High fee regime, a disincentive to private varsities



A couple of months back, medical students at Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti (ABUAD), were shell-shocked when authorities of the school jerked up school fees for their programme by a reasonable percentage.

That fee increase, which took the medical students at the clinical level by surprise, also cemented the school’s place in the ranks of Nigeria’s most expensive private tertiary institutions.

Until recently, students of Babcock University, Ilishan Remo, Ogun State, owned by the Seventh Day Adventist Church, were still riled by the fee hike, which authorities of the university unfolded at a meeting held with representatives of parents and students’ bodies.

In the new tuition regime for fresh and returning students for the 2015/2016 academic session, law students who were paying N870, 000, and entitled to two meals a day had their fees jerked to N1.5m, and medical students who hitherto paid N2m per session, now have to pay N3m for instructional, hostel, feeding, educational tablet and departmental fee among others.

Scenarios like these are constantly playing out in private universities across the country with the students, their parents as well as guardians getting dazed after each round of increment.

In an attempt to explain the rationale behind the hike, Babcock’s Director of Marketing and Communications, Mr. Joshua Sulaiman said, “For five years, the university had not increased tuition in any way. This is the first time we are making some adjustments. Just look at the economic reality in our country. The cost of services is going up. Some months ago, a dollar exchanged for N197, the unofficial rate right now is N220. I don’t even know which bank will sell dollars or pounds to you right now …’’

The inability of federal and states’ government-owned universities to absorb the burgeoning clan of tertiary education seekers, coupled with the failing quality of some of their products and worsening infrastructural facilities in these universities among other factors, made the establishment of private universities a necessity.

With enabling laws in place, over 50 private universities sprung up across the country with many more still on the way. And it was expected that a sizeable chunk of qualified candidates that could not be absorbed by public institutions, would have been admitted by the private institutions. That clearly has not been the case. The very high fees charged by some of these institutions, has created a lacuna between them and prospective students.

Hence, government’s hope at inception that the private varsities would absorb 20 per cent of enrolment in the university system has been dashed.

However, contrary to popular belief that fees in these private universities were very high, the Pro-Chancellor of Lead City University, Ibadan, Prof. Jide Owoeye, recently stated that the fees being paid in private institutions were relatively low, compared to their public counterparts, which receive billions of naira in government subvention.

Owoeye, who is also the chairman of the university’s council, while speaking in Ibadan, Oyo State recently said: “The cost per head of students in the University of Ibadan or University of Lagos, for example, cannot be less than N700, 000 when you are talking about arts courses or basic social science courses.

“But when it comes to courses like medicine, engineering, the government is spending nothing less than N1.5m on each of the students, but the students do not know this because they are not paying.

“Those students that attend public universities are not attending for free. Somebody is paying. It is you and I- the tax payers, that are paying because that money could have been spent on something else like electricity, but it is a function of opportunity cost.”
The pro-chancellor who stated that only very few private universities in the country charge over N1m in fees for certain courses stressed, “In our own case, the highest fee is about N500, 000; we have fees as low as N100, 000 in the Faculty of Arts for courses like Performing Arts as well as English and Literary Studies.

“But people don’t know because they don’t come and find out in the belief that private universities must be expensive. We really must thank JAMB Registrar, Prof. Dibu Ojerinde, who has made it possible for people to find out what is happening in private universities,” he added.

The immediate past Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof Peter Okebukola thinks otherwise, at least, as reflected in his presentation at the recently held maiden convocation lecture of Samuel Adegboyega University, Ogwa.
In his presentation titled, “Perils and Promises of Private University Education in Nigeria: Keeping the House from Falling,” Okebukola stated that, “The increasing number of secondary school leavers angling for very limited university spaces was a key factor in decision of the President Olusegun Obasanjo-led administration to open up the space for private providers. The expectation was that not less than 20 per of enrolment in the university system would be ascribed to the private university sub-system.”

He said, “In the early days, especially between 2000 and 2004, the private universities that were granted licences, had respectable enrolment, raising the hope of attainment of the 20 per cent target by 2015. The factors, which accounted for the choice of private universities in the early days, included their credentials of providing more conducive environment for learning and the non-traditional courses, which they offered. The factor of preference of parents for small class size that the private universities offered and the possibility of individualised attention to their children and wards was also strong.

