Some universities limit fee increases amid ongoing protests

A wave of protests has been sweeping across Nigerian universities as federal institutions raised obligatory fees payable by students by up to 700%. A few institutions have subsequently reduced their increases.

At least six federal universities have increased their fees in the past month. They are the University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Bayero University, Kano; University of Lagos, Akoka; University of Jos; Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife; and Nigeria’s premier university, the University of Ibadan.

This comes at a time when many Nigerians are traversing harsh economic realities sparked by the removal of the government’s oil subsidy and the floating of the nation’s currency, leading to a sharp depreciation in the value of the naira. Students chose protests as a means of pushing back. While some are still threatening a showdown, others have gone ahead to occupy major roads in protest.

Students of the University of Lagos have staged at least three protests tagged #Fees must fall. Though resisted by security operatives, they continued until the university authorities were forced to address their representatives, according to reports.

Also, students of the University of Jos, Plateau State, blocked roads leading to their campus to protest an increase in fees and other services rendered by the institution. The students insisted that Nigerians were already going through a lot of hardship, and that the authorities should not complicate the already bad situation with further fee increments.

Already, students of Obafemi Awolowo University have threatened to shut down academic activities until the management reverses its decision on a 300% hike in charges and obligatory fees that students pay.

The Student Union, through its president, Abbas Akinremi-Ojo, has also written to banks to halt the acceptance of fee payments until the union achieves a better resolution with the university. The students are also threatening to shut down activities in other federal-owned universities through the National Association of Nigeria Students, or NANS.

Vice-chancellors: Why fees must go up

Vice-chancellors have complained about the increase in the costs of running their universities amid dwindling resources from the federal government.

Unfortunately, Section 18 of Nigeria’s constitution provides for free university education, hence students don’t pay for tuition. They said they had no choice other than to increase obligatory fees and sundry charges.

Universities have been charging NGN19,000 (US$24) to NGN23,000 (US$29), which has now increased by up to 700% to NGN190,250 (US$243).

This money is typically used for running costs such as electricity, water supply, internet connectivity, running laboratories and hostel maintenance, but not for staff salaries.

Professor Folasade Ogunsola, vice-chancellor of the University of Lagos, said at a briefing attended by University World News that the decision to increase fees was made after a thorough review of the university’s expenses. She explained that the institution was facing significant overhead costs, which necessitated the fee adjustment.

Similarly, the vice-chancellor of the University of Jos, Professor Tanko Ishaya, said that the university needed to augment the subvention from the federal government. He said the institution was thrown into darkness by the Jos Electricity Distribution Company because it could not pay for power.

Ibrahim Mohammed, the national president of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, admitted that it is hard to run public universities without government funding, hence the recourse to a hike in sundry charges. To him, it is either government funds these institutions or allows students to pay.

Professor Samuel Edoumiekumo, the immediate past chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities, revealed that the federal government only gives universities NGN10 million (about US$12,800) yearly for overheads.

“This is not even enough to pay electricity bills,” he explained, adding: “Now that universities have hiked fees, most of these costs can be funded by students. This is inevitable, going by the current funding formula in Nigeria.”

A push towards autonomy

President Bola Tinubu signed the student loan bill into law on June 12. The law aims at enabling indigent students to access loans at interest-free rates.

According to David Andrew Adejoh, the permanent secretary of the Federal Ministry of Education, the student loan will replace the existing scholarship board of the Federal Government. The board will now offer educational credit facilities to qualified applicants.

In a statement that was characteristic of the federal government’s increasing listlessness concerning the funding of its federal universities, the newly appointed Minister of Education, Professor Tahir Mamman, said recently that the Tinubu administration was considering creative means of funding tertiary education.

To this end, he said, full autonomy would be granted to universities to allow them to source funding through various means to enable them to meet their financial obligations.

Many see the current hike in university charges as part of the creative ways that universities are employing to fund their activities. But, Olayinka Popoola, the chairman of the National Association of University Students, said universities must source funds elsewhere to meet their needs.

He also warned other universities planning to increase their fees to jettison the idea.

