The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) had been embroiled in a battle against the Federal Government of Nigeria since the advent of the Fourth Republic in 1999. Since that time, ASUU has embarked on a total of 16 industrial strike actions, the longest being the nine-month-long strike during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. In other words, ASUU has gone on strikes at least once in each year of more than half the number of the duration.
Recently, the president signed off on a Student Loan Act, which empowers the government to give student loans to indigent students for the duration of their course of study. But now, the gloomy reality which concerns people and associations such as ASUU warned about is gradually manifesting. This is especially with the student loan initiative that hardly any student qualifies for. However, there seem to be a bigger picture attached to the recent government policy on higher education.
“Nigerian government clearly disinterested in funding public education.”
According to Andrew Erakhrumen, a lecturer at Department of Forest Resources and Wildlife Management, University of Benin (Uniben), the scheme is just a smokescreen for enabling the increment of fees of public universities by those managing them. He clearly emphasized that this is not just about school fees, which will definitely unravel. However, he says that this has shown that Nigerian governments are increasingly disinterested in funding public education in an under-developing country. “Public universities are being privatized through the backdoor,” he said.
It is a pity that the deplorable conditions of Nigerian public universities are not changing for better, and altruistic university administrators will have to contend with these because of the privatization policy. The ripple effect of this is that universities will begin to hike their prices, sometimes by more than 300 percent. Recently, at Uniben, undergraduate fees for returning students were increased from N45,000 to either N170,000 and N190,000 depending on the course of study. After protests by the students and parents, the former fees were reinstated but new students have to pay the new fees.
Erakhrumen shocked that students and parents are complaining.
As universities continue to release new fee regimes, students and parents alike are reacting to the increment. But the Uniben lecturer is surprised by the reactions. “This is closing the stable door after the horse has bolted,” he said. He said that “we” (referring to those opposed to the idea) had alerted the public concerning the consequences of scenarios like this. Some have said in the past that increased fees in public universities will effectively solve the issue of ASUU strikes. Erakhrumen says that he is waiting patiently to see how that pans out.
During several ASUU strikes, he said that some students were asking, “Who school epp?” [“What is the usefulness of school?”] Some students were also saying, “School na scam.” [“School is a scam.”] Some were even insulting their lecturers on social media during trade disputes between government/university management and ASUU. Also, he said that some corrupted students’ representative bodies collaborated with tyrants to sabotage ASUU’s struggles – struggles that were always to benefit students’ interests. As well, he said the National Parent-Teacher Association of Nigeria proposed “the payment per session for each parent to assist government in making more funds available for universities.”
Is FG focused on only fees increment in public universities?
Concerning the Student Loan Act, whose criteria has ab initio disqualified almost all poor students, he said that it is clear that the Federal Government’s main target is plainly increment of fees in tertiary institutions. In turn, this will lead to students’ mass dropout. This is already a problem especially in the North where there is an enormous number of out-of-school children. According to the lecturer, increase in fees in public universities is a way to justify government’s irresponsibility and inadequate funding of public education.