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Taking Up Fashola On LASU Fee Hike By Ewebiyi Keye James

April 2, 2014

Lagos State Governor Fashola and his predecessor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, during their cumulative 15-year reign, never bothered to establish a single tertiary institution, despite the huge revenue accruing in the state purse and the teeming population of the state.

Since the announcement of the fee hike in Lagos State University in October, 2011 by the Lagos State Government, I have had every reason to think about the rationale behind the fee hike. What could make a so-called "progressive" government hike tuition fees in her sole university by 985 percent! The fees were hiked from N25,000 to between N193,750 and N348,750. I keep thinking and thinking about the rationale.

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How on earth will a state government hike tuition fees outrageously without considering her citizens’ ability to pay? How on earth will the government hike tuition fees by 985 percent when it finds it difficult to implement a 58 percent increase in minimum wage?

Officials of the Lagos State Government including the Governor have on many occasions tried hard to justify the increment. Following the fee hike Governor Babatunde Fashola while speaking at Government College, Ughelli’s annual luncheon party in Lagos battled hard to justify the hike. Vanguard Newspaper of 6th December, 2011 reported him to have said:

“Countries that do not prioritize education are always at the mercy of those who place a high premium on education. Where in the world have we seen tuition fee of university of N25,000? You cannot find this anywhere. Even the nations that are developed and wealthy do not give education for N25,000. LASU started very well and over the years, the population grew and beyond the available facilities and the school began to deteriorate. We are determined to rescue LASU and we will not make it a school for the poor. We are unconsciously making Nigeria a society where there will be a school for the rich and one for the poor. Several people in this country pay so much for education abroad while the schools here continue to deteriorate. It is only in the university that the children of the rich and children of the poor can sit in the same classroom.”

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The speech of Mr. Governor painted the picture of a "sincere" governor who desires quality education for his people. But I beg to ask – How best can a government prioritize education if not by devoting 26% budgetary allocation to the sector in line with UNESCO recommendation which other developing countries are already implementing? Governor Fashola should translate his commitment to educational development into practical actions that would hike the state's education budget to UNESCO standard as against the current 10.49% education budget. Ghana for instance commits 31% of her budget to education. What is needed to transform LASU into a world-class institution is hike in education budget as against hike in fees.

You also cannot compare the tuition fees payable in Nigerian public universities with those paid in other developing and developed countries. The socio-economic set-up is different. The living and working conditions differ. We all know that civil servants despite earning a minimum wage as low as N18,000 end up spending a large chunk of this on providing electricity (generator), water, security etc. for their families, which ordinarily is the duty of government. Just as there are countries that have universities charging far above N25,000 as tuition fees, there are also countries that provide free or heavily subsidized university education to their people. In fact there are countries with loan and other welfare packages for students to finance their university education regardless of ethnic or social background.

True to his word, Mr. Governor has achieved his purpose of not making LASU a school for the poor. Remember he said, “We are determined to rescue LASU and we will not make it a school for the poor”.

Mr. Governor missed the point when he said “several people in this country pay so much for education abroad while the schools here continue to deteriorate”. Several people? Like how many? What percentage of parents in Lagos State have their children in foreign universities? He needs to provide answers backed with facts and figures!

About 1.7 million applicants participated in the last Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) but tertiary institutions in Nigeria could only accommodate about 500, 000 candidates. This implies that 1.2 million candidates would have to wait till another year.

This underlines the fact that a greater number of youths from poor backgrounds rely on public universities for their education. Mr. Governor should show us that middle-level staff of his whose salary encourages him to send his child to a private university whether home or abroad. It is majorly the children of top management executives, religious leaders, public officers that access university education oversea.

In my four year sojourn in Lagos State University, I had friends across all faculties and I never at any point in time came across children of the super-rich. Most of my friends came from communities like Ajegunle, Agege, Ajangbadi, Ketu, Ebute metta and other communities that host the not-too privileged in the society. Of course the rich want the best education for their children with an assurance of a definite time of graduation, as such they will definitely be unwilling to send their children to public universities which have been characterized by incessant strike actions, infrastructural decay, underfunding among other problems.

