by Suraj Oyewale
Ife is a school for the brilliant poor. If some universities have turned education into a commercial venture, Ife must not be tempted to join the train
I finished from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, almost eight years ago, but like many other alumni of the school, I have the interest of the school at heart. This is why I follow every bit of news about this institution that to a large extent contributed to what we are today.
But the current news from the school is not pleasing to the ears: the school is set to raise school fees of new intakes to as much as one hundred thousand naira.
About seven years ago when there was widespread debate about the introduction of tuition fees in Nigerian universities, I lent my voice to the debate. In my article titled ‘Afe Babalola, I beg to disagree’ published in the Punch newspaper of 19th November 2007, I argued that “If public universities are given the liberty to charge tuition fees, then they will now compete with private universities in charging exorbitant fees. Already, at the University of Port Harcourt, a federal university, students pay as high as N90,000 as school fees, which is only a little less than what obtains in some of these private universities. Given the high rate of poverty in this country, it is very predictable that not a few eligible people will be denied access to university education if tuition fees are introduced”. That was 2007. Despite the stiff resistance by the students at the time, the school management had their way.
In that same article, I cautioned the students against clamouring for free education at the tertiary level given its impracticability in the current situation. I wrote: “Free tuition should not be taken as synonymous with free education. Perish the thought that education, especially at the tertiary level, can be totally free in today’s Nigeria. What I’m saying is that the current regime of subsidized school fees and non-existent tuition fees should not be abolished. This, however, does not mean that universities should veil tuition fees under different nomenclatures, as OAU is now charging what it calls departmental charges.”
Perhaps it was OAU’s successful introduction of what they called ‘departmental charges’ which started in my final year in 2005/2006 session, that encouraged them to introduce another obnoxious charge, now named ‘acceptance fee’ in 2011. In 2013, the fees are being raised, yet again
OAU has a long tradition of affordability, arguably the university with the largest concentration of students from poor homes of all serious institutions in Nigeria. When I got admission into the university in 2001, all what I paid for hostel and school fees was N1,090. By the following session the management introduced what they called ‘hostel maintenance fees’ of N2,500, and all the fees I paid totaled less than N3,500. By the time I graduated the fees I paid was N17,500. The issue was not me, as, by the grace of God, I had a family that didn’t find that as a problem, but my experience with other students told a lot about the poverty level among a sizeable number of students in the university. I will narrate them in subsequent paragraphs.
There are a number of factors that make OAU the favourite for students from poor homes. The most glaring is the merit-driven admission policy of the school. OAU is one of the few, if not the only, schools that will give you admission once you make their cut-off points, irrespective of your state of origin. You need not know anybody once you meet their requirements. You need not beg any lecturer or admission officer. For example I scored 243 in UME in 2000 and the cut-off point for Economics was 242. I was only informed at home that my name had appeared on the list. I have a brother, who, years earlier, scored above 260, and applied for Accounting in another popular first generation university in the South-west. The highest score in the country in that year was 286, few marks higher than his. His name was not only missing from the first and second lists, our father had to storm their admission office to complain before his name came out of supplementary list. He would have been denied that admission if our father had not taken action. Not a few people have tales of backing up their high scores with high ‘kick-backs’ before claiming their legitimate space in this and other universities. That is why many less privileged in the society prefer OAU.
Another reason why OAU is the port of call for children of the less privileged is the school’s moderate social activities and high regard for academic intelligence over material worth. In many Nigerian higher institutions the most popular students are the students with the best cars on campus, but in OAU the most famous students on campus are those that have the greatest CGPAs, the most brilliant students. So the tendency for a poor man’s child to be influenced on campus is minimal. It is the combination of these and other factors that make OAU attractive to poor students.
For the school’s affordability, the school has been able to turn many families around by making higher education accessible to brilliant children who otherwise would not have been able to go to university. In my year 2 in Ife, I had a friend who found it extremely difficult to raise the N3,500 fees. So serious was the situation that this friend practically went cap in hand, begging us his friends to assist him. It was beyond my imagination. I have another friend who revealed to me shortly after we graduated how he struggled to raise the N17,000 school fees in our final year. And I recalled his not showing up in school almost two weeks after resumption. I later got to know he was struggling to raise his school fees. This was how bad things were. Today, these two friends of mine are doing extremely well; one has become an investment banker with a top investment banking firm and the other works in a popular International Oil Company (IOC). If these two students had dropped out of school then due to unaffordability of school fees, what would have been their and their families’ fates today? Now, two families have been extricated from the clutches of poverty. They are now their families’ bread winners due to Ife’s school fees with a human face.
This is why I think pricing education beyond the reach of the hoi polloi that are the majority in this prestigious school will have devastating effect. I was once a student of this university that lived among other students and I know this stark reality. N100,000 may seem to be small money, in fact the school can argue that students pay close to that for bedspaces, but the truth is less than 5% of the students are involved. I read in papers of the many grants the school receives locally and internationally. A lot of alumni are doing fine in their respective fields and are willing to give back to their alma mater. A lot of commercial ventures are springing up in the university campus. These are sources the school can explore to shore up its revenue base, not introducing some obnoxious charges.
I concede that N2,590 may no longer be sustainable for accommodation and N17000 for school fees, but anything aboveN30,000 as school fees in Ife is an effective way of shutting the school’s gates against children from poor homes.
Ife is a school for the brilliant poor. If some universities have turned education into a commercial venture, Ife must not be tempted to join the train. The beauty of Ife lies not only in the structure but also in its reasonable and progressive ideology. This is the exact vision of the founders of this university. With Ife now pricing education beyond the reach of even the middle class, I’m afraid Awolowo, Akintola and other visionaries in their Western Region government that came up with the idea of a world class university for their people, will be turning in their graves now. OAU authorities should not dance on their graves.
Suraj Oyewale, a chartered accountant, blogger and public analyst, is the founder of JarusHub Career & Management Portal.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.