NO TO FURTHER COMMERCIALISATION OF EDUCATION
NO TO FURTHER COMMERCIALISATION OF EDUCATION
Nigerian Students Must Build Collective Resistance Against Regime Of Fees And Attacks on Education
By Kola Ibrahim
Those who still nurse the illusion that the Present Yar’Adua government will be different and better from its predecessors should be having a rethink as the current regime is bent on continuing the neo-liberal economic policies of the past, especially as it concerns the education sector. Just recently, the Minister of Education, Dr. Igwe Ajah Nwachukwu, was quoted at two separate forums reiterating the government’s decision to hike fees in all Nigerian universities. The new policy will see already impoverished students of Nigerian tertiary institutions coughing out extra tens of thousands of naira as fees in a country where over 70% are living in penury; where governments find it arduous to pay N11, 000 minimum wages for workers and where pensioners are hardly paid their meager entitlements as at when due. Already, there is a conspiracy by governments at all levels to commercialize education on a full scale.
CATALOGUE OF FEES INCREASES AND ATTACKS
From University of Ibadan to Unilag, Lasu, Lautech, Uniosun, ABU, FUTO, Kogi State University, TASUED, OOU, MAPOLY, OAU, etc fees have been increased. Not only this, virile students’ unions, which are perceived to have the capacity to resist the fees are being attacked. For instance, in OAU, aside the illegal proscription of the students’ union, three union leaders were detained for over five months while thirteen other students’ union activists have been rusticated for advocating independent unionism and improved living and learning conditions. Also, since 2000 and 2005, students’ unions of UI Esa Oke, Lautech, Escotech and Unilag had been castrated respectively.
In Ogun State, virtually all the state owned institutions have hiked fees.
In Moshood Abiola polytechnic, the story is pathetic. According to the Vanguard of 15 January, 2008 “New intakes into the Moshood Abiola Polytechnic, Abeokuta, (MAPOLY) for the 2007/2008 academic session are refusing to take up their offer of admission as new students are to pay as much as N80, 000 for an Ordinary Diploma course. The Ogun State Government-owned polytechnic in recently announcing newly approved school fees said that acceptance fee alone would be N20,500 which is non-refundable. The new students are to pay up before Thursday, January 17, or lose the admission.”
In Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), students are asked to pay between N68, 000 and N261, 000 as fees. According to The Nation newspaper of January 3rd, 2008, the university is being asked by the Ogun State government (the owner state) to fund 48 percent of its workers’ wage while there should be internal generation of fund for new capital projects! As a result of this, most of the campuses of this multi-campus university lack basic facilities as students rely on the benevolence of the indigenes for accommodation.
In Tai Solarin University of Education (TASUED), students are paying nothing less than N50, 000 as fees, yet the students are being taught under terrible conditions. For instance, there is shortage of teaching staff while students’ hostels are virtually non-existent.
Definitely, the basic denominators common to these schools are chronic under funding by the Ogun State government, lack of facility, and mismanagement of funds by the schools’ administrators. The state government claimed that it earmarked 26 percent of the 2007 budget to education, yet it could not provide fund for the state owned institutions. Definitely, students in other state owned institutions should expect astronomical hike in fees. Yet, Ogun State has had an unprecedented rise in revenue allocation since 2003 running to hundreds of billions of Naira but the state government could not improve facilities in the schools.
In Oyo State, the story is the same.
In Ladoke Akintola University (LAUTECH), Ogbomosho, thousands of students are being sent on an academic journey of no return. According to The Nation newspaper of 3rd January, returning and fresh students were asked to pay N40, 000 as fees as against between N6, 000 and N11, 000 being paid previously. The major excuse of the management is that the university is under funded by the owner states (Osun & Oyo State yet the two states are getting billions from federation account monthly. Also, other state owned institutions are being under funded and prepared for full blown commercialization. Just recently, students of The Polytechnic, Ibadan protested against the closure of the campus occasioned by the strike of the workers who are demanding payment of their withheld entitlements. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that the end result will be to tax students more in order to run these schools.
In Osun State, the story is not different.
In the just established Osun State University (UNIOSUN), the state owned university, despite the absence of basic facilities like classrooms, teaching staff, laboratories and hostel facilities, admitted students were asked to pay between N150, 000 to N300, 000 in a state where majority of the population are workers, peasants or pensioners. Consequently, most of the admitted students have jettisoned the admission. Despite tens of billions that had accrued to the purse of the state since 2003, the education sector is chronically ill in the state. Recently, an over crowded classroom collapsed in the Osun State College of Education, Ila Orangun. For more than three months, all the state owned tertiary institutions were on compulsory holiday owing to the strike by workers in the state owned tertiary institutions who are being denied their arrears.
