The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) has thrown its support behind the students of the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT) who are protesting the institution’s hike in the fees for its part-time programe, describing it as “insensitive and anti-poor.”

In a press statement, the ERC urged the students, who began their protest on Monday, to continue until all their demands are met. “We call on the management of the institution to listen to the demands of the protesting students by immediately reversing the fee hike,” it said.  “At the same time we warn that no student be victimized for participating in the protest.”

It expressed outrage that the management of UNIPORT increased fees for the part-time programme by over 100 percent, from N48, 000 to N105, 000, and that students who failed to pay were reportedly threatened with expulsion.

Pointing out that the UNIPORT management has tried to justify the fee hike by saying that the programme is not funded by the Government, and is therefore putting pressure on the management, ERC stated that part-time programmes were originally designed for civil servants and older people who because of work or family have no chance to enroll for a regular or full-time University study.

As a result of that, ERC explained, from the onset fees of part-time programs in many Universities and polytechnics across the country have always been relatively expensive when compared with what the regular students pay, with the justification that employed people can readily afford it.

“However against the background of few admission spaces in Universities and other tertiary institutions, the new reality now is that a great percentage of enrollment for  part-time programmes are non-workers including students in their teens and 20s who desperately need the programme having failed to gain admission into a regular programme,” the statement said.  “This situation is as a result of the low availability of admission spaces in Universities and other tertiary institutions across the country.”

It pointed out that while it was never true that all employed people could afford the fees in all cases, this new fee hike of N105, 000 which the UNIPORT management is trying to justify is well beyond the means of most civil servants not to talk of unemployed students who are now the majority offering part-time programs across the country.

It described the hike as an attempt to place the burden of education funding on students and working class people, with UNIPORT management only trying to milk the part-time program to raise extra funds to augment the paltry allocation and grants from government.

“But the management is not considering the terrible conditions under which part-time students study and the low quality of learning received despite paying thousands of Naira as fees,”  ERC said, calling for the hike to be reversed.  

“The government has the responsibility to fund public education adequately from the nation’s wealth in its care,” it stressed, reiterating its demand for adequate funding of education at all levels to at least 26% budgetary allocation and democratic management of the funds by elected representative of workers, students, communities and parents for maximum utilization.

It said this approach must be combined with a crash program funded by the government to begin to expand the facilities of existing universities as well as building of new ones to accommodate the growing number of students seeking admission.

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