The decline in government funding of higher education, the economic downturn, the long decades of unforgivable neglect, along with rapidly rising costs of the different services and products that universities have to provide, have led to steady increases in student and parents outlays over the last two or three decades. There are no indications that costs will go down, neither are there signals that one day university education will be free – as called for by many segments of the society.
All institutions should consider a number of factors to determine the students’ full cost of study.
In Nigeria and many other African countries, higher education is recognised as a public good and is therefore, expectedly and understandably highly subsidised by the state. However, increases in student fees have had adverse consequences on students’ ability to access higher education.
While Nigerians find higher education in the country expensive, the cost of university education is comparatively low compared with international institutions. Viewed in dollar terms and the fallen Naira value, Nigeria’s degrees will be perceived as much cheaper in comparison.
There is no doubt that universities are very expensive to run, especially in developing countries such as Nigeria. In most cases, close to 65% of costs are associated with highly qualified and experienced staff, while a further major cost is the provision and maintenance of the university’s domain. Costs also include a wide range of support services such as libraries, laboratories, transport, security, counselling and healthcare services, in addition to the cross-subsidisation of financially disadvantaged students, i.e. university-funded scholarships.
I grew up in the 60s and 70s. I went to four secondary schools in the old Western Nigeria where the standard of education was so high, no matter where the location of the school, urban or rural. I ended up with a good School leaving certificate result that enabled me to, and got an opportunity to go to the University of Ibadan, through passing the entrance “Preliminary” examination, thereby bypassing the old Advanced Level certificate, where I got both an undergraduate degree, and many other unquantifiable skills, experience, abilities and most importantly, a very sophisticated outlook in life, dignity in labour and an expansive view of the world. On the way, I received students’ loans, grants and state bursaries, and now I can hardly say I was disenfranchised, but I used what freedom this great country gave me: an opportunity.
This now brings me to my initial lines of thought.
I have always been one of those who criticises the high fees charged by private universities in Nigeria, especially the ones owned by the Pentecostal and other religious organisations. But another look at this convinced me they are not entirely wrong. Most of the criticism directed at them had been that the members of the congregation, who actually funded the universities through tithes, contributions, Sunday collections, etc., are usually the ones who cannot afford to send their own children to these schools, supposedly owned by them. Another is that the heads of those churches are exploiting the congregation in the process, diverting funds to themselves.
While I agree with the two evidences above, the fact remains that establishing and maintaining those universities were always not going to be cheap. When I attended university in Nigeria, there were only about six universities, all owned and 100% funded by the Federal Government (University of Ibadan; University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University; University of Lagos; Ahmadu Bello University; University of Nigeria, Nsukka; University of Benin; these were later joined by converting University of Ibadan, Jos campus to University of Jos; Universities of Ilorin, Port Harcourt, Maiduguri, Sokoto, and Calabar and Ado Bayero University). These universities were established and built when Nigeria was still “good”, most of them immediately after Independence and during the oil boom era; the people who established them were committed and sincere Nigerians; money was available and international cooperation and collaboration was easily sought and available; and Nigeria was not as corrupt and degenerate as we have now. – things were done at almost 90% altruism.
Then with the creation of more states in Nigeria, come the proliferation of state-owned universities, which, because of our innate political immaturity, often fall victim of discontinuity of government, even during the military tenures. A new governor comes in, jealous of his predecessor, and refuses to continue funding of the state-owned universities and other institutions.
So, when the Federal Government decided to liberalise the education sector, the churches and other religious organisations started their own venture into the education, or rather, tertiary education sector.
Ordinarily, this would have been greatly commendable. In fact, it is still commendable, as they are complementing the efforts of the federal and state governments in the education sector; but, being Nigerians, their motives have not been entirely holistic or altruistic. It has been full of hypocrisy and self-promotion. However, as I mentioned above, I have now tended to be a bit sympathetic to their situation.
Establishing and maintaining an institution of higher learning in Nigeria is not cheap, and is no mean task. Even the conditions they have to meet before they are granted the licence to establish are usually very daunting. This is evidenced by empty acquired lands going nowhere, university buildings that look more like secondary school classrooms, lack of teaching and library resources, infrastructural problems, lack of IT facilities, and inability to maintain standards for some of them, resulting in the Nigeria Universities Commission coming down hard on several of them and refusing to accredit courses, departments and faculties, thereby leaving many students in limbo.
The Federal Government universities are still highly subsidised to the point that it is ridiculous, and with the downturn in the economy without recourse to oil income, the government might soon have to reconsider its level of subsidisation of tertiary university in Nigeria. The same goes for state universities and other tertiary institutions; these are even finding it difficult to pay staff salaries, so how do they want to equip classrooms, libraries, laboratories, and other services they are expected to provide as institutions of higher learning, which must be of world standard?
So university education is not cheap, and these Pentecostal and other religious operators must be spared some criticism and flagellation. However, one would have suggested that the way out for them to avoid the scathing criticism that their own congregation are not able to afford sending their children to schools that were built with their money, is to give financial concessions to them in terms of reducing fees for members.
But I shudder to think of the abuse that will follow, knowing my country-men and women. That is when pastors and imams will start making more money by falsely attesting that non-members are members; and people will start flooding the already-full churches just to get their children into these schools.
A Catch-22 situation, if you ask me, but a solution, or at least, a compromise, must be found. Some of these private Pentecostal universities are of very high standard. High standard means a lot of investment and funding, and must always be maintained because of competition and world recognition. I personally will not send my child to a university that the world academic community does not recognise, as I would not send him/her to a university where they come out more illiterate than literate.
The corruption in Nigeria is not helping either. With the examination bodies, e.g. WAEC, NECO, JAMB, UTME and whatever names they call themselves all ridden with corruption; the universities engaged in scams, e.g. selling 30,000 forms for only 3000 places, hence university lecturers and non-academic staff involved in all sorts of bribery; parents cutting corners by paying someone else to write exams for their children and offering bribes to get their children in by all means even if those children have not met the minimum or cut-off marks; thereby, all denying legitimate and more hard-working and successful candidates the opportunities that should rightly go to them first.
Finally, like Jon West cited, “If you think education is expensive, why don’t you try ignorance”.
For me and many other Nigerians, I know the value of good education. Both my parents were great educationists in Nigeria, and I know what they imparted to me and my siblings, and indeed, to thousands of students who passed under them.
Those were those days, but I still cherish the legacy and I have passed them on to my children with the prayers and advice that they need to pass it on to their children too.
Courtesy: African Examiner

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