave when the school was battling with strikes and some of our colleagues had taken a transfer to private universities”, she told Prime Progress.
Her university authorities do not condone the broadness of their economic shoulders. It increased school fees by more than 400%. Expectedly, Oyeleke thinks that at a time like this when most parents are grappling with financial insecurity, the semblance of empathy the university can produce is to provide affordable university education, but the reverse is the case.
According to Oyeleke, the rising tuition costs in her school will slump more parents and guardians, with many students in these institutions, into the difficult world of hefty loans and subsequent poverty.
“My parents will have to fend for my school fee, that of my siblings, our upkeep, other education necessities, accommodations, and even feed themselves in this no-mercy economy. There is no way many students won’t drop out of school”, she prophesied.
In Nigeria, the government generously subsidised federal university education before 2023. In fact, it was regarded as almost tuition-free, but not without occasional strikes and an inconsistent calendar, of which Nigerians still have less reason to complain.
Ibrahim Musa studies political science at Bayero University in Kano. He was supposed to pay only N39,000 for the new academic session but still wonders his fate around the eventuality of paying 95,000 while his 18-year-old younger sister set to join him for the new academic session will pay N105,000.
“For me, before these institutions can even think of increasing school fees, they should have allowed the class of graduates who have endured those brutal strikes to pass out first. They should not be eating their cakes and having them at the same time”, he said.
Clearly, undergraduates, whether financially buoyant or otherwise, consider the increment inhumane and ill-timed.
Asmau Musa (Ibrahim’s younger sister) adds another twist to the narrative of being a fresh student. It is a feeling of pressure and irritation.
She embodies the condition of many freshers who will now study under family pressures and friction simply because their parents or they themselves now pay exorbitant fees for their degrees.
“As I am preparing to resume, my mom sits me down every day to warn me about the grade I must come out with. She tells me how hard they are looking for money to see me through school and set ridiculous standards for me.”
Asmau Musa is not happy because she thinks that these pressures will deny her the many personal development goals she has set out to achieve in her undergraduate life. The reality beckons on many freshmen students.
“I want to join the campus journalism network, participate in many volunteering and community engagement initiatives, and learn a new language before I finish school. I am afraid I won’t be able to do all of these because all my parents want is for me to come out with good grades. They are uninterested in any other prospects.”
Her brother, Ibrahim, did not suffer this fate; she told Prime Progress that Musa and the other three siblings, who had gone through university education before her, participated in community and extracurricular activities because they did not study under enormous pressure.
Should the university afford this decline?
Undoubtedly, these extra activities make up the beauty of university education. The universities should not allow any measure that will geopardise the measures that prepare undergraduates for “aftergown orientation”.
But according to the Federal Ministry of Education, the latest increment in fees by some federal government-owned universities is to cover the cost of accommodation and utilities.
“What they (universities) collect is charges to cover the cost of accommodation, ICT, and power, among others. It is the governing councils of the universities that have the power to approve such charges for them”, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Andrew Adejo, disclosed this recently while appearing before an ad hoc committee of the House of Representatives on the implementation of the student loan law.
But a top administrator at the University of Lagos, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because the university does not authorise her to speak, told Prime Progress while compiling this report that most universities are in financial trouble as a result of declining government financing.
She added that they are hurting financially and believe that raising student fees is their only alternative for survival. Therefore, once the student loan becomes an imminent success, they find it a support structure to raise the fees.
“What is clear is that we are losing it. We cannot compete on a global scale without funding that the government cannot provide. So, the only gateway to getting out of the shackles is to increase the fees. I think the government itself has just been prudent; why launch a student loan if not because they want to raise the bar in an easy way? That’s how it is done abroad too”, she said.
She furthered that even if the measure could sound tough, they (the universities and their administrators) need to invest in infrastructure, expand research facilities, and compete for outstanding faculty. To her, the country will not reach a global standard if it continues to run under the present meagre framework.
How is it done abroad?
In the United Kingdom, the tuition fee part of student loans is paid directly to one’s university or education provider. The maintenance loan is paid directly to the students’ bank accounts. However, application for and repayment are also relatively seamless because one wouldn’t start repaying until they had a certain amount of money after graduation.
So, as Nigeria’s Student Loan Bill offers interest-free loans to students, increasing access to higher education for students from all backgrounds, its strict eligibility criteria and potential repayment roadblocks will mean that if these universities are raising school fees because of the loan bill, they need to have a rethink.
Education will become the government of the wealthy.
Whether or not university authorities are increasing school fees because of the Student Loan Act, unlike other counties where it has flourished, punched tuition fees are unsavourable in Nigeria, where 63% of persons living within it (133 million people) are multidimensionally poor and 93.5% of people living in it abandoned their hopes for a while-collar job to settle for non-formal handiwork, which oftentimes don’t pay as much as the white-collar.
If these high fees don’t change, attending university will only be a luxury for the wealthy. Low-income families will be increasingly unable to send their children there, putting the core premise of education as a great equaliser in jeopardy.
We are likely to lose more bright Nigerian students as they seek higher education elsewhere. This may appear to be a personal preference. In a more developmental look, it actually adds to the country’s long-term brain drain. Nigeria suffers from brain drain, which robs the country of future leaders and innovators.
Despite federal institutions’ best efforts, charging increased tuition may not do much to increase students’ access to a high-quality education. When children pay more for a lower-quality education due to issues such as overcrowded classrooms and limited resources, they run the danger of getting what they paid for.
At the end of the day, tensions will begin to escalate, as we are having it now. Some students have begun to join rallies and one is hopeful that it won’t turn to student-imposed strikes.
These disruptions have an impact on more than just the academic calendar; they also sow the seeds of societal instability. Dissatisfied young people must be handled swiftly to avoid a larger problem.