It’s commonplace to say that we live in a period of unprecedented change. But in the view of many, especially those of us who are privy to the events of the past and are witnesses to present events, the Ondo State of Pa Adekunle Ajasin and Adebayo Adefarati was a time of changes at least as jarring.
One major legacy these noble men were known for during and after their transition is contribution to the development of education in Ondo State and the Western Region.
Ajasin’s educational blueprint adopted in the southwest during the time of Obafemi Awolowo as the Premier of Western Region positioned the southwest as, arguably, the most enlightened geo-political zone in Nigeria. Driven mainly by the quest to build the future other than turning education into a profit making venture.
Adefarati also made remarkable achievements in education and other sectors of the state. The educational policies of Dr Olusegun Agagu and his successor Dr Olusegun Mimiko produced the best out of our tertiary institutions. The ones who shattered the glass ceilings at the Nigerian Law School and drew national attention to our Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko (AAUA).
The education policies of these men increased school attendance and jacked up the number of applicants to our tertiary institutions especially AAUA. Education in Ondo state was not only affordable but was also qualitative and produced high flying students. AAUA produced graduates who the university always made reference to several years after their graduation.
Unfortunately, the gains of the previous decades in education are eroding and this is where we need to be worried as our institutions now appear to have suddenly stopped producing excellent graduates. It is evident that the present model has substituted academic excellence for the highest bidder.
How did we get here?
The answer is not far, we are paying the price for a costly education that does not put the people into consideration. The trouble in our tertiary education started in 2019 when the present government announced an inhumane 500 percent increment in tuition fees at AAUA.
The tuition fee, which was between N28,000 and N32,000 (depending on the faculty), for over eight years before the present government, was jacked up to N100,000 for returning students in the Faculties of Science, Law, Social and Management Sciences and N150,000 for new students
As the cost of higher education in the state that hitherto used to be the bedrock of academic excellence in the southwest and by extension in Nigeria skyrocketed, so too was a huge drop in the number of applicants and admitted students to AAUA in the last one year.
The students of the downtrodden, whose only hope for economic liberation is access to tertiary education so they could also make meaning out of life, had to drop out of school when they could not afford the exorbitant fee. They have resorted to unavailable menial jobs. That is the sad reality in Ondo State today.
Many students in this category are withdrawing from Ondo state-owned institutions at records high. Using AAUA as an example, public data on the number of applicants and admitted students to AAUA between 2015 and 2020 bears testament to my assertions.
Based on data on AAUA website and in the media, in the 2015/2016 academic session, 4,465 students were admitted from 16,828 applicants. In the 2016/2017 session, 5,230 from 17,739 applicants were admitted, the figure moved up in the 2017/2018 session when 5,305 of 29,307 applicants were admitted (this was the year power transited from Mimiko to Governor Rotimi Akeredolu).
After the transition, there has been a drop in number. The number of admitted students remained static at 5,304 in the 2018/2019 session while there was a significant fall in the number of applicants from 29,000 in the previous academic session to 21,000. The 2019/2020 academic session was the worst in the last five years, the number of applicants to our prestigious university dropped from 21,000 in 2019 to an all-time low of 16,139, lower than 2015.
What happened? Failure of leadership, from the figure above it is clear that the AAUA no longer looks attractive to parents and admission-seeking Ondo students and outsiders, the hike in the tuition fees has continued to discourage applicants from considering AAUA as a school of choice.
This is just the number of applicants, if we dig into the number of students who have dropped out of AAUA over the hike in tuition fee, it is more alarming.
During my familiarisation visits to communities in the state, I have heard heartbreaking stories of how students in their penultimate years have had to drop out of AAUA in 2019 when the tuition fees were increased. Those who the Lord has empowered me to help, I have continued to fund their tuition fees. But how many hundreds of these students can I individually bankroll their fees? You know the answer!
The present government appears to subscribe to the elitist take that the cost of education must be high and tertiary education is not for the poor among us. Such a stance is wrong and does not fit into our society where a larger percent of residents are civil servants living on N22,000 minimum wage. How do we expect them to afford the hiked tuition fee? Government must be about the people first before thoughts of profit.
If Ajasin’s blue print on free education truly lifted many people out of poverty as claimed by Akeredolu in 2017, we are yet to see how it has inspired his decision in the education sector. Is the governor only interested in multiplying poverty?
Our educational sector should not be run like a business venture under a CEO looking to recoup his investment. It is more worrisome that in this case, not much has been invested into the institutions where the government is imposing heavy fees on the students.
Education should be a major deciding issue in the next governorship election in our dear state. As candidates aspiring to lead the state, we must lay our education policies forward for proper public scrutiny if we are truly desirous of emplacing and securing a better future for Ondo State. It is left to the electorates to make the decision that will prevent the errors of the past.
If there is one thing the present tuition fee regime has achieved, it has only succeeded in chasing the best out of School.
This is why affordable, qualitative and functional education driven by technology will be a pivot of our administration’s agenda.
My blueprint has also clearly enunciated how we intend to reposition the sector to reclaim and surpass the glory of yesteryears. Ondo cannot afford to take the front seat of illiteracy in the country ocassioned by bad and anti-masses policies.
Now is the time to change our story and give our children access to education at it’s best.
Chief Olayide Adelami, mni, is Ondo state APC Governorship Aspirant. He wrote this piece on July 6, 2020.