Heart of Arts

School Fees Increment in Nigeria

Toyin Falola


The statement by Robert Orben that “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance” is logically correct, and its level of reasonability cannot be contested. When directed toward the people, the message seems to be a cliché used by government institutions and others who have been ringing the bells of school fees increment to justify the exorbitant cost of education in the country. However, when addressed to the government that should be the primary sponsor of these institutions, they flounder back into many excuses and other justifications for its irresponsibility.

Certain facts are indisputable. Nigerian educational institutions have been struggling to provide the minimum due to an acute lack of funding. The federal and state governments have set out to ensure that education is gotten at almost no price and that the tuition fees are free, but the exorbitant adjoining fees have made the free tuition absolutely irrelevant. Despite the low percentage of the national budget that is often earmarked for educational institutions in the country, it has not been able to resolve their needs. The Academic Staff Unions of Universities (ASUU) and other educational pressure groups have always hammered on the need for the government to revitalize the educational sector, with the government responding with several songs about its incapability to sustain funding a large number of schools. This has driven academic institutions to internally generate revenues, which has led them to the point of charging students for trivial infractions like not walking properly. Some schools even charge general cautions of fines for anticipated damage or violations.

Another indisputable fact in the country is that considerably low school fees have given Nigerians the opportunity at education. This is because the relatively affordable or free education across all educational cadres in the country reduces the impact of poverty on Nigeria’s literacy level and the promotion of advanced education for sustainable development. So, while Nigeria may need an educational institution of the standard of successful universities elsewhere, the nation does not have the people with enough capacity to pay the fees required to meet some of these standards. Realizing this, ASUU has also made it clear that the state of the nation would not allow an exorbitant increase in school fees as it would only amount to oppressing the people. This is one of the fights that people have wrongly criticized ASUU for, but their claims are logical, and when people look beyond the yearly academic disruption, the substance of their agitations is pivotal to the educational survival of the nation and access to education by the poor.

So, there is a dilemma between the need for income in educational facilities and the need for affordable education for the Nigerian population. While the dilemma is yet to be resolved, recently, there have been announcements by several public schools of an increase in tuition fees for the next academic session. Among these is the federal government’s announcement of an increase in the tuition fees of Federal Unity Colleges from N45,000 to N100,000 and the increase in the tuition fees of several federal and state universities. For instance, the University of Lagos increased its fees by 400 percent. There have been hassles around schools like the University of Ibadan and the University of Benin, among others, having the possibility of following the same steps in order to meet up with the schools’ financial demands.

Before these recent announcements, some public schools have previously announced increments in their tuition fees though the government debunked the allegations, stating that tuition in public schools is still free. However, within Nigerians’ mental gymnastics, it seems like the government is taking the people for a joke or just ignorantly underplaying the situation. Truly, the breakdown of tuition fees puts tuition as free but the other fees chargeable have always been getting exorbitantly tuned up at every opportunity. So, the latest development is not about the increment of tuition fees but all payments that make up school fees in public institutions. They include the cost of accommodation, registration, laboratory, medicals, cautions, developmental levies, professional levies, examinations, and identity cards, among other charges. The increase also raises the question of whether there will be any tremendous improvement in the administration and quality of education provided by these schools. But given the super inflation in the economy and the level of corruption, one might conclude that there would be little to no change in the advancement of education in these public schools.

The Robert Orben’s quote comes quite handy to justify the need for an increment in school fees. However, one very sure development from this jamboree of tuition fees increase is that illiteracy will increase and access to education, which is struggled against currently in the country, will become worse as decent education will become unavailable to Nigerians. As of September 2022, the illiteracy rate in Nigeria was about 31%, with a dangerously high level in the north. More so, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) states that about 40.1% of Nigerians are poor and about 63% are regarded as multidimensionally poor, with 72% of those in the rural area and 42% of urban centers falling under multidimensional poverty. With an average salary of below 50,000 naira per month and a minimum salary of 30,000 naira, one cannot overstate the consequences of fee increments in Nigerian educational sectors.

