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Education with tears: Hardship creating more indigent students

by Daramola Favour

LAGOS — The economic crunch in the country that has hit all sectors is not sparing the education sector, as it has created more indigent students who are finding it difficult to cope with the situation.

An investigation by newsmen showed that many students are dropping out of school; attending classes hungry; unable to meet obligations such as paying fees and living decently among others.

An example of the dire situation on campuses in Nigeria is shown at the University of Lagos, UNILAG, where some students who have no means of regular feeding are being fed by the management of the school.

The Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Folasade Ogunsola, while briefing newsmen recently, said: “When we had to increase our obligatory fees, we made the promise that no student will drop out because of their inability to pay.

“Looking at the number of undergraduate students that have been registered for the new academic session, which is about 32,721 and the number of students who declared their inability to pay that was 765, one could see that those unable to pay are small in number.

“Of the figure, the Office of the Vice Chancellor paid the bills of 400, we have put 170 in our Work Study programme; we have increased the earnings from that programme from N200 to between N500 and N1,000 per hour, and a participant works at least two hours a day.

“We also have some students who managed to pay the obligatory fees but have difficulties regarding feeding and maintaining themselves. They are about 40 in number and we give them free meals daily.”

Before the increase in fees and the economic recession in Nigeria, the university did not record such number of indigent students.

Real-life situations on campuses

At the Federal University of Technology, Akure, FUTA, Ondo State, where students recently battled to get over 300 per cent increase in fees reduced by half, the situation is not different.

Oreoluwa Grace, a final year student, related her experience with fellow students. ”As a class governor, it is almost daily that I have to handle cases of students unable to pay one fee or the other or buy things that they need.

“When we were to go on our field trips, it was difficult for some to pay the N25,500 required. And the trip is compulsory. I had to accept paying in instalments from some. When we were about going, our head of department had to call some parents personally on the need to pay the money and for their children to go.

“Some parents begged that they should allow their children go and pay later. Any student who misses the field trip will have an automatic carry-over. There are other expenses to meet too. The HOD was magnanimous to allow everybody to go.

‘’When we came back, we had to do independent mapping and a student spends an average of N3,000 daily on that. Up until we went for our industrial attachment, some students were yet to complete payment for their field trips and their log books for the IT were withheld till they paid.

“Any student who misses the IT too will repeat. Some students have reduced the number of times they attend classes and some are doing odd jobs to survive,” she said.

How we are coping — Students

For Damilola Akerele, ND1 Mass Communication student of Kwara State Polytechnic, Ilorin, it has not been rosy.
She recounts her daily ordeals: “Feeding this time has been very difficult for the generality of students. The money is also not there, so, it makes the situation very tough for us. Before the present administration, with N600 or N700, I could eat rice, meat and fried plantain and be satisfied but now with the same amount you hardly buy half of that food.

‘’Now, one can’t eat satisfactorily if you don’t have at least N1,500 and we don’t have that kind of money. We strive to eat from home. Many times we cook in the evening and eat the leftover in the morning to meet up with lectures.

“Now, more students, including the males, do all sorts of jobs to survive and add up to whatever their parents give them at home. I learnt weaving and hair plaiting before I came to school and I make some money from it with which I am surviving because I always have more than enough customers to cope with.”

I really thank God for that, because everyone is not that lucky

“My parents just pay my school fees and that’s all. But everyone is not lucky, what other students, particularly the ladies now do to survive and pay their school fees, especially those with no parental support is horrible and unimaginable.

“For many of them, it is really not their fault. Unlike before, many students from town now trek about five kilometres from our gate to the lecture rooms because they can no longer afford the transport fare. It used to be N100, it’s now N200 from gate.

“Also not everyone buys hand-outs these days and thank God for some of our lecturers who have been showing understanding. Some of them now make photocopies of hand-outs they couldn’t buy for lack of funds.”

Joseph B.Adeoti, a Part III English Language/Literary Studies, Kwara State University, Malete, had this to say: “Students are currently experiencing in tertiary institutions in Nigeria is least expected from the administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

“It is such a big disappointment. The era of former President Muhammadu Buhari was bad, this is worse. We never prayed for this but here we are, and we have to cope with it.

“Things have been really hard in terms of feeding and personal maintenance in school.I discovered that I can’t depend on what my parents used to give me after paying my tuition fees. It was obvious I couldn’t put pressure on them because I knew their capacity. So, I have to look inward at what I can do to make extra money.

‘’I remembered I used to teach some secondary students way back home before I was offered admission. So,when we resumed last semester, I put my contact number and the subjects on a few signboards in strategic areas of Malete town and before I knew it, parents have started calling me.

“That was how I started coaching students to make ends meet, I mean secondary school students who have a deficiency in a particular subject. Their parents pay me every month. The impressive performances of their wards in school have increased the number of students that I teach, particularly on weekends.

“With the amount of money I make, I have been able to take care of my needs and also buy handouts and other textbooks that I need without putting any pressure on my parents.

“I also have a friend who is now into dry cleaning business to earn extra money. He said that was what he used to do when he was at home.

“When we read about the flamboyant lives of our leaders who have put us in this economic crisis, it makes us feel very bad because they’re not feeling our pains, there’s a serious disconnect and it shouldn’t be so. The Federal Government in particular should make life worth living for residents of this country.”

We don’t take healthy diet anymore —TASUED student

Craving to eat healthy diet is no longer the desire of Miss Oyindamola Taiwo, a 400 Level student of Department of Health Promotion and Environmental Health Education, Tai Solarin University of Education, TASUED, in Ogun State.

