Following the eight-month-old strike by the university workers, it had become clear to many discerning minds that it was only a question of time before universities would react more pragmatically to the perennial challenges of the sustenance of federal universities outside the government’s pitiable allocation. Towards the tail end of last year, the handwriting was already on the wall – universities would be adjusting their fees to survive or run the risk of perishing.

In November 2022, inflation in the country had risen to over 21%, – the highest in 17 years – according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), subvention from the government had drastically dwindled or even become non-existent; and earlier, covid-19 had added to the challenge dealing a mortal blow to the system. Many universities could not afford to take care of basic services including water, electricity, sanitation, consumables and laboratories, cost of teaching and learning materials — because prices of everything had skyrocketed.

So in the last few months, especially after the strike was called off, several universities began to review their fees. They include Federal University, Dutse, Jigawa; University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State; the Federal University of Lafia, Nasarawa State; Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Abia State; University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State; University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID), Borno state; Federal University of Technology, Owerri, and Federal University of Health Sciences, Azare, Bauchi State.

Some of these universities hiked their fees to as much as 200 percent. For instance, while the University of Dutse had their fresh students for the 2022/2023 Academic Session in the Arts paying N138,000 and returning students, N109,000, fresh Science students and those returning were to pay between 137,000 and N149,000.

Science students of UniMaid such as those in Biochemistry and Geology were to pay 109,500; Engineering, N134, 500 while returning students were to pay between N115, 000 and N125,000.

One of the most recent universities to review its fees is the University of Abuja. In a post on its verified Facebook page on Saturday 29th April 2023, the University wrote, “Dear friends, have a glimpse of what some of our new students will be paying for the 2022/ 2023 Academic Session.” The charges were for fresh Arts students (English/Linguistics)- N96,500; Science ( N108,500 – N118,000), while returning students in the Arts were to pay N101,500, Health Sciences – N122,500; Engineering, N116,000; and Law, 104,000. On average, the percentage difference between the old and new fees, hovers between 60 and 70 percent. As it is characteristic of such a post, it received a massive backlash with many students challenging the University for failing to consider the plights of the “poor, ordinary, suffering” students whom they feared might drop as a result of their inability to pay.

Of course, the issues around university funding can be sometimes knotty, and where there is an increment of charges by the authorities, such impassioned responses are usually expected, because it is in the nature of man to desire to get services free of charge or at least very cheaply.

But understanding universities have had to choose between simply relying on a pittance from the government, getting hamstrung to meet their most basic obligations but remaining in the good books of the students and tweaking fees to boost their internally generated revenue to create a healthy environment for development even though they would remain in the bad books of the students and parents. It seems that the vice-chancellor of the University of Abuja, Professor Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah, understands this dynamics well, and opted for the latter: to review the fees to augment the internally generated revenue of the University so as to create such a healthy environment even if there will be revolt.

In any case, was the review of the fees by the University of Abuja unjustifiable? For a university in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), a bustling, sophisticated city, characterised by an expensive lifestyle and offer of services, it is not unexpected that the cost of education will also be high, especially in the face of the government’s dwindling allocation or support to the universities. Surprisingly, this University is one of the cheapest around, when you compare its fees to those of others. Until recently, its fee structure remained relatively low and many thought it accounted for its terribly slow pace of development before the arrival of Na’Allah.

For sure, an administration which set up a six-man committee headed by the bursar including students union representatives and consulted widely before finally getting the recommendations approved by the Governing Council of the University, needs not be afraid of the blackmail that appears to be trailing the review. Such an administration should even give itself a thumbs-up for providing students with a four-month grace period within which they can pay – that is, a week before the commencement of the first-semester exam. This provision is unprecedented in the history of fee payment in the university.

In my opinion, what students, parents and other stakeholders should concern themselves with is how well the fee increase will be used to consolidate on the ongoing development in the University. So far the University of Abuja is one of the few universities whose chief executives are making a determined effort to lift to greater heights.

Students of and visitors to the University of Abuja can testify that for almost four years now, everything about the University has changed positively – courtesy of a working vice-chancellor supported by a proactive Council. At the moment, six mega projects have been erected by Professor Na’Allah’s administration using internally generated revenue. They include Indoor Sports Hall, Micro Finance Bank, Academic Conference Centre (1&11), Staff Social Centre, Concourses, Student Activity Centre, and several other facilities dotting the campus now.

The University’s Centre for Entrepreneurship; and Centre for Student Employment are providing opportunities of training and development for the students. No fewer than 1000 students for instance, have been employed through the student employment scheme and are being paid monthly. All these initiatives cost money which the government can’t completely provide.

The University is also working on a scholarship scheme through the Office of Advancement, particularly for indigent students, as well as entering into a partnership with viable organisations to build hostels for students. I cite just a few of the laudable projects in this university, to explain that we as students can afford to lose trust in an administration that has a lot to develop the campus even with paucity of funds.

I think it is high time we students faced the reality of accepting the fees and using our contacts with the vice chancellor who has kept his doors open for us, to ensure that the university get the best.

Adam Dio Pankara is a postgraduate student of the Faculty of Education, University of Abuja.




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