By Ewebiyi Keye James “The brutal reality of this increase in fee has started telling on the only state-owned university. For the next academic session (2013/2014) according to a Punch newspaper as at July 30, 2013 only about 1,100 candidates had registered for Post-UTME examination (Punch July 20, 2013). This figure is a far cry from what was obtainable in time past when between 15,000 and 20,000 candidates sat for the same examination.”
The outrageous fee hike in Lagos State University introduced by the Lagos State Government in October, 2011 has finally degenerated into a protracted crisis in the institution.
The fee hike had students paying between N193, 750 and N348, 750 depending on their course of study as against the old fee of N25, 000. Following the hike, the Lagos State Government further attacked the institution’s scholarship scheme which used to provide a lifeline for indigent but brilliant students during the old fee regime. The new scholarship arrangement makes it difficult for most students to benefit from the scheme and no award has been issued in the past three years. The state government has also reneged on its promise to provide bursary awards to students of Lagos State origin; there has been a decline in the issuance of bursary in the past three years despite the fact that the bursary is less than one-third of the new fees. This is contrary to the pledge made by the Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, in the heat of the fee hike struggle that bursary and scholarship awards would be provided to cushion the effects of the fee increase.
The brutal reality of this increase in fee has started telling on the only state-owned university. For the next academic session (2013/2014) according to a Punch newspaper as at July 30, 2013 only about 1,100 candidates had registered for Post-UTME examination (Punch July 20, 2013). This figure is a far cry from what was obtainable in time past when between 15,000 and 20,000 candidates sat for the same examination. Currently several departments at LASU have fewer than 10 students at 100 level. For instance, French department has only one student in 100 level, Islamic studies has six students in 100 Level and the Faculty of Law has just 15 and 25 students at 100 Level and 200 Level respectively.
A more striking example is the Department of Fishery where 60 students obtained admission into 100 level last session and a session after, only 14 out of this are left and out of this 14, only four have registered for the current session. The increase in fees is responsible for the sharp decline in student enrollment in LASU over the past three years. LASU used to have over 20, 000 full-time students, today full-time students are only a little above 12, 000. Indeed, at this rate especially when the current 300 and 400 level students who are still paying the old fees of N25, 000 graduate, LASU may have fewer than 6,000 full-time students! The wider implication of this is an increase in the illiteracy rate of the State.
The frustration and anger of students over the fee hike eventually snowballed into a peaceful protest on LASU main campus on January 22 and 23, 2014. Students of the university organised a mild and peaceful gathering on Wednesday, January 22, 2014 to plead with the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Obafunwa to reopen the registration portal which was closed by the management against 1,292 students, who would automatically have extra year or carry over if they fail to register. As a result of the dictatorial, insensitive and provocative actions of the Vice Chancellor, who rebuffed all students plea, next day Thursday, January 2014 witnessed a bigger protest which eventually turned violent after the university’s paid security a.k.a CAMPUS MARSHALS shot at students and men of the Rapid Response Squad invaded the university. Following this crisis, the university management closed down the institution on January 23, 2014.
In protest against the rise in fees and the biased resolution of the Lagos State House of Assembly on the LASU crisis, the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) initiated the ‘’SaveLASU Campaign Movement’’ which is a coalition of the Lagos State University Students Union (LASUSU), ERC, National Union of Lagos State Students (NULASS) and radical student groups in LASU.
Since its formation, the SaveLASU Campaign Movement had held several meetings with mass turn-out of students. The campaign held a press conference on February 12, 2014 and a peaceful protest on February 18, 2014, to the Lagos State House of Assembly where a petition bearing students’ grievances and demands was submitted.
Already, the campaign movement has begun to win some its demands. The university management announced the reopening of LASU on February 24, 2014, but for final year students alone while other students are to resume on April 1st. This is an attempt to divide the student population and force the outrageous fees on fresh students who have been asked to resume on March 10 for a new academic session before the expiration of the 2012/2013 academic session. In the same vein, the Lagos State government on Friday, February 21, approved a sum of N51 million for the repair of damages done during the January 23 crisis. All these are in response to Save LASU’s demand for the immediate reopening of LASU and non-payment of reparation by students. However, the State Government has once again failed to address the root cause of the crisis.
The continuous silence of the Staff Unions in LASU particularly the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) since this crisis broke out is a betrayal of the trust of students in the unions. As enrolment level drops further and drop-out rate increases, some programmes and courses in the university may be rationalised due to inadequate number of students, and subsequently some programmes and departments could be shut down. In this case, teaching and non-teaching personnel will be sacked.
There is an urgent need for ASUU, NASU, SSANU, NAAT, parents and indigenous associations in Lagos State to join forces with SaveLASU Campaign Movement and other radical student groups to launch a joint campaign to defeat this anti-students/workers’ policy and save LASU from imminent collapse. They cannot afford to sit down and watch this government commercialise education out of the reach of the poor.
The campaign must continue to demand the reversal of the increase in fees which remains the root cause of the crisis, and which if left unaddressed will continue to throw the university into more and more crises.
• James is a former general secretary of Lagos State University Students’ Union (LASUSU) and a member of Education Rights Campaign (ERC).
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