29 January 2013

Liberia: UL Tuition Hike Sparks Protest

Photo: AllAfrica
Riot police quelling a protest. (file photo)

Angry students of the University of Liberia stormed the streets on Capitol Hill yesterday, barricading the road in protest against an increase in tuition.

The nearly 700 protesters blocked the two entrances to the main campus of the university on Capitol Hill, causing a huge traffic jam.

Waving placards with inscriptions "No Tuition Increase, the President Must Intervene", the angry students shouted varying political slogans, accusing the university administration of increasing tuition in an unprecedented fashion.

Nathan Kpai, Chairman of the UL Student Unification Party (SUP), explained to New Democrat why they had gathered in the streets: "We're here because Dr. Dennis has decided to increase tuition at a very exorbitant level."

"There's no justification for the increment," Kpai said. "Dr. Dennis has increased tuition from LD175 to US$5. This is unfair to us because he has no reason to do this. The University of Liberia remains one of the least universities in Africa. We have no fitting library for research; neither do we have the required text books to meet modern standards. This university is obsolete. Besides, the government is providing subsidies to this university. We don't know why he is increasing tuition. This is why we want the President to intervene as a Visitor to the University family."

For his part, student Nathan, who spoke in uncompromising terms, said the protest would continue unless the university drops its decision.

The students' protest came as the grounds were being prepared for a UN High Level Panel meeting in Monrovia, an event which also accompanied the President's annual address to the National Legislature on Monday.

According to our correspondent who witnessed the student demonstration, pockets of people stood to glance at the day's drama. Most of them were bystanders, as passengers and private vehicles, including motorbikes, screamed their horns to get through the teeming crowds.

"We will not look back on this. We're prepared to continue this struggle to the very logical end," the student leader said amidst cheers from his colleagues some of whom booed police officers fighting to control the crowd.

When contacted, the Vice President of the University of Liberia Relations, Dr. S. Momolu Getaweh, Sr. described the students' claim as legitimate, but said "The students may be right. But there're several things they need to understand."

"The university of was founded in the 1860s. It is, perhaps, one of Africa's oldest universities. The university has four campuses now with more than 30,000 students.

As I speak to you, we have people with BAs who're teaching BAs. You may be aware that it's a crime for someone with a BA degree to teach another person who has a BA. We need to improve these conditions. We need to have more qualified professors to teach our students. Our students need to understand this."

Although the government is providing subsidies to the university, Dr. Getaweh said such funding was not enough to cater to the institution's growing needs.

"The problem is that most of these people who're in the streets don't really know why they're there. Democracy allows people to vote the wrong individuals, it allows people to be confused and make the wrong decisions at times. Our students need know these things to be able to understand better.

But as to the direct answer to your question, my response to you is that we have not increased tuition yet. But we may think of doing so at ... because we have to improve this place," Dr. Getaweh indicated.

He gave no clear indication as to when the tuition will be increased. But the students, for their part, have already staged what has been described as a preemptive strike, and it remains to be seen whether or not there would be a compromise in resolving the matter if the UL decides to go ahead with its tuition increment.

The University of Liberia currently has three main sources upon which it is funded, including Government subsidies, donor contribution and tuition.

"We have to be cleared on this: this university has to improve. We're backward" Dr. Getaweh declared.

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