Students not authors of Nigeria’s woes

Oyelumade Oluwakemi, a fifth-year engineering student in the surveying and geoinformatics department at the University of Lagos, said: “The management has cited economic realities as a reason for the fee hike, but students and their poor parents are not even responsible for the economic realities, rather they are victims of the economic realities as more Nigerians are falling into poverty since the removal of the subsidy.

“School management should join students and lecturers in demanding adequate funding for the education sector,” she said.

She agrees that the federal universities are facing a sustainability crisis, but says “the real problem is the deliberate underfunding of the education sector.

“Education is a social service and government should invest in it. We should fund education to develop our human resources to drive economic development.

“We are talking about federal universities which are public universities. Most students choose these schools because of their relative affordability. The majority of Nigerians are poor. I think it’s only natural that there’s a pushback from students because, to many, education is a means to overcome poverty and climb up the social ladder,” Oluwakemi said.

Esther Edeh, a biochemistry student at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and the Student Union government treasurer, told University World News that the increment is harsh on students and their parents, especially for students struggling to survive and train themselves in school.

“The cost of books has increased as well. So it is not easy, especially when you look at the situation of things in Nigeria at the moment. The economy is harsh for the government and parents.

“But we, the UNN students, have since accepted the situation, because it would be illogical and insensitive for us to shut down academic activities to protest the increment, and demand reversal to the former school fees.”

For Martina Uba, a science laboratory technology student, and the vice-president of the National Association of Science Laboratory Technology Students, University of Benin, the increment in obligatory fees isn’t fair to the students.

“Most parents have already budgeted how much they are going to spend on their child or children’s school and, all of a sudden, they are being told it’s being increased in an economy that isn’t friendly to the average man.

“Even with the hike in these fees, students are still not taught properly. We still have lecturers who are too lazy to come to class to teach, laboratories that aren’t up to standard, light issues, bad water supply, and insecurity. So what is the need for the increase when the condition of the schools is still poor? Education is supposed to be affordable for everyone in the country,” said Uba.

Dropout of students imminent

With Nigeria’s history of logjam between the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the federal government over the non-payment of academic allowances, will a hike in fees boost revenue, thus making money available to pay lecturers decent salaries?

Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, the national president of ASUU, told University World News that ASUU will not support asking students to contribute to the government’s coffers to be able to pay its members.

“A university is not a profit-making commercial centre. University education is supposed to be free. The right to free education is in Nigeria’s Constitution. Government can’t rely on a hike in fees to settle lecturers’ arrears. How many Nigerian students’ parents earn above the NGN30,000 (about US$39) minimum wage?”

Osodeke fears that students may drop out of school with the current hike in fees.

“Our suggestion is that government should prioritise education and raise its allocation to 20% from the current 3.5%.”

Oyelumade Oluwakemi, the engineering student from the University of Lagos, agrees with the ASUU chairman on the imminent dropout of students.

“Some students struggled to pay the old fees but were lucky to get donations from coursemates for the obligatory fees while they had to find other means to pay for other sundry charges. I have a coursemate who dropped out in the fourth year.”

She adds that the fee hike will not stop the persistent ASUU strikes because the money from charges only covers the running cost of universities. “It does not affect the salary of lecturers.”

Gains of protests

Following the protests, both the University of Lagos and the University of Jos (UNIJOS) have reduced their obligatory fees and charges. In a circular obtained by our correspondent, UNIJOS announced a further reduction in fees, noting that it was approved by the management following a meeting with the university’s expanded student union government.

However, University of Lagos students have opposed what they described as tokenism. In a statement made available to University World News, Students’ Solidarity Group Against Fee Hike secretariat said it has set up a task force to conduct a referendum across levels, departments and faculties. The students explained that reports from the referendum would determine their next line of action.

The Obafemi Awolowo University management, Ile-Ife, has also reduced the sundry charges payable by university students.

The university spokesman, Abiodun Olarewaju, said in a statement issued on 25 September that fees could be paid in two equal instalments. But the leadership of the student union is asking for a 50% reduction. The students are yet to react to the university’s decision.