By Aare Afe Babalola, SAN,
In last week’s edition, I examined the history of the first universities in the world. The early universities were corporations of students and masters, who were chartered by the Pope and later by Emperors and Kings and now by Parliament or State Governments. Such universities included the university at Constantinople which was founded in 2 BC and the University of Alexandria, Antioch, and Athens.
These universities were free to govern themselves, provided they taught neither atheism nor heresy. As the price of independence, however, universities had to finance themselves. These early universities had no permanent buildings and little corporate property.
They were established in many of the principal cities of Europe to wit: Montpellier (1220) and Aix-en-Provence (1409) in France, at Padua (1222), Ron le (1303), and Florence (1321) in Italy, at Salamanca (1218) in Spain, at Prague (1348) and Vienna (1365) in Central Europe, at Heidelberg (1386), Leipzig (1409), Freiburg (1457), and Tubingen (1477) in what is now Germany, at Louvain (1425) in present-day Belgium and at Saint Andrews (1411) and Glasgow (1451) in Scotland. It was not until 1948 that Nigeria had its first university namely, University College, Ibadan.
Public universities came into existence in Europe only about 200 years ago, in the way of welfarism in politics that the government should start establishing universities in order to cater to the generality of the people. They were funded by the government. In Nigeria, the first public university was the University of Ibadan founded in 1948.
At the beginning the standard was high: The products of our first public universities, especially the five at Ibadan (1948), Ife (1962), Lagos (1962), Benin, Nsukka (1960), and Zaria (1962) compared very favorably with public universities anywhere in the world.
They were sought after by universities at Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford, and London for post-graduate degrees. When they were eventually admitted, they recorded record-breaking performances. They were offered the best jobs on graduation by the multi-national companies and other big corporate bodies. Those who chose to remain and teach in the universities either here or abroad ranked favourably with their foreign colleagues.
The military and the fall of the standard: Then suddenly, things nose-dived. Standards began to fall, especially with the advent of the military in the civil governance of the country. The system was militarised. The schools were deprived of adequate funding. Old infrastructures were not replaced or repaired. Teachers who had previously been well remunerated suddenly became over-worked but under-paid. Morale became low. The worsening economic situation did not help matters as unemployment ravaged school graduates. They became despondent. Our university graduates suddenly turned into a shadow of what they used to be, and the outside world treated them as such.
They were no longer the beautiful brides that they were among foreign universities and employers. Eventually, the problem got to the peak of its badness when employers began to reject and discriminate against graduates of Polytechnics and of Universities established by the states. The situation has got to a frightening proportion that all stakeholders now agree that something has to be done, urgently and decisively.
In an article titled, “Education in Nigeria: the same putrefying story of rot” written by Sulaimon Olanrewaju and Kunle Awosiyan and published in The Tribune of October 3, 2008, I was quoted as follows: “The products of our first universities, especially the six at Ibadan, Ife, Lagos, Benin, Nsukka and Zaria compared very favourably with those of any universities in the world. They were sought after by universities at Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford, and London for post-graduate degrees. When they were eventually admitted, they recorded record-breaking performances. They were offered the best jobs on graduation by the multi-national companies and other big corporate bodies. Those who chose to remain and teach in the universities either here or abroad ranked favourably with their foreign colleagues.”
The quality of teaching and learning has declined; the quality of degrees awarded is compromised. A large number of graduates from our universities are a shame to show-case anywhere. Most of them cannot justify the award of their degrees. The educational reputation of the country is a source of national shame.
In the 2008 rankings of world universities dated July 2008, none of our universities ranked within the first 1000. Professor Mac Ade Araromi of the Institute of Education University of Ibadan said: “Many university graduates cannot speak good English.
“Even at the post-graduate level, we find out that the communication ability of the students is declining. Imagine reading through a thesis and you still have to correct tenses. This is somebody who is going to be a Ph.D. holder. But the journey to the sorry pass was not an overnight flight.”
