The increase in tuition fees in all Kaduna state-owned tertiary institutions has sparked off protests by students. In this interview, the Vice Chancellor of Kaduna State University (KASU), Prof MUHAMMAD TANKO, gave insights into the funding arrangement that the varsity is putting in place which will accommodate all students.
Last Tuesday, the Registrar of Kaduna State University issued a special notice, saying that the school has been closed for undergraduate studies but that post graduate students are excluded from the directive. What is the reason for the closure?
Actually, you know that we have been having challenges with a group of students who have been protesting the increase in school fees of the institution and we have met severally with them to find a common ground to avoid confrontation. But unfortunately, some of the students went on rampage and the situation was about to escalate. That is why we issued the memo for the closure of the university for undergraduate students.
But are you not concerned that this may disrupt academic activities, seeing that we are just recovering from Covid-19 pandemic which resulted in the closure of schools last year?
Actually, it is of great concern to us; however, security of property of the university and the safety of the citizens of Kaduna state are of greater concern to us than the academic calendar. Some hoodlums have apparently infiltrated the protest and they are trying to hijack the peaceful protest that students have been staging over the increase in tuition fees. They wanted to escalate it. We have had so many instances where the students saw strange faces amongst them during the protests. Even this morning (Wednesday, 9th June), we saw some people throwing stones into the university. My students won’t do that. I’m assuring you, students cannot throw stones into the university. So, definitely some people are out there, trying to hijack the situation for their own selfish interests and that is what we tried to avoid, by closing the university indefinitely for now.
But as a school management, have you sat down with the representatives of the students to explain to them how they can access scholarship through the state government?
Yes, we have met with representatives of students at various levels. Apart from the window of funding that is available at the Kaduna State Scholarship and Loans Board, we are exploring other avenues. As I’m talking to you, there are donations that have been given to the university and students can just apply. We will screen them and give funds to successful candidates to fund their education. Apart from that, there are some Local Government Councils that have indicated interest to support the students and we have also sat with representatives of students at various levels. Political office holders like senators, House of Representatives members and members of the House of Assembly are willing to also support the students that cannot meet up with the new fees. There are associations even within the university that are willing to help indigent students. Majilis Cooperative Society and KASU Sports Development are some of the associations within the university that have indicated interest to help needy students. Major Hamza Youth Empowerment Foundation has also shown interest. Alhaji Adamu Foundation wants to sponsor female students. All these are avenues that we will continue to explore, to support the students to meet up with the new fees regime.
What I assure the students is that, we will not expel any student for his or her inability to pay the school fees. Payment of school fees is not the problem of the students, it is now our problem and we are willing to support any student that cannot afford the fees, by creating avenues for support. I’m appealing to the students not to let other people to hijack their protests, or engage in actions that will further disrupt the academic calendar. If the university is closed, it is to their disadvantage. Let them come, so that we can work together to find a lasting solution to the issue.
It’s unfortunate that since the establishment of the university in 2005 till date, there hasn’t been any increase in school fees and that has created a funding gap. The usual support that the university has been receiving, is being hindered because of the current economic situation of the country. In fact, the overhead that we have been receiving has been decreasing by the year. For example, KASU got N520 million in 2019. Last year, we got N420 million and this year, only N40 million has been ear marked for us. So, even with the increase in school fees, the university will still barely meet its financial requirements. Running a university is very expensive.
But if the school fees had been gradually increased over the years, I think the resistance and protest wouldn’t have occurred. So, I’m appealing to the students to please take things calmly and let us sit down and reach a common ground. Those that cannot afford the new fees, let us know them and then let us see how we can create funding avenues for them.
Let’s get this clear. You said students will not drop out of school because of their inability to pay the new fees. Is this window strictly for continuing students or are new students also included in the arrangement?
Yes, all the arrangements are actually for students who are already on campus. We have not made arrangement for the new students because we don’t even know them because they have not even reported. The students population we are talking about are those that are already on campus.
Are the senators, House Representatives Members, House of Assembly Members and the Local Government Councils that have indicated interest in supporting students, thinking of supporting students of their various constituencies or indigent students generally?
Like I said earlier, we have different groups that are indicating interest to support the students. The arrangement from the various local governments chairmen and the legislators is actually to support students from their constituencies but on the other hand, we also have Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) that have indicated interest to help students who cannot meet up with the payment of the new tuition fees. And we have cooperatives within the university that have also indicated interest to support. But their own support will not be limited to students from a particular local government but for all the students. However, benefitting students will have to meet certain criteria, like being the best student in certain courses. Some have indicated desire to support female students so as to encourage girl-child education. Others want to support vulnerable students that cannot afford the fees. So, we have different groups with different reasons for wanting to sponsor different categories of students.
To what extent have you reached out to the Organized Private Sector for funding certain courses or programmes in the university generally?
What we have done is actually to set up a committee. Right now, we have a challenge and our concern is how to solve this challenge. Unfortunately, the students have not cooperated to enable us know who and who have the challenge of payment of the new fees, so that we can even know our target population and the quantum of what they need in financial terms. Certainly, if we know that, we will approach various organizations, both private and public, to get the problem partly solved.
The increase in school fees was done across board in all the state-owned tertiary institutions, but it is rather curious that KASU is the only school that is leading the protest against fees hike. Will you say that the protest is as a result of failure of communication?
No not at all. We have a student population of about 20,000 and our school is a city campus. Kafanchan is far away, Zaria is also far away; so with the population and the seat of power within Kaduna, the students will think that they can easily reach government to influence the decision. So, maybe the protest has to do with the closeness to the seat of power
Now that undergraduate students are at home, is there any platform for continuous engagements with them in order to reach a consensus on the increase in tuition fees?
We have just concluded arrangements to have a zoom meeting with all the students. All the students and not their representatives this time around; anyone can log in and join the meeting. Some of the students’ leaders said they don’t have control over the entire students, so we are extending the coverage to include all the students, most especially those that are protesting in the streets, who are just about 200. So, we are trying to see that we engage them and also hear from them to know what their challenges are.
The Executive Secretary of Kaduna State Scholarship and Loans Board had indicated interest to meet the students, in order to sell some of the board’s packages to them; the options available for funding student education. Are you thinking of having a platform where the students will engage with him?
Yes, we have already arranged a meeting with the representative of Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), the Executive Secretary of the Scholarship and Loans Board and the representatives of the NGOs. The platform will enable us sit together and explain to the students what and what we have as an arrangement to pay the school fees for those who will not be able to pay.
-No student of Kaduna State University (KASU) will drop out of school because of non payment of school fees;
-The school authorities are working with several organisations to devise a funding arrangement for indigent students;
-Already, Kaduna State Scholarship and Loans Board offers scholarship to students whose parents cannot afford school fees, and outstanding students, under the Need-based and Merit-based scholarship schemes respectively;
-In addition, students can take out loans to fund their education but will repay later. There is a N2 billion fund at FCMB to fund this scheme;
-NGOs and KASU-based Cooperative Societies have indicated interest to fund some category of students, using their own criteria;
-Political office holders and Local Government Councils intend to sponsor their constituents who are students of KASU;
-KASU will convene a meeting will all stakeholders, including students, NGOs, Cooperative Societies and representatives of Kaduna State Scholarship and Loans Board, to iron out all contending issues;
-The management of the school intends to reach out to the Organised Private Sector with a view to funding certain courses and programmes;
-Even with the increase in school fees, the state government cannot solely fund the university because of dwindling resources;
-In 2019, KASU got N520 million as overhead cost but last year, N420 million was given to it. This year, only N40 million was earmarked for the school.
Source: Leadership Newspaper
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