Education, constitutional responsibilities and governance in Nigeria (4)

Mallam Adamu Adamu, Minister of Education

“Quality education cannot be cheap. The only cheap commodity I know of is ignorance. Ignorance is free. Anyone can freely elect to be ignorant but at a high cost to him/herself! But when we speak of high quality education, I tell you from experience that it cannot come at a bargain or cheap price”.

 

Accessibility:

To achieve educational security, all Nigerians must enjoy equitable access to quality education at all times.  Of what use are constructed University structures that are often shut down due to strike actions?  Due to inadequate funding of universities by government, strikes and unrests which often make it difficult for students to complete their courses at the stipulated time, have become the order of the day. To make education accessible at all times, governments must address working conditions of University officials to ensure that students can access knowledge at all times.  Every responsible government across the world prioritizes the welfare of educators. Teaching is the greatest act of patriotism. A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others. Educators are therefore the gateway to the future of every country. A great teacher can inspire a whole generation of thinkers. However, when educators are not motivated, innovation is lost and a nation suffers from intellectual malnutrition. Governments and responsible corporations in this country must understand the role of teachers and address root causes of perennial strikes and protests to create the right atmosphere for intellectual blossoming. On numerous occasions I have called on government and I again call on the government to institutionalise education as an essential service and classify it as such with Electricity, Police and Army which are not allowed to go on strike.

Similarly, our educational institutions and programmes must be accessible to everyone without discrimination. This means that they must be open to all, without discrimination as to income, religion, sex, location or any other prohibited grounds. They must also be physically accessible and within safe physical reach. Insecurity has today become one of the most significant barriers to education in Nigeria, especially in the North due to terrorism. Educational institutions have had to shut down for months. Similarly, across the nation, limited attention is paid to the special needs of disabled individuals.

Affordability:

As I stated earlier, quality education cannot be cheap. The only cheap commodity I know of is ignorance. Ignorance is free. Anyone can freely elect to be ignorant but at a high cost to him/herself! But when we speak of high quality education, I tell you from experience that it cannot come at a bargain or cheap price.  As Benjamin Franklin once famously remarked “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten”.

Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels written in 1726 said “nothing is big or small otherwise by comparison”.Table 1 below demonstrates how laughable and ridiculous the annual tuition fee paid  in Nigerian Universities is compared with the annual tuition payable in Universities across the globe. In making the comparison, I have used 8 universities namely; Cambridge University in England, Stanford and Harvard Universities in the US, University of Witwatersrand and University of Cape Town, University of Ibadan, Obafemi Awolowo University and University of Nigeria, Nsukka in Nigeria.

For Engineering in Cambridge, the annual tuition translates to N9,978,425.60, in the US the tuition fee for Engineering in Standard and Harvard translates to N14,909,265.00 and N21,073,500 respectively. In University of Witwatersrand South Africa, the tuition fee is N1,389,449.25, while in University of Cape Town the tuition fee is N2,048,835.60. Now back to Nigeria, the tuition fee in University of Ibadan for Engineering is N37,950.00, OAU N54,700 and University of Nigeria N63,950.

The table also contains similar comparative analysis of tuition paid in the stated universities in Medicine and Management.

Table 1: COMPARISON OF FEES OF SELECTED UNIVERSITIES ACROSS THE GLOBE WITH NIGERIA’S TOP FEDERAL UNIVERSITIES

 

Affordable Quality Education is what we need

In Nigeria, we expect the government to provide free University education, when developed countries like Canada, United States and United Kingdom cannot even guarantee free University education. This is a misplaced and wishful priority by agitators of cheap or free university education.  What we need is not free or cheap university education, but affordable university education. Affordable is defined in the Webster Dictionary as “having something at a cost that is not too high.” It is the constitutional responsibility of Nigerian government to subsidize education to make it affordable and not too high for citizens. Students, both in private and public university, are provided diverse forms of scholarships, grants and aids so that they can afford the set tuition. This way, the University maintains a positive balance sheet to finance operations, overheads and activities, while students are able to “afford” what could have been an overtly unaffordable and prohibitively expensive education.

Under this scenario, quality is never comprised.  Rather than looking to authorities at private or public universities to reduce their tuitions and become cheap, Nigerians must take informed decisions at state and federal levels for governments to establish tuition subsidy, grants or scholarship schemes and in the process, tuition bills for the children of the poor would have been borne by the government while the rich would pay the full cost of education of their children. Our Universities cannot continue to run on red balance sheets while perennially waiting for government bail-outs, government research funding or incremental salary increase by government.


The rich must not be forced to send children out of the country for quality education

It must be appreciated that in this country like any other country in the world, we have different classes of people: the poor, the middle class, the wealthy and the very wealthy. It is my view that the child of the poor should not be denied the right to quality education, but the wealthy should not be forced to send their children overseas for quality education because of the poor quality of education in our university. If the quality of education in Nigeria is good enough, the rich will not send their children out to be educated abroad.

If the rich pay good fees and various tiers of government support universities with Grants and Endowments, then the universities will have enough money to provide quality and functional education for all. This argument underscores the reason why universities should enjoy the autonomy to charge appropriate fees to meet its expenses.

When government provides full scholarships or tuition coverage to all indigent students or students from low-income families, our Universities will have the autonomy to levy the right amount of tuition that will keep them functional, autonomous, and competitive. As Sir Menzies noted “Universities must be accorded the highest degree of autonomy and self-determination on the ground that the particular services which they render, both to their country and to mankind in general, cannot be rendered without such freedom”. The current government approach of having under-financed universities is a difficult path that cannot deliver educational security for Nigeria.

To be continued……


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