Following the announcement of the re-opening of Obafemi Awolowo University that was closed for more two months over students’ protest against increment of fess, the Public Relations Officer of the institution, Mr. Abiodun Olarewaju, explains reasons behind the fee increment and why it is irreversible. Excerpts:
OAU campus has been shut for more than two months due to students’ protest, how can you justify the closure?
The closure is to allow peace to reign and to let public know that the university management has respect for human lives and property. The Senate of the university decided to close down the campus when the students were protesting the minor adjustments in the fees payable by them and we felt that being the best university in Nigeria for the fourth time running now, we should be able to use what we have as a standard and maintain such standard because the financial standing of the university could not in all be used to sustain the standard that OAU is noted for all over the world.
What are the details of these new fees?
Let me begin by giving you the background to the new fee regime so that we will all understand the issue. The university did not just wake up overnight to increase its fees. The management felt the economic realities does not support the payment of N5,300, N7,800,and N10,300 per session by each student depending on the courses of study which had been on for quite some years.
The university in conjunction with the senate decided that the fees should be adjusted to N19, 700 for those in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, while those in Sciences should be paying N33, 700. Are we saying that this money is too much for students in this university in this 21st Century? The economic realities of this country would not allow us to continue with the old rate, which had been on for the past 14 years. And when you consider those who use the facilities on the campus, you find out it is the students who consume more. For instance, the university pays as much as N30 million electricity bill on monthly basis and more than 92 per cent of this electricity is consumed by the students because they are on the campus 24 hours using electric stoves, boiling rings and several other power consuming objects, yet they are the ones unwilling to pay.
So, if truly we want to sustain the academic sanctity of our school and our rating as the best university in Nigeria, the school management decided that it would be good to have more contribution from the parents to support what we get from the Federal Government in maintaining our standards. But the students decided to be unruly, and when the demonstration was turning violent, the university management in conjunction with the senate decided to shut down the school.
But you claimed the university had never increased fees in the last 14 years, what about the N20, 000 acceptance fee introduced about three years ago and other minor increments?
What happened then was a kind of adjustment in the accommodation. We all know that the university’s yearly business is to maintain the halls of residence by putting in new facilities which cost money and if we look at it closely, you will agree with me that the students themselves know the realities on ground because when they go outside campus to rent a house, they know how much they pay and they also know that when Power Holding Company of Nigeria takes electricity, they have no right to protest because they know it is not the fault of the landlords but anytime there’s electrical failure in the university environment for just a day, you will see them chanting ‘war’ songs. The acceptance fee is part of the internally generated revenue for new students here. The students who are being asked to pay this fee are not yet our students because until the acceptance fee is paid and it should be clearly noted that this fees is meant for new students alone and not an additional fees to returning students.
It could be truth that the economic realities and the dwindling allocation may not support the needs of the university, but have you also considered the fact that most of the parents are also on N18, 000 minimum wage?
Before OAU decided to increase the fees, we did our homework very well. We went round most of the federal universities including the University of Lagos, Akoka and we discovered that out of all these universities, OAU was the only university where students were paying the most ridiculous fee. We had our points and the Senate of this university ratified everything, and it gave the management of the university go ahead. We must understand the fact that the Senate comprises professors from various disciplines of different faculties of this university. And on the case of parents earning N18, 000 minimum wage, are you saying because of that, the university should not charge fees?
The students that you are soliciting for, most of them uses BlackBerry, some of them are on monthly subscription of N5, 000 for different communication networks. If N5, 000 x 12 is 60,000, a student in this university who does that should be able to accord his or her education priority. Anywhere in the world, OAU remains the university with the cheapest fees. Apart from this, you would agree with me that most of the students here attended private primary and secondary schools where they paid minimum of N40, 000 per term making N120, 000 per session. Are we saying that in all honesty, somebody whose parents could afford N120, 000 in a year at secondary level won’t be able to pay less than N80, 000 for university education? Or is it because we had made it lesser for people to come in when the economy of this country was buoyant? The students’ position cannot in anyway be justified.
So is the university saying its doors should be locked against children of the poor?
That is not possible and that is why the management has introduced new measures to accommodate the indigent students.
The Senate in conjunction with the VC has set up bursary and scholarships committee for the indigent students. We felt that brilliant students should not be deprived of having their educational attainment because we are all citizens of this country and so the business of the standing committee is to assess the applications from the indigent students in a fair manner so they can be assisted. (National Mirror)