The unenviable legacy inherited by Obasanjo’s government:
(a) Unpaid pensions and gratuities for retired university staff which ran into several billions of Naira.
(b)Salaries and other remunerations paid to professors and other lecturers which did not compare at all with what their colleagues earned elsewhere.
(c) Hostels which were in a pitiable condition.
(d) College buildings including lecture rooms and offices which needed refurbishment.
(e) Libraries which were poorly equipped and were in need of modern books and equipment
(f) Laboratory equipment that were obsolete and were calling for modernization.
(g) Campus roads which were in a state of disrepair. (h) Short supply of electricity.
(i) Water supply which in most cases was inadequate.
The question we must ask ourselves is “why have things gone so bad”? The answer is that the federal universities and state universities are creations of the government and are funded by the government. In fact, many state universities are not much better than secondary schools and in some cases cannot compare favourably with most of the private universities. The bitter truth which the politicians do not want to hear is that ours remains the only country where education is funded absolutely by the government.
New thinking across the world: All over the world, there has been a rethinking about the role of public institutions. Originally, the first universities in the world were established by private organizations and individuals followed by Christian universities.
It was only about 200 years ago in the wake of Welfarism in politics that the governments started establishing public universities in order to cater for the generality of the people. These universities were funded by the government but things have changed for reasons already noted earlier. Across the globe, the consensus now is that students or their parents and guardians and not the government, should pay for their education in public institutions.
In the first distinguished fellow lecture delivered by Professor Arthur M. Sussman, Professor of Law, the University of Chicago at the Afe Babalola University on March 19, 2010, the distinguished lecturer said: “It is important to know that the amount of state funding has been decreasing as a percentage of public university budgets, and in some cases, it has been decreasing in actual dollars.
Some state universities receive as little as eight percent of their budgets from the state. Few receive more than 35 percent. The average state institution receives 22 percent of its revenue from state support. In reality, the economies of many state and private universities are similar. Both depend heavily on student fees. For state institutions, it averages 17 percent of revenues. For private institutions, it is 26 percent.”
Joint participation: For the university or any educational system to function appropriately, the question of adequacy and stability of funding is a sine qua non. Put in another form, consistent and adequate funding is the backbone of efficient and functional universities the world over.
I am not ashamed to say that I have always been an unrepentant advocate of tuition fees as a means of ensuring the adequacy of funding for the university system. It is generally agreed that governments cannot do it all alone given the myriad of responsibilities they have to shoulder cutting across various sectors of the economy.
This explains why I have consistently preached the gospel of joint participation and or combined efforts in funding university education in Nigeria. In other words government at all levels (federal, state, and local) together with wealthy individuals, philanthropic organizations, multinational corporations, and blue-chip companies to mention just a few must ensure effective participation in education funding.
Interestingly enough, while some people deliberately chose to misunderstand and misinterpret me for no justifiable reasons, other well-meaning Nigerians who appreciate the importance of adequate funding of university education in Nigeria have not only supported my stand, but also proffered additional arguments and points. They include two eminent Nigerian scholars: the Late Professor Sam Aluko (renowned economist) and Professor Moses Akin Makinde (of Obafemi Awolowo University, lIe- Ife).
Professor Sam Aluko supported my view in the following words (as quoted in an article titled “On Tuition Fee And Post-jamb Screening In Varsities: In Defence Of Chief Afe Babalola/San’’) written by Professor Moses Makinde: “The case made by Chief Afe Babalola, SAN, the ProChancellor of the University of Lagos, and published in the newspapers of September 30, 2005, that students in the universities, and by implication in other tertiary institutions in Nigeria, should be charged tuition fees, cannot be faulted.
It is the practice worldwide which is what keeps the universities vibrant and capable of performing effectively their teaching, research and public service commitments the devastating bad effects of the paucity of funds in tertiary institutions, which has reduced them to a little more than glorified secondary schools.”
This new thinking is supported by a U.K. paper titled “Higher Education Funding: International Comparison. The paper summarizes the position in 13 OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries.