There have been arguments that exceptions should be made for tertiary institutions because they are not directly needed for an increase in literacy rate. However, for a developing country, tertiary education cannot be seen as a luxury to be held as a commercial enterprise available to those who can afford it. Apart from the fact that tertiary education is still needed for proper literacy development, African developmental realities require factors that can hasten development while also providing platforms for sustainability. Developed countries may charge tertiary education as high as possible because of the developmental advancement and array of opportunities available to citizens. But in Africa, it has been quite hard to meet all the agenda and millennium goals of development, and spending on tertiary education can only be seen from the angle of investment that brings about secure development and prospective and progressive assurances.

The need for continuous and intensive human capital development, which helps to fine-tune Africans’ brilliant ideas and innovative mindsets, research and innovation to unlock the potentials of each African nation, multidimensional economic development, sustainable reduction of poverty, sustainable development, social and political stability, grave healthcare improvement, cultural preservations and expressions, global competitiveness, and other factors have made tertiary education a necessity and not luxury. It is only wise for countries that do not want to be stagnant to embrace increased access to tertiary education and make it as affordable as possible.

While educational institutions and, ironically, the government continuously complain about increase in the cost of things, they often ignore the fact that the masses are the primary victims of the high cost of living in the nation, creating an excessive gap between the rich and the poor. The NBS has also stated that inflation in the country has risen to 22.79%, the highest in 17 years. As it is, many students in public universities already find it difficult to cater for their education given the previous inflation in the country. Some of them are contributing to what is given to them at home, while others are solely taking care of their education expenses by doing menial jobs. Given this premise, it is projected that a large number of students will drop out of school in the wake of the recent school fees increments. For now, there is no accurate number of dropouts, but there is already a high rate of absenteeism from students who shuffle to attend classes due to the cost of transportation and other incumbent expenses. Even developed countries that have increased their tuition fees recorded a significant reduction in the number of students. For instance, in 2013, the United Kingdom recorded over 1800 reduction in enrollment of students in her institutions after an increase in her tuition. Nigeria is no exception and might serve as a point of reference.

Two major recent developments in Nigeria have made the careful analysis of the increment in school fees necessary. One is the introduction of the Students Loan Act and the second is the removal of subsidies on petrol in the country. The former has been used as an illogical justification for increasing school fees and the latter questions the appropriateness of these developments at this time. In his inaugural speech on May 29, 2023, President Bola Tinubu declared the removal of fuel subsidies to save Nigeria from the “elephant that would bring Nigeria down to its knees,” which is commendable considering the wastage of about 4.39 trillion naira on fuel subsidies in 2022. However, the strategic errors around it to cushion the effect on the masses have made it unpopular. Considering the propensity of corruption in the country, you cannot expect a population to suffer for a better tomorrow in good faith.

Following the naira scarcity and that of other commodities and the reduced purchasing power of the people, the effect of subsidy removal has gradually become quite unbearable. Therefore, increasing fees, as well as taxes payable at this point, seems to be actions and policies made without reading the room. The supposed plan of succor, the payment of N8,000 to 12 million poor families for six months (later put under review), and some other plans as stated by the president in his address of the state of the nation on August 1, 2023, cannot provide the people with the capacity to afford the various school fees increases. We need to ask how a family with a monthly income of less than 60,000 naira can afford the school fees of at least three children totaling about 700,000 naira annually, if one is at a unity school and the other two are at a Nigerian university, without considering feeding, transportation, and other expenses.

What is more, the arguments built around the passing of the students’ loan act seem to be very erroneous in relation to the recent increment in school fees. But, according to the act, how many Nigerian families will qualify? What is the facility of the government and how many students can the loan cover? Are there job opportunities to guarantee the repayment of the loans after school, considering that the unemployment rate in Nigeria as of 2023 is 41%? On a lighter note, President Barak Obama disclosed that at the time he was supposed to be saving for his children, he was repaying his student loan, which he only completed at the age of 40 when he was about to become a Senator. If student loans are used to justify the increase in tuition fees, then it is a scam as not up to 10% of the students can get the loans, and even if it could be done, the prevalence of corruption and embezzlement leaves much to be feared.

It is true that if the country’s educational sectors must grow, money must be pumped into them. However, if there must be an increase in tuition fees, it should be at a reasonable proportion to the people’s standard of living. More specifically, Nigeria can focus on reducing the expensive and excessive cost of living, reduce corruption outside and within educational sectors, and diversify the sources of funding education in Nigeria amidst other alternatives. Public institutions are built for the people’s benefit and convenience, and if they are not affordable, they do not serve their intended purposes.

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