by Adedayo Ademuwagun
Ifenwa Ogba is a student in a federal university in Nigeria, and she pays N15,000 ($92) for tuition per year.
By international standards, the tuition in our federal universities is dirt cheap. For instance, depending on the course of study, most students at Howard University in Washington D.C., USA, pay fees that hove around the $21,000 a year mark. Student at the American University Cairo (Egypt) average about $8500, while on the average, studying at Wits University in South Africa will set you back $3350 per year for the cheapest courses.
Even by the more modest standards in other African countries, the tuition in Nigeria’s federal universities still goes for a song. A student at the University of Nairobi (Kenya) pays about $1600. One at the University of the Gambia pays about $800 dollars. One at the University of Zimbabwe pays about $500, and one at the University of Ghana pays about $300. Those countries have economies that are smaller than Nigeria’s.
Ebuka Odikpo is a 400 level student of the University of Ibadan (UI). He says, “I pay N13,000 ($80) for yearly tuition, and I think it is that low because the government subsidises the education. However, the standard in my school is high compared to other schools in the country. I think the quality outweighs the cost.”
Jumoke Adewunmi is studying at the University of Lagos and pays N15,500. She says, “Actually the school fee is okay, considering the the economic situation in our country. In our school our lecturers teach very well, and
I think we’re doing relatively well too.”
Some students hesitated to discuss the issue because they are concerned about their privacy and other things. However, they respond better when promised that their identities will be protected.
While many of the respondents in federal universities admitted that the tuition is cheap, they expressed a belief it is rightly so because their university is owned and financed by the government.
One of those respondents said, “Yes it is cheap and should be like that since it is a government school. Besides that’s one of the things we should benefit since our parents pay taxes.”
Some other respondents expressed dissatisfaction with the quality of the education they get, and when confronted with the relative costs across various foreign institutions, placed the blame for the poor quality at the doorstep of the low tuition costs.
One unnamed mechanical engineering student said, “I’m not really satisfied. The equipment that we use for practicals are outdated and very old. Some of them don’t work any more.
“We’re not really applying what we are being taught in lectures. We do more of theory. As a student engineer who has spent almost three years on the course, I can’t even disassemble a generator. We’ve learned about various machines and devices in classes. We’ve learned how they work, on paper. But most of us can’t even apply the knowledge to fix anything or make anything. After my studies, if I find myself where I have to practise, I will be at a disadvantage.”
Adewunmi Olufolaji is in his final year studying chemistry at a federal university. He says, “Considering that some chemicals and facilities are unavailable in my department, it is impossible to get accurate results during practicals. Some practicals should be conducted under specific conditions, such as in a vacuum. But we lack the equipment to do this. At the end of the day it affects our work.
“There was a day we were doing a practical in the lab and our supervisor already had the standard results of the experiment. We kept getting the wrong results because of the lab conditions and because we lacked certain apparatus. So she just said, ‘Okay, you all should just try and manipulate the results you got.’ I think that was rubbish.”
These low standards follow the students long after graduation. Sheila Osayogie, a HR executive with a multinational oil-servicing firm operating in Nigeria, comments about graduate recruitment at her workplace, “We don’t usually take green horns coming straight out of school, except fresh engineers. Even so, we train every new person we select based on our own standards. But during the applications stage we often have to sieve through a lot of garbage. For instance, you get to see graduates’ CVs with serious grammar errors. It’s surprising.”
However, it appears that students in the humanities and other fields that do not require scientific practicals are less affected by the situation.
One estate management student, says, “I did a practical course at the engineering department and 10-15 of us had to share one apparatus because there was a shortage. But in my department we don’t have such an issue, since we do more of theory. For us, things are okay.”
Isioma Isibor is a communication and language arts student. She says likewise, “I’m satisfied with the quality of education that we get in my department. We get more than we pay for. What I’ve learned here will definitely serve me well even after school.”
But then, is there any correlation between cost and quality in terms of university education, and should Nigerian students expect better quality even when they pay low tuition?
A senior administrative officer at one federal university gives his view. He explains, “Everybody expects government to provide everything. The mentality of the students is such that they they think they should get quality education, but they do not think they should pay for it.
“In other countries, the government doesn’t pay for the running of its public universities. The universities charge standard fees and augment that income with alumni donations and other things. But in our country, the
money comes from the government.
“Some of us in university management have argued that students should pay standard fees for tuition. But as it is, it’s like the students themselves don’t even care about quality education. Some of them don’t even come to
class. They don’t demonstrate any concern. They seem okay with the way things are.
“When I was admitted into this university in those days (I studied here), I heard of how students would go to any of the butteries run by the school and they would eat for almost free. For my accommodation, I paid N90. My school fees were just N165 — and the quality was great.
“But that was then. Now, we need to realise that schools have become burdened because they can’t get enough money from the government. Schools are overwhelmed beyond their carrying capacity, but we are still using the same facilities and the government has not provided enough money for expansion and new facilities. So the schools have to run on a tight budget. Government funding is only sufficient for salaries and barely for infrastructure, and the resources that we have are dwindling.”
Some students such as Isioma say they have no problem with paying more for tuition if it means they will be getting better education. Oladele Akinrujomu, a mathematics student, is one of them who are cynical about increasing tuition.
He sneers, “ASUU went on strike recently for six months. They said they were clamouring for better university funding, and then we heard government released some money for increased funding. But up till now there is no change in the system. We just wasted six months. So how can we trust the government and the schools to deliver better quality if we pay more? We could agree to pay more for tuition, but it probably won’t make any difference.”
“If asked to pay more,” Ebuka says, “some students won’t be able to afford it and it could stretch education beyond the reach of the less privileged.
“A lot of us do some extracurricular stuff to develop ourselves personally, like taking professional courses. So even if standards aren’t the best right now, students can can make up by developing themselves personally. I think the best thing is for students to develop themselves individually no matter the quality of education they’re getting, so that when they get out, they’ll measure up.”