‘Moral’ controversy over fees in mission universities

A comment posted on Facebook about the ‘immorality’ of exorbitant fees levied by church-run universities in Nigeria has generated controversy within and outside their walls. Mission-based universities charge fees ranging from US$24,000 to US$42,000 per academic session.

Some people believe tuition fees should be drastically reduced, because church members allegedly shoulder the financial responsibilities of mission institutions. On the opposite end of the spectrum, others stoutly defend the fees on the basis that they are dictated by economic and social realities in Nigeria.

The debate will not go away, in view of the naïve ‘philanthropic’ discourses emanating from pulpits during church services, to the effect that all activities of human beings – including university education – are ordained by God and therefore should be free.

Yemi Adeyemi-Enilari recently posted on Facebook an indictment of churches authorities regarding high tuition fees. “Churches don’t have the moral justification for charging high fees in their universities because they were established with the sweat of members,” he said

“All these universities were built from the tithes and offerings of the common people who cannot afford to send their children there. Where are the morals of these churches?” he asked.

Adeyemi-Enilari argued that high fees paved way for the Nigerian political class to send their children to mission universities, which were built on the sweat of poor church members. “What happens to the profit and gains made from these universities?”

A defence of high fees

Professor Oyewale Tomori, immediate past vice-chancellor of Redeemer’s University in Western Nigeria, came to the defence of mission-based tertiary institutions. He admitted, in veiled terms, that the fees were high but not exorbitant.

He said electricity was to blame. Redeemer’s University was created to produce first class students who could compete with graduates around the world. To achieve this, it was imperative to make electricity available at all times.

Since electricity supplied by PHCN, a public monopoly enterprise, was not reliable there was a need to seek an alternative energy source. The use of generators and the diesel engine oil to power them was expensive.

“At Redeemer’s University, about US$140,000 is spent monthly to provide electricity for between 14 and 16 hours in all academic and hostel areas,” Tomori declared. He also pointed out that all academics received salaries 12% to 15% higher than those in federal universities.

Tomori revealed that the university was mandated to ensure that all students had seats in lecture halls and that each student had access to a computer. Further, equipment and laboratory chemicals had to be imported.

“The university offers free medical healthcare to each staff with a maximum of four children. And a scholarship is given to about 5% of the total student population. All these operations require funds,” he affirmed.

In rejecting Yemi Adeyemi-Enilari’s submission, Tomori philosophised: “When the government provides the basic essentials – electricity, water and peace – I believe university fees will go down.”

High fees unavoidable?

The solutions to challenges confronting the running of missionary universities are identical.

Teaching, research, staff and student welfare packages in private universities are relatively expensive and better than those in public universities, where fees are low but highly subsidised by federal and regional governments.

Tatiana Ogbu, a higher education consultant, also contributed to the ongoing debate. She argued that the fees charged in all private universities, including Islamic universities, were a reflection of economic realities in Nigeria.

She emphasised that well remunerated academic staff had reduced the exodus of teachers to greener pastures abroad. “We now have brain drain from public universities to private universities within the country,” she pointed out.

Ogbu explained that higher education the world over was capital intensive. “The issue of the morality of fees in private universities is misplaced. These universities exist in human societies guided by very harsh financial and economic realities devoid of religious and doctrinaire sentiments. Unfortunately, we live in a cash-and -carry world.”

According to Ogbu, Yemi Adeyemi-Enilari should know that the decision by each mission to establish a tertiary institution was the primary responsibility of the authority of each organisation.

She said virtually all mission universities obtained loans from banks by using their vast hectares of land as collateral. “Mission universities are run according to the dictates of the modern political economy,” Ogbu argued.

A professor in one of the church-run universities, who did not want to be named, sprang to the defence of Yemi Adeyemi-Enilari. He is convinced that without the initial sacrifice of church followers, churches would not have had the capital to buy land and use it as collateral to obtain bank loans and establish universities.

He suggested working out a system whereby the children of church members be given access to higher education through the introduction of subsidies.

“Instead, leaders of these churches divert resources of their congregation to build private mansions and purchase private jets. These priests behave and live like capitalist barons and Mexican warlords. Here is the relevance of Yemi Adeyemi-Enilari’s moral questions,” he thundered.

The debate is just beginning. But curiously, it is non-existent for now in Muslim communities, which also have faith-based tertiary institutions.