Similarly, Mr. Governor while addressing newsmen shortly after the first session of the seventh executive and legislative parley held at the Golden Tulip, Amuwo-Odofin, Lagos in 2011 also fought hard to justify the fee hike. Daily Trust Newspaper of 27th November, 2011 reported the governor to have said:

“Before we took that decision, the state executive council carefully considered the current state of infrastructure and personnel in the institutions vis-a-vis what it should be. And also considered the cost of properly funding the institutions as against what currently accrue to them from all sources. The state government will continue to fund the university substantially noting that the resources of the government are not unlimited and other important complicating interests abound especially in the areas of basic education, healthcare and infrastructure among others. As a legitimate government, we must never hide problems from our people. We must share our difficulties with them in our proposal for overcoming them. This is the time we must commit ourselves to the development of a first class institutions which will compete with others”.

Furthermore, on February 22, 2013, while giving an address at the 18th convocation ceremony of LASU, Governor Fashola represented by his Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure, Dr. Kadiri Hamzat expressed his commitment to make LASU a world class University.

“…for the past few years, the fortunes of the University have been mixed. I wish to reassure our commitment in developing the institution to world class standards. This is evident in the ongoing physical transformation of the institution and our journey to ensure that we get to the top 50 from the top 100,” he said.

Contrary to Fashola’s pledge of improving the ranking of LASU, the University has plunged drastically in the recent ranking of Nigerian universities. According to Webometrics's ranking of 100 best Universities in Nigeria for the first quarter of 2014, LASU holds the 37th position as against the 10th and 11th position it held in the past two years respectively.

This combined with the drastic drop in student enrollment is enough reason for a logical conclusion to be drawn that the fee hike if not reversed would lead to further crisis in the institution. The effect of the fee hike on student enrollment has become very obvious.

The first victims of the hike accepted their admission without any prior knowledge of a 985% increase in fees. They had applied for admission based on the old fee regime of N25,000. The fee hike drastically reduced the intakes for 2011/2012 with only 1,951 students (representing 39.8%) out of 4,903 students offered admission turning out for matriculation. This act alone constitutes an injustice to these students. The 2012/2013 academic session witnessed a drastic reduction in the number of candidates that choose LASU while registering for UTME. Out of the 2,784 students offered admission, only 2,008 were cleared for matriculation.

During the matriculation ceremony for the 2013/2014 academic session held on 28th March, 2014, the Vice Chancellor of the University, Prof. Oladapo Obafunwa said a total of 1,582 candidates were offered admission but only 1,119 candidates were cleared for matriculation (Vanguard Newspaper 29th March, 2014). This implies that 463 candidates representing 29% were unable to raise 70% down payment demanded by the university management. If this trend continues, by the time the incoming 400 level students graduate in less than a year's time, the cumulative student population in LASU will just be a little above 5,000 as against the pre-fee hike population of 20,000 and above.

It is instructive to note that Governor Fashola and his predecessor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu during their cumulative 15 years reign as Governor never bothered to establish a single tertiary institution in the state despite the huge revenue accruing to the state purse and teeming population of the state.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Lagos State generated N202.761 billion and N219.202 billion in 2011 and 2012 respectively making it the state with the highest internally generated revenue. Given this huge revenue, Lagos State has the financial wherewithal to comfortably establish and fund another state university and make university education available and affordable for more people.

The four Lagos State-owned tertiary institutions were established by past civilian and military governments. Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education (AOCOED) was established in 1958; Lagos State Polytechnic was founded in 1977; Lagos State University was established in 1983 by Alhaji Lateef Jakande and Michael Otedola College of Primary Education (MOCPED) was established in 1994 under the leadership of Col. Olagunsoye Oyinlola. The duo also failed to expand the capacity of the existing institutions to meet up with increasing demand for tertiary education. Till date most of the state-owned institutions rely heavily on facilities provided by past regimes.

The former Governor of Lagos State and founder of LASU, Alhaji Lateef Jakande had in the wake of the fee hike pleaded with Governor Fashola to review the fees.

Jakande said: "I am pleading with the governor to review the new fees, so that our heritage would not be destroyed. Before now, the poor people have been struggling to see their children through school. The increase in fees will affect their children" (Daily Post Newspaper, December 21, 2011).

Governor Fashola must as a matter of urgency do the needful by hearkening to the voice of the people. Any policy that will reduce people's access to public utility should not be allowed to live. Governor Fashola should take a cue from late Chief Obafemi Awolowo ( a man whose philosophy Governor Fashola and his party, the All Progressive Congress claim to pursue) by applying his philosophy - "the greatest good for the greatest number" to resolving the crisis in LASU.

By: Ewebiyi Keye James,
Former General Secretary , Lagos State University Students' Union and member of Education Rights Campaign.
Twitter: @Keyestine

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters

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