It states as follows: “Tuition fees are becoming the international rule and not the exception. Eight of the 13 OECD main competitor countries analysed in this paper charge tuition fees of some sort. All of these eight-bar Netherlands vary their fees to some extent. In Canada, the tuition fee is on the rise. Australia presents a most interesting scenario as differential fees were introduced having regard to Income.
For Japan, with effect from 2000, state universities would be allowed to have greater autonomy and, more importantly, freedom to set their own tuition fee levels. In national universities, fees are set at N2,700”.
In Germany, the issue of tuition fees is now a subject of intense discussion. In China, fees are set according to market conditions taking into account both costs and demand. Specifically, in America, fees at public and private institutions are rising by an average of 14.1 percent from 2002-2003 to 2003-2004 at public institutions.
Overall, the split is between public universities which charge around $5,000 – $15,000 (N2,900 – N8,600) per year depending on location, type, and length of course; and private universities where fees can be as high as $30/000 (N17,300) per year. (I refer to a newspaper publication of “The Independent” newspaper of Saturday 20 August 2005 in England where it was stated that tuition fee is 3,000 Pounds per student [about N750,000.00]).
On the front page of The Independent, it was reported: “Student leaders attributed the substantial rise in applications about 10 percent on last years figures – to prospective students trying to escape top-up fees of up to N3000 a year which come into force in September next year.”
Committee of registrars of Nigerian universities
The Committee of Registrars of Nigerian Universities sent a memo to the government on this matter in 1996. The first of the solutions proposed was to request universities to provide professional accounting that would show what it costs exactly to provide its services. For instance, at the University of Lagos, what does it cost the university to provide X number of medical students in their 151-semester study?
This requires that all cost elements (e.g. Biochemistry 101) per X number of students per semester must be computed. This means that it will be possible to determine what it costs to educate a medical student at the University of Lagos. Now, if the government says anyone who goes for medical school need not pay, what it means is that the government is disbursing to the university exactly what it costs the university to provide the service for each student. Otherwise both government and College authorities are engaged in a murderous game of make-belief for the training of doctors.
The Registrars’ suggested solution in 1996 are still valid today and are based on the following principles:
Parents who can pay fees should be allowed to pay instead of preventing them by declaring a free education that we do not match with commensurate financial backing;
No student who qualifies for admission should be denied higher education merely because his/her inability to pay fees;
All tiers of government from Local Council to Federal Government should be allowed to be part of the fee-paying process;
The private sector should be allowed to be part of the scheme.
Guidelines suggested by the Registrars for the implementation of these Principles
2. The Federal Government may provide Scholarships on merit to say 30% of those who properly gain admission to the university, to cover 100% of tuition. Tuition will of course be different from institution to institution as indicated above. Additional loans may be granted to cover a proportion of other cost of living and books, while parents or guardians take care of the rest, which will be minimal. Again, scholarships may be granted for say 75% of tuition for the next 30% on merit. And additional loans may be granted to cover another segment of the cost of living and books.
3.State government should also follow suit by granting scholarships and loans according to their own criteria to cover the remaining 40% of the population of admitted students from their states.
4. Local Councils may grant scholarships and loans to indigent students from their local Council communities. Local authorities are best at determining criteria for indigence and membership of a local Council.
5. The Federal Government may again grant scholarships and loans to those from disadvantaged areas who have not been adequately covered by 1-4 above.
6. Universities themselves may grant scholarships based on their own criteria. The above guidelines will work on the following conditions:
That no one will benefit, in the same year, from more than one award of scholarship and from loans to cover the same item of expenditure.
That universities publish verifiable and approved costs of tuition and other charges.
Continuation of scholarships and loans will depend on continued good academic standing.
That students take the first step to applying for these scholarships and loans
Each Registrar’s Office will have a unit clarifying applications yearly on the basis of good academic standing.
It is my view that the above recommendations should be given due consideration. We cannot continue to pretend that the Government alone can fund education. So long as this view holds, Nigeria will continue to suffer a problem of the low quality educational system.