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Prof. Chidi A. Ibe
The Visitor, Chancellor, Your Excellencies, My Lords Spiritual and Temporal, Your Majesties and Highnesses, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen.
On December 10 2008, I was one of 5 Pro Chancellors from the 5 State owned Universities in South- east Nigeria gathered at the Modotel, Enugu with a common mission; to advise the South east Forum of Governors at their request, on the future of University Education in the South-east. Part of the information gathering was centered on how much students paid. When it came to my turn, I said , “an average of 12,500 Naira”.
Our Chairman, Prof Elo Amuchiazu, Pro Chancellor of Anambra State University said to me ” Prof we are talking about school fees not tuition fees”. I had barely returned to the country following my appointment as Pro Chancellor of IMSU and so my colleagues thought that I did not understand the question. When I insisted that the my answer was correct, the Chairman asked if he could talk with the IMSU Bursar directly. I dialed the Bursar, Mrs Nwugo and handed over the phone to Prof Amuchiazi. The Bursar confirmed my answer. My colleagues asked , almost in unison, ”how do you run the University”?
Indeed, how to run the University in light of the paucity of funds was an abiding worry from the day. I did an expanded survey with the assistance of the Registrar and found that the school fee of N12, 500 was by far the lowest not only in State owned Universities in the South east but also in the entire Country. We extended the survey to Federal Universities and found that even in the absence of tuition fees in these Universities, miscellaneous charges in these Universities exceeded the fees paid in IMSU.
Again, we looked at the statistics on cost trends in kindergarten, primary and Secondary education. In Imo State for example, we learned that Kindergarten and primary schools in Owerri charged as much as 60,000 Naira a year while private secondary schools like those in Orlu, Mgbidi and Nkwere charged fees of 150,000 Naira per annum and above. Of course most people are familiar with fees paid in private Universities where parents are sending their children in droves and paying on average 500,000 Naira a year.
Armed with these facts and figures, I went to see His Excellency, the Visitor to the University on 19 December, 2008. I had two prayers.
The first was in regard to the implementation of the 2007 Salary awards which had not yet been extended to University staff in the South east and which was the cause of considerable agitation by IMSU staff. I argued that I needed to do this to bring calm to the University and create a propitious environment for the reforms which I had identified as necessary to stabilizing the University.
The second prayer focused on the need to adjust school fees to more “realistic“ levels in line with other State owned Universities in order to increase the Internally generated funds and permit the immediate implementation of 2007 awards, the payment of arrears of salaries and to clear outstanding Allowances including the vexed monetization rights which were the reason for the sustained crisis in the University.
To my mind, His Excellency would need much convincing on the first prayer and the second should be a cake walk because of the statistics I had armed myself with. Surprise , surprise, the contrary was the case! His Excellency approved the first request and balked at the second. He reminded me of an earlier discussion the night before I was sworn in during which he informed me of his plans to institute scholarship awards as an incentive to ensuring excellence in the school system and the introduction of bursaries for indigent students. He said he was yet to do that and would therefore be reluctant to approve any adjustments in fees. Beyond the statistics presented, he asked for detailed costing of elements that constitute the justification for the proposed adjustment.
In the interim, the Governor authorized the Governing Council to borrow money to meet the commitments of the first prayer.
The Governing Council submitted the required justification in the first week of February, 2009 but the Governor would not approve. After knocking at his door a number of times for an answer, a call came in March from Government House directing the Governing council to “negotiate” appropriate school fees with the Students Union Government. My ears perked up. Even in socialist countries, this does not happen!!!
However, orders are orders and we complied. We met formally with the students followed by negotiating sessions between the Ag Vice Chancellor, Prof Okere and the Students. The Student Executive also consulted routinely with the student body. The end result was an Agreement on a fee structure that provided for N30,000 school fee for continuing students and N50,000 for incoming students.
We communicated the agreement to the Governor and waited. Surprise, again, the Governor asked the Commissioner for Education to meet independently with the Student Executive to verify the details of the Agreement. The Commissioner confirmed this arrangement to His Excellency.
These “negotiated” fees which came into force in the 2008/2009 session remain the same. Thus, today, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd year students pay N50,000 while the 4th , 5th and 6th year students pay N30,000. Furthermore these fees is still among the lowest not only in the South east but in the country and I have the adopted Reports of the Quarterly meetings of Pro Chancellors of State owned Universities to prove it!
I have laboured to give you intimate details of the background to the N50,000 school fees that you have paid so that you, as freshmen who are at a very impressionable age, do not fall victim to any manipulation or propaganda. It is also to give you a privileged peep into the workings of the mind of your Visitor, the Governor, in respect of his ambitions, preferences and sensitivities for the administration of education in the State.
True that in October 2010, Government set up a Committee to look into appropriate school fees for students of Imo State University. True also that this Committee recommended a fee of N150,000 for new students after a study of fee schedules in other state Universities a sampling of which is presented below:
Osun State Universty, 180-300,000 Naira;
Univeristy of Science and Technology, Ifaki Ekiti, 200,000 Naira
University of Ado Ekiti(UNAD), 100-200,000 Naira
Kwara State University, 150-200,000 Naira
This information and more were confirmed by the immediate past Student Executive during their independent fact finding mission in this regard.
However, as the reader can appreciate from my narrative above, the process of approving any adjustments in school fees is the prerogative, first of the Governing Council and ultimately, the Visitor to the University. When shortly after the recommendation, I requested an appointment to discuss this matter with Our Visitor, the Chief of Staff politely advised me to save my breath as it would be an exercise in futility. I asked how we would meet the wage bill which had doubled due to the acceptance by the State Government to implement the 2009 salary Agreements between the Federal Government and Staff Unions of federal Universities and he said he would get back to me.
