Monday, 10 March 2014

CRISIS: LASU Faculties Admit JUST 3 Students Because of Fees Hike

LASU Reels From Neglect, And Anger: Tuition Fee Hikes, Construction Projects Stir The Pot-CITYVOICE Nigeria

Some faculties of the school admit only three students for the next academic year.

 It is hard to understate the problems facing the Lagos State University (LASU), but an example will suffice. During the recent round of student admission process, the school’s authorities found that only three students could be admitted into its School of Communications (by contrast, the federal government-owned University of Lagos’s department of Mass Communications could only absorb a tiny fraction of the over 15,000 qualified applicants for its programmes.)

Most other faculties of the institution did not fare much better as intending students in droves turn their back on the university owned by the Lagos State government. It was therefore little surprise that the institution descended into chaos last week, as students embarked on a violent protest against perceived high-handedness of the university management.

During a visit to the institution during the week, an uneasy eerie of silence pervades the entire expanse of the LASU main campus in Ojo. Despite the presence of heavily armed police officers – two armoured tanks stationed at the gate – ongoing repairs of property damaged during the protest, it was clear that all is still not well with the tertiary institution.

Both the lecturers union, and the student body have vowed to challenge the state government and school authority, until education in the school is made affordable for its students, as envisaged by its founding fathers. However, the state government is unwavering; claiming the financial expenditure on the institution is enormous.

The Lagos state owned university is regarded as the most expensive public tertiary institution in Nigeria, with yearly fees ranging from N350,000 ($2,127.16 U.S. Dollars, for Medicine) to N250,000 ( $1,519.40 USD, for management course, sciences, law) and N197,000 ($1,197.28 in U.S. Dollars,) for educational courses.  The tuition fee increment was a policy imposed by the state government two years ago and this has led to a drastic fall of admissions into the ivory tower.

“Some departments, such as Mass Communication which is a very popular course admitted only three students, while Yoruba and French languages have admitted just 1 student this session. It is that bad”, lamented the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of LASU student union body, Adeleke Stephen.

The school normally admits between 5,000 to 10,000 students every academic session, but the new fees regime has put it out of reach for a lot of people, hence the fall in admissions to less than a thousand in the new academic session. Worse, since LASU has no hostel for its students, most of the students commute miles to school daily – incurring additional expenses.

Speaking with a group of final year students – who are studying despite the school’s closure – under some trees in the centre of the campus, the students decried the new fees regime which they said did not reflect in the kind of education they received.

“With that kind of payment, students should be studying with advanced, state of the art technology in LASU, but this is not the case here,” one student remarked. “There are no hostels on campus, the classrooms are hell holes and the quality of education is nothing to write home about,” another of the students said.

The state university was amongst the universities that lost the Nigerian University Commission (NUC) accreditation for a number of courses. A number of them have since been re-accredited.

The students also blamed both the state government and school authority for some grandiose projects in the school, such as, the new Senate building being built by the Chinese Construction and Engineering Company on two sides of the campus road.

“This is why they are increasing the school fees when some other essential buildings, such as library and conducive lecture theatres, are abandoned,” Adeleka said.

An ultra-modern library is also been constructed, but Adeleke argues that it will just be “old wine in a new bottle”, because the problem of the existing library is not the structure, but the dearth of adequate books. “A new senate building is not what we need the most in this school, they should have just re-structured the existing building.

“There is no justification for the increment, as the CGPA of most of the students paying the money reveal that they are still at 1.0 to 2.0 which is about third class. Not even close to second class lower.”

Mojirade Hassan, president of the student union body, also noted that the school is undertaking some gigantic constructions such as the students arcade centre – which she claims might be the largest in sub-Saharan Africa – and this was started long before the new fees policy, “so that confirms that the school is not being run on tuition fees, so why the increase?”

“If the state government boldly declares that earnings from the school fees are not up to N1billion, yet it spends over N6billion on salaries, then Lagos should be able to declare free tertiary education for the poor. It is the nation’s economic capital with tremendous income, why then is this government doing everything to frustrate the poor?

“Government is only telling the poor that education is not for them and the other detriment to this law, is that the proportion of Lagos indigenes that will be admitted into the school will be nil because admission is now about who has the money, and not the 70% -30% quota system established by the founding fathers.

“The main reason why LASU was established has been breached with this new policy and we shall fight it with all our guts.”

One of the laws establishing Lagos State University in 1984 states that the objective of the university shall be to “provide access for citizens of Lagos State to higher education regardless of social status or income.”

A few weeks before the students’ unrest that led to school closure, the chairman of LASU’s chapter of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU- LASU),Dr Adekunle Idris, had called on the administrators to “avoid the looming crisis in LASU.”

Amongst other issues, he noted that the fees has “placed education beyond the reach of the average Lagosian and Nigerians in general, in a country where the minimum wage is N18,000 (or about $109.39 U.S. Dollars) per month. This contradicts the founding fathers’ vision and purpose for Lagos State University.”

Further accentuating the lecturers’ stance against the exorbitant fees, he warned that “it will be a disservice on the part of ASUU-LASU to Lagosians and Nigerians in general, if we sit back and watch until LASU is made a business school.

He also cautioned that “no public school in the world can be funded/sustained through school fees alone.”

Efforts to speak with the Vice-Chancellor of LASU were unsuccessful as the armed security officials denied any entry into the admin block, where his office, as well as the institution’s PRO, is situated.

State government focuses on basic education

The students are not alone. The National Parent-Teacher Association of Nigeria (NAPTAN) has also urged the state government to reconsider its stand on the `extortionate fees’ being charged in the institution.

The association’s National Publicity Secretary, Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, said students engaged in nefarious activities to enable them to pay the fees.

“It is rather unfortunate that the state government could not anticipate the impending trouble. It is unfortunate that this kind of situation is coming up at a time when most universities are struggling to cover the lost ground due to the prolonged strike of 2013. I want to point out that LASU is one of the highest fee-paying public universities in the country and, therefore, must understand where the students are coming from.

“If the state government truly wants to follow Obafemi Awolowo’s free education legacy, then there is need for it to fashion out modalities that will help in realising this goal,” Ogunbanjo said.

However, the state government is insisting that it will not reverse the LASU fees regime because of the huge financial demands of the university.

Speaking on this year’s appropriation for LASU, Commissioner for Economic Planning, Ben Akabueze averred that students should not expect to pay N25,000 as tuition because “quality tertiary education cannot be cheap.”

“LASU is not funded by the tuition fees paid by the students,” he said. “It is not possible in today’s world to get quality tertiary education at N25,000. Many Nigerians pay more than that to fund their children’s education at the primary education level. Governments around the world spend more money funding basic education than tertiary education. This is to create platform for more people to be educated.

“We have N9.2 billion that would be spent on LASU in 2014. Out of the N9.2 billion, N2.6 is for capital expenditure while N6.6 billion is for recurrent expenditure.”

The Commissioner faulted claims that the state government is elitist, saying the new education policy of the state is to invest more in basic education at lower

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