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LASU'S CONTROVERSIAL FEES REGIME

By NBF News
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For some weeks now, the Lagos State University (LASU) Ojo, Lagos, has been in turmoil over the decision of the state government to increase tuition fees by about 1000 percent. Hardly a day has passed since that decision was taken without reports of one agitation or the other by the students for a reduction of the new fees regime.

Last Thursday, the students stormed the State House of Assembly to register their displeasure over the increase directly to the state legislators. In the process, they vandalized some property. Before then, they had staged a number of protests to make the state government change its mind.

The House of Assembly has since set up a committee to look into the increased school fees. The committee, which has two weeks to submit its report, has been mandated to decide the actual amount to be paid by students that would be acceptable to the government, the students and their parents.

A look at the percentage increase in the new school fees regime proposed by the Lagos State Government is instructive. The school fees increased from N25, 000 for old students and N35,000 for fresh students to payment of different amounts by students in the different faculties. Fresh students in the College of Medicine are now to pay N345,750, Faculty of Arts/Education 193,750; Social and Management Sciences N223,750; Law N248,750; Communication/Transport faculties N238,750, Science N258,750 and Engineering N298,750.

Although the increase is said to be based on the report of a visitation panel set up by the state government, there is no doubt that the new fees regime is too high. Certainly, the state government is aware that Lagosians who formerly paid N25,000 fees would not agree to pay between 193,750 and N348,750. Not only that the fresh students would not agree to pay, the majority of them simply cannot because their parents cannot afford to pay such amount.

In a country where workers are still struggling to be paid minimum wage of N18,000; where unemployment is raging and civil servants who have been working for over ten years do not receive salaries up to N100,000, it is strange that a state government would be demanding such high fees. The fees regime is clearly out of tune with the biting economic realities of Nigeria today. If enforced, it will clearly take university education out of the reach of ordinary Nigerians. And, with increasing restriction of access to higher education, Nigeria can only lay a foundation for more crises and turmoil than the nation is already witnessing.

With the unrest in several parts of the country on account of youth unemployment, the best bet for any governor committed to peace and development of his state is the expansion of access to education at all levels and provision of gainful employment for all skilled and educated citizens. The explanation of the state's commissioner for information, Mr. Remi Ibirogba, that Governor Babatunde Fashola has been sensitive enough to take care of the interest of students and their parents by restricting the new fees to those just being admitted into the school this year is not good enough. The logic here is that the present crop of students should not worry about the new fees, as it does not affect them.

But then, the fresh people to be admitted in 2011/2012 session when the new fees regime is to kick off are also Lagosians. They are equally children of artisans, civil servants and ordinary members of society who cannot afford such high fees. Also, the explanation that the government has floated various scholarship schemes, bursaries and grants for students is only begging the question. This is because, in the final analysis, how many students will have access to such scholarships? It will only be an infinitesimal number because if, indeed, the government can afford to place every student on scholarship, it will not be increasing fees in the first place.

I sympathise with the state government on its desire to build a world-class university. It is a laudable objective that cannot be achieved without money. So much has already been written about the poor quality of facilities in Nigerian universities and any responsible state chief executive cannot but want to improve the situation. There is, therefore, no doubt that the university tuition fees have to be increased.

But then, this increase of about 1000 percent is not reasonable. Luckily, the committee of the House set up to look into the controversy has been mandated to determine the actual fees to be paid.

Let the committee do its work diligently and come up with figures that will end the endless round of agitation on this matter.