Practically the next day, the Commissioner of Finance not only wrote to me as Chairman of the Governing Council on the strategy to adopt but sent Representatives from four Banks to negotiate with the Council a huge loan. This loan is to tide the University over till the initiative of His Excellency with the Speaker and leadership of the Imo State House of Assembly and in particular a sub-committee led by Hon Ray Emena results in the passage into Law of a Bill that would ensure regular and additional subvention directly from Local Government funds to the University. This action is in line with the vision of the founding fathers of the University of which the Governor, yes this Governor, was a part. In addition, the Government has increased its monthly subvention.
So there is no truth in the rumour that school fees for new students is N150,000. Indeed you living witnesses to the fact that you paid N50,000 as school fees and I believe that you are the reason why this propaganda should and must stop.
And now, I wish to turn my attention to another but related issue that has raised so much dust and which threatens to distract the State from a much needed focus on the improvement of education in our State. That issue is Free Education. And I wish to discuss this not as a politician, which I am not, but as an Educator. For five years in the early 1990s, I was in the Science Sector at UNESCO, Paris as a diplomatic level Technocrat and was privy not only to the discussions on the concept of free education but its application or the lack of it particularly in developing country situations.
The consensus was that whereas primary and to some extent secondary education should be free and compulsory, the issue of tertiary education is a different ball game requiring very painstaking evaluation of both human and material resources needs vis a vis other critical sectors such as Health, Water, Agriculture, Infrastructure development, etcetera.
This is because Tertiary Education ( and I hasten to specify, Qualitative Tertiary Education) is a money intensive venture. For example, the austerity Recurrent Budget for the 2010/2011 session submitted by Imo State University University to the Budget Committee of the Imo State House of Assembly for approval and inclusion in this year’s budget was 6.3 billion Naira. And I repeat, this was Recurrent budget. There was no budget for Capital projects because the Government is committed to moving the University from its present temporary site at Lake Nwebere to a new and permanent site this year . The lack of meaningful capital projects including massive investments in bulk equipment acquisition since the founding of the University in the temporary site is responsible for the decay that the Staff have consistently complained about.
Today, the argument rages about the production of half baked graduates and almost everyone agrees it derives from a dearth of necessary infrastructure, facilities, equipment, books and periodicals. The financial outlay for a credible State University worth its name for a current student population of near 30,000 at Evan University would easily gulp the greater part, if not all , of the equivalent of this year’s state budget. Somebody, “ Show me the Money”! Against this background and the ever dwindling earnings of the State from diverse sources, the claim of anyone to free tertiary education is a hoax to say the least. Unless, of course, you want to pass the students through “poultry sheds” masquerading as Universities and in so doing, subject the State to the tyranny of “garbage in, garbage out”. The impending calamity under this frightening scenario would be mind boggling.
My time at UNESCO , and elsewhere in the United Nations system for a total of 20 years, enabled me to enquire into the administration of Education in countries as I travelled across the globe. I can state categorically that there is nowhere in the world, not even in Developed Countries, where tertiary education is free in the sense it is being bandied around here! Begin with the USA where except for a small category of students with disability who are catered for by special state programs and funds, everyone who is not on a scholarship program pays the outrageous fees. Financial Aid is offered to needy students following a means test while the rest are guaranteed repayable Student loans. Come with me to the United Kingdom. Is there anyone who did not hear or read about the revolt by University students in the summer to the phenomenal increase in school fees. Again, here as in the USA, repayable student loans are the order of the day. Did I hear someone say Germany? Granted, there are “states” that have introduced tuition free University education but one does not need to stretch too far to realize that indeed there is no free lunch as this commitment is made up from increase taxation. And we can go on and on but Nigerians and particularly Imolites are well travelled people and very much aware of the trend I am writing about.
Before I conclude, you must hear this story from the home front. It was captured in most Nigerian newspapers but I quote specifically from the Daily Nation of 20/6/07. The article was entitled, “Lagos Canvasses need to re-evaluate the concept Free of Education”. It read thus: A two day Summit attended by the Deputy Governor, the State Executive, Education Experts and Stakeholders with the theme “Funding Qualitative Education in Lagos State” concluded “that the Summit recognizes that the current model for funding Tertiary Education in the State is not sustainable and as such adequate fees should be charged while Government should support student loans and scholarship needs. --- It proffers an alternative method of assisting disadvantaged parents and students. These methods are to include education vouchers and capitation grants”. Is anyone listening?
I believe the debate on Education in Imo State should focus on the imperative of providing qualitative tertiary education for current students and creating additional university places for the teeming JAMB graduates of Imo State origin. The popular folklore of our people reflect a proclivity to making sacrifices for the common good be it in the area of provision of potable water, building of community schools, erecting health centers or sending our children to school. The calculations by the collective of Vice Chancellors in the South east in 2008 was that it costs an average of 245,000 Naira a year to train the average undergraduate and 129,000 Naira for a post graduate student. This excludes the cost of development of infrastructure. Can any government hope to go it alone? That is the question! So, rather than divert attention from the real issues about tertiary education in the State with bloated promises of FREE EDUCATION, we should be urging ourselves TO DO MORE. Oops, that is close to a now famous political slogan. What a coincidence!
Prof Chidi Ibe, B.Sc, Ph.D, DIC P.Eng, FGS, FOS Pro-Chancellor and Chairman, Governing Council
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