Is University Education Still Free in Nigeria? Authur; Professor. Tosanwumi Otokunefo (ALPHA EDUCATION FOUNDATION)
According to the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, tuition fees or simply “tuition” refers to fees charged for educational instruction during higher education. Tuition fees are charged by educational institutions to assist with, or fully offset the cost of funding of staff salaries, course teaching aids, laboratory equipment, computer systems, library and information services, facility maintenance, and to provide an environment that is suitable for the student’s learning experience. Most of the English speaking nations traditionally adopt a strict tuition fee regime which covers a significant portion of the cost of providing the quality education for which the west is so reputed. Provisions for loans, bursaries, and scholarships are made for students from low economic backgrounds under such regimes to assist in pursuing their dreams of higher education. The non-English speaking countries of Europe appear to have adopted a less rigorous tuition fee regime, if at all, relying on huge government subventions to ensure education for all qualified candidates. In Nigeria however, the trend so far is the continuation of the more acceptable tuition-free regime of the primary and the secondary school system which is believed to offer equal opportunities to tertiary education in the country. However, the inability of the government to provide adequate fund required to support a tuition free regime has resulted in very rapid deterioration of the quality of the higher education system in the country, and fueling unrest among various stake holders with the attending disruptions in the system. Under the guise of university autonomy, public universities have introduced a variety of charges which have virtually undermined the intention of the federal government to provide education for all irrespective of their economic prowess. To make matters worse, students and their parents and guardians have been made to bear the full burden of these charges which are increased randomly without notice or justification, and never publicized until the candidate secures admission and proceed to the registration stage. One of the most disturbing is the rapid escalation in the so called acceptance fees which has increased from N10,000 to N50,000 in some public universities in a single academic year. On the whole, these increases in charges have raised the overall statutory charges for some universities by over 100 percent thereby jeopardizing the chances of successful candidates accepting the offers of admission which has been their dream of many years.
Information gathered from the web shows that Delta State University (DELSU), and the university of Ilorin (UNILORIN) probably have the lowest acceptance fees regime of N10,000 only while the Ambrose Alli University (AAU) probably has the highest acceptance fees of N50,000 nationwide for the 2013/2014 session. Other universities with high acceptance fees regimes include the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO), and the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT) with acceptance fees of N40,000 and N30,000 respectively. The entire fees schedules of individual universities seem to be very well guarded secrets of the respective universities, only made available to those who have paid the acceptance fees and are in the process of registration. They are not displayed on the websites of the respective universities with the notable exception of the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike (MOUAU). Available information gathered from the various websites and other sources suggest that fees charged by publicly funded universities now range from as low as N56,500 for MOUAU to as high as N135,000 for the University of Port Harcourt. These fees represent only a small fraction of the total cost of education in Nigeria. Other costs would include accommodation, transportation, feeding, books, which must be borne by the parents and guardians. The introduction of tuition fees for publicly funded universities and other tertiary institutions has not been approved by the federal government of Nigeria. If and when such a policy becomes law, appropriate palliative measures must be introduced to ensure that Nigerians who are otherwise academically qualified are not denied the opportunity on economic grounds. Meanwhile, the government must take necessary measures to protect the right of Nigerians to university education by regulating the non-tuition fees charged by the publicly funded universities in the country. Usually, the requirements for admission into any university in the country are publicized in the JAMB brochure for that particular academic session and any changes are communicated to JAMB for the information of applicants. In view of the harsh economic conditions in the country, approved fees of each university should be displayed along with other requirements for admission, to enable candidates make informed choices when completing the application form. This will eliminate the pains and confusion parents and guardians go through when confronted suddenly with an inflated fee regime after their wards have managed to secure admission following so many years of trying!