“Perhaps the most important of the factors was the notoriously unstable calendar of public universities. Between 1992 and 2001, the public university system suffered protracted strikes for a cumulative period of 37 months, which led to the loss of three academic sessions. The private universities offered a strike-free environment and a guarantee of graduation in normal time. Candidates, inspired by their parents headed for the cost-beneficial offerings of the private universities.

“Not long after the early days, at least three factors conspired to reverse the upward swing in enrolment. First is the relative stability, which had returned to the public university system. By 2002, apparently strike-weary, the staff unions took a long break from the usual national strikes and academic calendars were hardly interrupted for long spells. The pull to public universities gained momentum and application to private universities took a plunge.

“Secondly, almost coincidental to the period of relative stability of academic calendar, the number of private universities grew and this caused the total number of applicants to each university to thin. The third factor was the increase in the national poverty rates, which hindered parents from finding financial resources to pay the steep tuition for private university education. Some private universities had less than 10 applicants for their degree programmes in 2015. Available data also confirmed the relatively low level of enrolment of fresh students to most of the private universities.’

The university teacher, who holds a national honour of the Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic further explained that, “By 2014, and to the dismay of university planners, the private university sub-system was only able to attract less than six per cent of the total enrolment in the Nigerian university system. The 20 per cent anticipated enrolment flopped woefully. Today, even with the encouragement by JAMB that candidates should stretch their wings further afield to private universities within and outside their geopolitical zones, the response has been largely negative. Our studies confirm that the key factor shaping interest to apply is the high fee regime of most of the private universities.

In proffering solution to the dwindling enrolment figures at private universities, he said, “If the aspiration to get at least 20 per cent of the candidates enrolled is to be achieved …I offer a few suggestions.

“Lowering the cost of education to be borne by students or their parents in private universities is a promising option. This cannot be ordered by governmental fiat, but induced through financial support systems and tax incentives. Governmental financial support is applied to public universities through the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund). The enabling law of the fund partials out private universities in the regular support system. Strong opinions for and against the provision have been argued.

“Those in favour have hinged their argument on the simple logic that being private providers, government has no business in offering financial support in any form to private universities. After all, the argument continues, the owners of the universities paraded a business plan to the NUC claiming to have the financial muscle to carry the load of delivering quality university education if granted licence. The same individuals or groups cannot turn round few years down the road to claim errors in the original business plans.

“The answer to improving enrolment into private universities rests largely in offering TETFund support. The support will translate to significant lowering of the fee regime, which in turn will attract a larger proportion of candidates than currently witnessed. The TETFund offer should support provision of teaching and research equipment, training (capacity building) of lecturers and development of academic buildings. It should be contingent on significant reduction of fees. Its annual renewal should be based on positive inspection reports and evidence of judicious and transparent use of funds. Such grant-aiding of private institutions is not new. The 1882 Education Ordinance and the 1890 Education law make explicit provisions a for grant-in-aid to private schools.

“While awaiting the realisation of TETFund intervention to private universities, there are number of actions that the managers of these universities can take to boost enrolment. Intensive publicity is one such way … Relatively new British universities have attained a great deal of fluency in the enterprise of selling their schools. They run fairs as a consortium in Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt and in other cities in West Africa. Their harvest is usually rich. Private universities in Nigeria can learn a lesson from this model. Samuel Adegboyega University can enter into a marketing consortium arrangement with a number of private and public universities in Nigeria to undertake road shows, exhibitions and fairs in choice locations in Nigeria and some neighbouring West African countries. In a couple of years, the harvest of candidates will be bountiful,” the former vice chancellor of Lagos State University, stated.

“Equally worth adopting is publicity through activities of the university and its staff. Public lectures organised by the university or particular department or faculty should be accorded huge media publicity. Laurels won by students and staff should also be celebrated in the press. The vice chancellor should also avoid being insular by honouring invitations to academic events outside the university and taking the opportunity to sell his or her university. Radio and television discussion programmes are other avenues which the vice-chancellor should take advantage of to publicise the university.

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