The 2019/2020 academic session just began in most universities in Nigeria. Criticisms have continued to trail the hike in acceptance fee alongside other levies charged by public universities during registration. In a report published last week by Daily Trust newspaper, parents of newly admitted students decried the collection of excessive acceptance fee by public universities in addition to registration fee and other payments that come under different subheadings.
According to the Daily Trust report, the amounts charged as acceptance fee vary from one public university to another. Out of the 21 universities sampled in the report from across the six geopolitical zones, only a few collect N10,000 or less as acceptance fee. While students of the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta (FUNAAB) pay N31,500, acceptance fee is N42,000 at the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO); N30,000 at the University of Abuja, Abuja; N47,000 at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka; and N70,000 at the Imo State University (IMSU).
Acceptance fees also vary from one faculty to another within one university. For instance, students admitted to read Library and Information Science at the University of Benin pay N60,000 while students admitted to study sciences pay N80,000. Nonetheless, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU), Bauchi and the Federal University, Kashere in Gombe State do not collect acceptance fee as students only go through the screening process using their credentials and thereafter pay registration fee.
Some university authorities claim that acceptance fee was introduced to beef up the internally generated revenue of the universities since allocations from government are inadequate to cater for their statutory obligations. Others explain that it is meant to confirm that a prospective student has accepted the admission offered him, and therefore, willing to proceed with registration and other procedures. If these are the reasons for it, any acceptance fee charged above N10,000 is indeed on the high side.
University education in Nigeria is tuition-free for citizens at the undergraduate level. Tuition-free training involves providing education without students paying for the cost of teaching and other things that go with it including classroom furniture, library materials, laboratory equipment, and healthcare services. However, the extent to which higher education remains tuition-free in the country is the big question on the lips of many Nigerian parents.
Dilapidated hostels, crowded classrooms, ill-equipped laboratories and obsolete library materials have characterised most public universities in recent decades. Sustained poor funding of university education consequently offered public universities in Nigeria the opportunity to introduce acceptance and other strange fees including departmental levy, ICT, health insurance, and municipal charges. In most cases, graduating science students are made to pay for the reagents they require in their final year projects. All these fees introduced in public universities are actually making nonsense of the tuition-free policy.
Besides poor funding, some of the fees charged by public universities when higher institutions were really tuition-free including N90 for accommodation are today far from being realistic in Nigeria. However, a situation where the acceptance fee charged by public universities is almost equal to or even higher than the amount paid by students as registration fee calls for a re-think and subsequent regulation of all the fees charged by universities. The actual registration fee paid by students ranges from N35,000 to N45,000.
While acceptance fees paid by students in public universities do not compare with what their counterparts in private Nigerian universities pay, the fact that majority of the 1.7 million undergraduate students in Nigeria attend public universities lends credence to the concerns raised by many parents over the exorbitant acceptance fee and other charges collected by such universities.
As long as government wishes to allow university education to remain tuition-free, it is crucial for it to significantly improve upon its funding pattern. To check inexplicable charges, government needs to harmonize and regulate all the fees currently charged by public universities by defining what fees to collect and their respective limits. This is in circumstances where universities are justified to collect such fees. We urge university administrators to be prudent and accountable in utilizing the funds received from government.