The fee hike is not limited to state owned institutions alone. There have been obnoxious hike in fees in federal government owned institutions in the country. For instance, in University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (UNAAB), there has been astronomical increase in an obnoxious levy called acceptance fee which has been hiked from N2000 in 2005 to N10, 000 in 2007; while there is a plan to increase the fee by at least 100 percent this year aside other fees to be increased. Yet, in the same school, the living and studying facilities are virtually dilapidated as the transport system is archaic while the health centre is nothing to write home about.
Also, in AUCHI Polytechnic, ND and HND students are being asked to pay between N22, 000 and N30, 000 as new fees because according to the management, the polytechnic is being under funded by the federal government. Furthermore, in Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria, attempts to introduce N40, 000 fees led to a protest by the students while about 75 students have been rusticated.
This new policy of fee hike is to say the least anti-poor. According to UNESCO, Nigeria ranks first among the countries with the least educated youth in the world with over 80 percent of the school aged youth out of school; the few that are in the system are being rapidly driven out through prohibitive fees. The new regime of fees to be introduced can hardly resolve a single of the problems confronting the education sector.
COMMERCIALIZATION AND UNDER FUNDING ARE THE CAUSES
According to the budget proposal of 2008, the total budget for education is actually 8.2 percent (as against the much-publicized 13 percent) but the Obasanjo government in 2006 budgeted 8.7 percent to education in 2006. In fact, the budgetary allocation to debt servicing is more than the combined budget for education and health. There is no way education can survive this chronic under funding without hike in fees. Therefore, the budget is a continuation of the old ruinous policy of cuts in education bufget; yet UNESCO recommends that developing economies like Nigeria must commit at least 26 percent of their budgets on education. The real intent of the government is to commercialize education out of the reach of poor students in order to lay the basis for its total privatization. This is what is happening in the Nigerian Law School where fees were hiked by over 100 percent to N230,000, which has denied hundreds of law students access to this year’s law school programme.
CAN GOVERNMENT FUND FREE EDUCATION?
Nigerian resources, if judiciously used, can fund free, functional and qualitative education if it is committed to people’s need. Between 1999 and now, Nigeria has accrued nothing less than over N20 trillion naira with practically nothing to show for it other than opulence for the one percent super-rich few who consume 80 percent of Nigeria’s oil wealth (UNDP, 2005). This is aside over $50 billion lying idle in Nigeria’s foreign account. Spending 26 percent of these monies judiciously and accountably on education will massively expand facilities in our schools while providing opportunity for tens of millions of youth, who are currently denied access to education, to have access to free, quality and functional education at all levels. The money will also lay the basis for massive development of the country economically and socially through provision of social service such as functional education, affordable healthcare, massive transportation development (road, rail and water), massive job creation, food and energy supply, etc. But the anti-poor neo-liberal economic policies of commercialization, privatization and cut in social spending will not allow this. This means that it is those who have bought the nation’s assets or are looting the nation’s treasury will be able to afford the basic necessities of life including education while the children of the poor wallow in poverty and ignorance.
BUILDING A FIGHTING CAMPAIGN
Unless the students build a genuine resistance to the policy of education commercialization and hike in fees on a national level, children from working class backgrounds will be denied complete access to education. It is unfortunate that despite the glaring attacks on the rights of students to functional education through the hike in fees, no structure of NANS has issued a single statement or organized a press conference let alone a mass action. Yet, you hear NANS either supporting one politician or the other or collecting gifts from one corporate body or the other. There is complete ideological collapse within the NANS. All this has collectively denied Nigerian students a national platform to resist the onslaught on education. Even, many students’ union leaderships are either jittery of defending students’ rights or have out-rightly sold out.
Therefore, to salvage the future of Nigerian students, there is need to bring back the old tradition of struggle; a tradition that send jitters into the spines of authorities and government. This can only be done when there is a national campaign to resist the anti-poor neo-liberal education commercialization and hike in fees alongside the solidarity struggles in each campus against these policies. This is why the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) is calling on genuine radical students’ unions, activists and organizations to join force with us to build a “National Days of Action” that will include mass rallies, protest marches, picketing, press campaign, mass mobilization, leafleting, lobbying of and collaborations with trade unions, which will re-raise the collective demands for:
1. Massive funding of education by at least 26 percent of all governments’ budgets coupled with democratic involvement of all workers and students in decision-making organs in the education sector.
2. End to culture of fee hike and education commercializations for free, quality and functional education at all levels coupled with adequate bursary.
3.Secure jobs for workers and adequate salaries and better conditions of service for them.
4. End to the culture of attack on workers’ and students’ rights. Independent unionism is a right.
5. Recall of all politically victimized students’ activists and workers, and an end to culture of victimization.
6. Nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy with democratic control by the working people to provide enough resources to fund free and qualitative education and other social services.