“The management of Lagos State University, LASU, announced a 725 per cent increase in the school fees to be paid by the 2011/2012 fresh students. More so, the document has it that prospective students of Arts/Education are to pay (N193,750); Social and Management Sciences (N223,750); Law (N248,750). In the document, Communication/Transport, Sciences, Engineering and College of Medicine are respectively to pay (N238,750), N258,750), (N298,750) and (N348,750) as against present fees which ranges between N25,000 and N62,500”.

Sequel to an article I wrote back in 2002 titled: “Why LASU should NOT introduce school fees”, I write to buttress the same decade-long insinuations of infrastructural development. During the then tenure of Acting VC - Prof Abisogun Leigh; a development levy was then suggested as a solution to the decadence of the university – hence pitching the school authority against the students. This led to the suspension of the Students’ Union and then shutdown of the university for few months after which there was a consideration to a “considerable increase” in the school fees to meet these “urgent needs”. At that resolution table, the fees generated from the school of part-time studies / satellite campus (as it was popularly known before being recently abolished) all over Lagos, and was autonomous to LASU only, was meant to aid the required funds needed for the said development. As at that time, school fees for full time students were N150/N250 and part-time from about N50,000 upwards depending on the level – which I remember vividly raising funds for students who could not afford it as of then. Yes! There were other fees to be paid, handouts, trips, practical, projects which topped to an average of an additional N30,000 as at that time.

About 10 years later, we are back to this same point of reasoning as it was then touted as the “best solution”.  I dare to say this is in no way a solution and it is my sincere proposal and foreseeable solution that LASU should still NOT introduce any hike in school fees till there is a practical infrastructural improvement on the campuses. Why?  Any institution in the world that demands payment upfront before physical evidence of the quality of goods and services should be highly suspected. I had a good reasoning with some members of the governing council of the school and politicians alike in the state recently with reasons given including: need for standardization of classrooms,   laboratories, facilities, comparison in fees with international / first world institutions alike,  upgrading the reputation of the institution amongst others. It is not news that the intervention of the governor earlier this year got a needed release of funds to accredit a number of courses in the institution. It is said: “…better late than never”.

I make bold to say that the greatest challenge our African nations and states alike can ever have and will always encounter, is the syndrome of “using an European/American solution to solve a Nigerian problem”. This has failed in the past and will definitely fail in the future. We run a unique system and in as much as I am a proponent of rapid development in our states to compare with world standards, we have to uniquely create our own niche – that’s how China built that system we all see today – where nearly all tertiary and research institutions are public. For example in America, basic primary education is a major responsibility to the government up till the high school (we refer to as secondary school). There is adequate preparation for colleges, universities, specialized schools to further that same education in a well rounded system. College fees are quite demanding hence the availability of scholarships, fellowships, grants, loans, strong ALUMNI support amongst other sources – which are readily accessible to all depending on qualifications. Even international students – also from Nigeria benefit from these facilities without any “connections” as may be needed here. The N10,000 – N50,000 student bursary for the selected few “indigenes” which has to be lobbied for currently will definitely not fly for this situation. What is the criterion for “indigeneship”? That is definitely an issue of discussion for another day! Why not implement in-state and out-of-state benefits instead since residential taxes are a factor?

Since we are doing a comparison, are these students going to be given a tax credit on a yearly basis? Are discounts going to be awarded to book sales and equipment for students in college? Are we going to cover each student with basic health insurance in cases of emergency? Is there also going to be unemployment benefits allotted when they graduate? Are there any on-campus or off-campus facilities available to students as a hobby? Are there enough work-study programs available to supplement their tuition? You just cannot use the students and their unions for mainstream elections and then suspend/ban the same union when they air their opinions about what is hitting their families to the drenches!! Misuse of armed force against students still shows the military mentality that we all agreed has led us to where we are today!

I would also note that most of these schools – whether private or government owned that boast of these facilities, have them in place as an investment before students pay for what they use. It is unheard of for students to pay for infrastructure yet to be built. Where is the investment of the government in this? Not even referring to the 26% UNESCO recommendation that is yet to be implemented. Rather than use the tax-paying citizenry as stock holders in our higher institution, this should rather be leased to developers who may do a better job in sourcing funds and administering what has been a Herculean task for over a decade. An average of N200,000 for 50,000 or more students equate N10,000,000,000 – yes 10 billion naira minimum per year!! All this is definitely asides other revenue generating means of the institution, the state government subsidy amongst others. If the school is being run as a private entity – then let that be spelt out categorically! With this, we should be able to boast of erecting a minimum of 3 new standard lecture theaters by the end of the academic session because the funds are readily available, NO MORE ASUU/SSANU/NASU strikes period!!, availability of standard facilities in the laboratories, no more handout sales, formatted yearly calendar irrespective of affiliations to other schools, adequate resource centers such as bigger libraries, access to internet and uninterrupted power supply. These and many more are the basic requirements for a fee paying institution we try to copy. 

