THE Federal Government on Wednesday debunked claims by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), that it is planning to force students in public universities pay N350,000 tuition fees per session.
Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education, Mr Sonny Echono, while reacting to the allegation by the ASUU, said pointedly that there was no iota of truth in the speculation.
Echono spoke at the World Teachers’ Day Symposium in Abuja, where he also revealed that by 2020, teachers that do not have requisite qualification would be flushed out of the system.
He insisted that the Federal Government institutions are tuition-free and that the current administration has not contemplated introduction of tuition fees or approving such humongous charges of N350,000 in public universities.
He, however, said what was true was the made mention of re-establishment of Education Bank, Echono, explained would serve not just for the purpose of students’ loan but also provide resources for private sector operatives intervening in the education sector.
Ibadan Zonal Coordinator of ASUU, Dr Ade Adejumo, who raised the concerns about fee hike, had told newsmen that the objection of the union to the proposed tuition fee increase led to the collapse of 2017/2018 Renegotiation of the 2009 FGN/ASUU Agreement.
He said: “The union is again constrained to draw the attention of Nigerian public to an impending labour crisis in the Nigerian universities as a result of the insensitivity and nonchalance of the Federal Government to issues critical to the survival of the educational system.”
Giving a background to the crisis, Adejumo recalled that when the 2009 agreement was overdue for renegotiation, the Federal Government set up a team, led by Dr Wale Babalakin, to renegotiate with the union.
He said: “It is no longer news that the renegotiation, which the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, promised was going to last for only six weeks, has broken down.
“The reason for this very unfortunate development will appeal most Nigerians. First, the leader of government team, who was supposed to be an arbiter between the parties, assumed an arrogant attitude that sought to foist a predetermined mindset of government on the union.
“The union was confronted with a situation where government is bent on imposing tuition fees, beginning from N350,000, on students in the Nigerian public-owned tertiary institutions.
“On the question of how the students will raise such money, the government’s answer is that it will establish an Education Bank, where students will access credit facilities and payback on completion of their studies.
“The union, speaking from the background that education is the right and not a privilege of every Nigerian child, made frantic efforts to make pragmatic explanations on the negative implications and the non-feasibility of this scheme to representatives of government to no avail.”
But the Permanent Secretary, who represented Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu at the symposium, deviated to react to the ASUU claims insisted that Federal Government has no plan to introduce tuition fees or approved increase of tuition fees in public universities.
He said: “Ordinarily, we will not have responded to it but because ASUU is a very responsible organisation and have been our partners, so, it is better that we correct the impression.
“The Federal Government did not and has no intention of introducing tuition fees in our universities, not to even mention a humongous figure of N350,000.
“This can easily be verified, the students have just registered for school now and their parents are aware of how much they paid.
“What is true is that because of the commitment of the present administration to guarantee the right of the Nigerian child not only to education but to be positively engaged, the President directed that the Ministry along with Ministry of Finance, should jointly organise a workshop that will come up with sustainable and very workable recommendation on funding education in Nigeria.
“To this end, we have been engaging with various stakeholders, including the Academic Staff Union of Universities who have come up with very useful contributions.
“There was reference to the issue of re-establishing the Education Bank, this is a policy of development and why do we believe that we require an Education Bank?
“We know that government cannot bear the burden of funding the education alone. The private sector has its role to play especially in tertiary education.
“Even in public institutions, we have heard so many private sector operatives saying they want to assist the government or partner with government under Public Private Partnership arrangement to develop hostels.
“The biggest challenge they have is access to finance on a long-term basis and appreciable interest rate because nobody will take a loan at the current lending rate in our banking system and develop hostels that will be affordable for our students.
“We want a Bank that would give such loans at low-interest rate and even if you want to establish a University, you can access resources on a long-term basis with low-interest rate so that you can contribute your quota to educational development in this country,” Echono said.
He explained that student loan would not be limited to students in Nigeria alone, adding that there were parents whose children are schooling abroad and are having difficulties getting funds across to them as at the time there are required and would need such loan facilities.
He told the Vice-Chancellors of all public universities that subsisting policy of no tuition fee is what is in practice everyone must ensure compliance.
On the teachers’ professionalism, the Permanent Secretary disclosed that all teachers who fail to register with the Teachers’ Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN) and obtain requisite qualification would be flushed out of the system.
He said the theme of the 2018 World Teachers’ Day celebration, “The Right to Education means the Right to a Qualified Teacher” was apt and in tune with the commitment of the Federal Government to improve the welfare and quality of teachers in Nigeria.
He said several welfare initiatives including provision of special allowances for teachers teaching special subjects such mathematics, English among others, promotion as at when due and reward for hard work, have been developed and would be implemented to improve the lot of teachers in the country.
He called on state governments that are still owing salaries to teachers to pay them, while also ensuring that teachers are accorded due recognition and dignity they deserve.
He also revealed that the Federal Government was in the process of regularising the teachers engaged by the Parent Teachers Association (PTA) of the Federal Government Colleges, with additional recruitment where necessary.
Director Education Support Services, Federal Ministry of Education, Mrs Justina Ibe, in her welcome address, acknowledged that there was acute shortage of teachers in the country.
She added that in line with the National Policy on Education, education is classified as one of rights of the citizens, saying it was the responsibility of both the public and private organisations in the country to ensure that this right is rightly given to the citizenry by providing the required number of teachers that would match the teeming population of Nigeria school-age children at all levels of education.
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