Unfortunately, this same high school fees and repayment rates are a major setback for the American government as of the press briefing made by the president of the United States in October 2011 now as they are vigorously touting ways to reduce the burden after graduation, give higher education tax credits, more assistance. Why? This is mainly because the high cost has dissuaded a lot of citizens unable to afford the high cost totally avoid furthering their education, hence giving access to international students and immigrants about 60% of their population. What has this caused? It has revealed a porous country over the next few years, aiding others develop their countries and leave a degenerating few to slug out their repayment grudgingly.

How does this affect Lagos state? A large percentage of indigenes of the state (which the edict that set up the institution was meant to aid) would be unable to afford these exorbitant rates giving access to non-residents of the state leaving behind the enhancement that was foreseen. I definitely do not support violence in protests but I tend to believe the government is only sensitive to the plight of the citizenry when there is a scene created such as disruption of service within the state. I understand the politics that might be in play here is to shut down the schools if these protests persist but keep in mind, when a student who is meant to be thinking creatively is left idle…. We all know that is a time bomb waiting to explode. Why on earth must you not fight for your rights when those same funds are not used appropriately? Perpetrators of this draconic fees definitely don’t have their kids in these schools – hence no ounce of remorse for the unseen psychological damage within the system. Those that earn the said minimum wage need a yearly advance to pay the fees for just one child. The known tactic is to reduce the proposed fees to maybe half of it and say the government has been flexible enough. That equally is unacceptable if the adequate measures are not put on ground to implement the infrastructural and system change as highlighted earlier in this write-up.

What is my proposal?. Am I saying there should be no infrastructural change? Definitely not!! Are we aware funds are required to implement drastic changes in the institution? Of course yes!! My question is why the citizenry should be burdened to this harsh lifestyle of sacrifice and adjustment and not the government for once?? The last time I checked, the tax system in the state was touted as a solution for major infrastructural developments including education. The duty of the government is what we see happening in Lagos state today – nothing more! We do not seek free education – no! Though the same constitution that upholds our governance rightly states in Section 18 that:  “…the government shall strive to eradicate illiteracy; and to this end shall when practicable provide free, compulsory and universal primary education, free university education…”. When we compare with the developed nations if we want to be just in our solution oriented ideas, then everything should be on board too – governance, administration, elective & selective office requirements, law & order, basic amenities etc NOT just tertiary education….. I salute the government on realizing the need for the standardization of the university after almost 3 decades, Nigerian University Commission’ (NUC) threats, labor market distrust amongst others… 

Now the findings of the visitation panel include: “the total disbursement from Development Fund to LASU for capital project was Two billion, twenty-three million, seventy-five thousand, two hundred and fifty-four Naira (#2,023,075,254.00)” between January 1999 and December 2009 – 10 straight years!! Compare that to other frivolous projects embarked upon in the state. The panel also found instances of poor financial record keeping, inconsistencies in financial data supplied, little or partial adherence to due diligence, due process and procedure. Government was advised to review the subsidy on tuition from 12% to 35% of actual tuition; increase in the Budgetary Allocation to the University using the UNESCO benchmark of a minimum of 25% of Annual Budget of the State to be expended on Education. These and many more are findings by the same state visitation panel – how come the price hike is the ONLY implementation being pushed?

Lagos state government (executive & legislative), state ministry of education, governing council and senate of LASU and other tertiary institutions should seek a foreseeable solution not a jungle justice approach on this matter. Remember, Lagos is meant to be the commercial nerve of the country and definitely the development fibre through these same youths who are the future of tomorrow! Let’s look at sources like endowment funds by well meaning Lagosians, ALUMNI base support who hold high private and public positions all over the world, support from LASU honorary awardees over the years, input from local governments where campuses are located, prudent use of available funds amongst other recommendations from the visitation panel BEFORE looking at any form of school fees hike!! Let us get back to the drawing board and work – not just come out with a blanket cure when the wound has NOT been treated!! I am AN ALUMNUS of LASU and know very well within my sphere of influence that these solutions WILL WORK if the administrators can be truly sincere on this proposed development.

On behalf of the entire LASU students, future students and families; I call on the listening ears of the visitor of the school – Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola; the LAHA Speaker Adeyemi Ikuforiji; Commissioner Olayinka Oladunjoye; Vice Chancellor Oladapo Obafunwa & Special Adviser Fatayi Olukoga to write history and remember it will be their history – whether good or bad!! LASU SHOULD NOT HIKE THE SCHOOL FEES IN ANY SHAPE OR FORM!!
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre the falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world……”

LONG LIVE LASU!
EKO O NI BAJE O!!!
 
Bukola Olaoye writes from 12 Ajoke Akinbami Street, Ikeja – Lagos ([email protected])

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