“To be honest, I’m finding it hard to cope with the present economic hardship in the country. As a student, food is one important thing a student needs for a successful academic performance. Increase in cost of food items, however, has made me as a person to cut short my meals in ratio of 1:0:1 daily. And that’s not all to it.
“Due to high cost of food, major nutritional requirements which are needed for a healthy living cannot be met. Currently, my notion about food is no longer a healthy diet, but anything edible that can satisfy my hunger, which is wrong but it can’t be helped.

“Many have to skip lectures, work multiple part-time jobs. I engage myself in baking business. And for the increase in tuition fee, first of all, I’m very grateful to God and my parents. It wasn’t easy, but we survived.

“But what can I say about my other coursemates, appreciation to my lecturers, my L.A and colleagues who had to step in to fund the students who were unable to afford the fees, the hike in the tuition fee is, indeed, crazy.
Many lost hope. But all thanks to God and other stakeholders (in my department), they survived. So, none in my department dropped out from school because of it.”

Education now survival of the fittest in IMT, Enugu

A final year student of Public Administration, Institute of Management and Technology, IMT, Enugu, Igbokwe Kosisochukwu, opined that going to school is now the survival of the fittest and not for the poor any more.

He said education now requires enough money to acquire because the hike in school fees, departmental fees, textbooks, transportation and feeding are not what average parents and guardians can afford.

Kosisochukwu, who said his father was dead and his mother a civil servant, said many people will soon go and learn one trade or the other instead of going to school because going to school is too costly.

“School is now for the rich people and not for the poor anymore. That I am in school today is by the grace of God. People are suffering, things are difficult and government keeps increasing school fees and prices of goods and services without an increase in the salaries of workers.

‘’What we are passing through now is too painful. We can’t learn and internalize because hunger is biting everyone except the rich people.

“There is no place for the poor in education of our country. We suffer to save money and buy textbooks.
Other students and I trek to school and deny ourselves food to help us save money, though, we do it with joy according to Fela Kuti’s music, “suffering and smiling”.

Speaking in the same manner, a 400-level student of Medical Laboratory Science at the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus, UNEC, Jacinta Onah, said schooling was now meant for the rich people.

“Going to school is costly now and I can say it’s meant for the rich people. We are finding it difficult to pay school fees, feed, pay rent, and pay for other things. It’s not easy for us. We survive by God’s grace. “Three years ago, the little money my parents gave me was enough to take me for two to three months but could you imagine that barely two weeks after I came back, I had used up all the money my husband gave me. I am left with no money after paying for departmental fees,” she said.

She shared the experience of a course mate, Emmanuel Nnamani, who dropped out in the first semester of fourth year due to money, adding that they agreed to contribute money for his school fees to continue with them but the man refused because of other logistics that require money.

“The cost of schooling has made one married man, a four-hundred-level student in our department, to defer his admission last year during our first semester session. We are planning to make contribution to support him and make him join us, even if it’s only the first semester but he said no due to other logistics that require money.
“Today, the man is not in the school but somewhere hustling to make money and come back to school.”

My colleagues want to join the army, says KASU student

Ahmadu Muhammadu Alhassan, a student of Kaduna State University, KASU, narrates his experience: “I am a 300-level computer science student. My father is a retired civil servant, I find it hard to live as a student in the current situation of the country.

“Sometimes, I miss classes because I cannot afford the transport fare. Staying on campus is now for students from affluent families. For me, I am yet to even complete my payment for 200 level school fees, I only made part payment.

‘’I cannot afford to buy a laptop, even though I am studying computer science. I use laptops belonging to my friends whenever I have assignments to do. The situation is affecting my academic performance and if this continues, I am most likely going to be withdrawn from the Department of Computer Sciences.

‘’My coursemate who is an orphan, is going through the same experience, he is sponsoring his education, he is planning to defer his studies to the next academic year to work and save money to complete his academics.

“Scholarship from government is hard to get.The processes are not easy. Our parents were to submit tax clearance certificates or so, when some had already died and guardians were not on a payroll, let alone pay tax.

‘’The process of doing the tax clearance also involves paying some money. Some of our friends from other departments, we were told, have since jettisoned higher education and have gone to Falgore with the hope of joining the Army.

“Government should look at this and find ways of making higher education easier and affordable to all classes of Nigerians. “

Unable to focus properly on my education — UI student

A student of the University of Ibadan, Joke Adeniji, said: “My grades have been slipping because I’m constantly thinking about my family. I feel guilty for having to eat when I know my parents are struggling to feed us. I want to do well in school, but it’s hard to focus when all I can think about is the stress at home.”

This student’s story is sadly not unique. Many others have shared similar experiences, and the pressure is taking a toll on their mental health.

Another student, Kemi Folarin, said: “I’m worried about my future. How can I focus on my studies when I don’t know if I’ll even be able to afford to take care of my mental health?

Hard times on campus —UNIUYO students

Kenny Eyoh, a 400Level Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering student at the University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, noted: “It’s quite tragic that almost all universities in the country are facing increment in school fees which is compounded by equally increased cost of feeding, rent, books and virtually everything a student needs to actualise his dream of earning a degree.

“It has not got to a point of stopping my studies for me but I can tell that a couple of colleagues have dropped out because they don’t have the money to continue their studies.

“Though the increment in tuition fee in my school has not affected me much, same cannot be said of fresh students. In my first year, when I just gained admission, I paid just under N60,000 per session for the course I am studying.

‘’But for new students in the same department, they are made to pay almost a N100,000. That is how it has been structured here.”

Godwin Odey, a 400 Level Sociology student in the same school, said: “I have colleagues and friends who have dropped out because they couldn’t cope anymore.

“At UNIUYO, increment in fees has been less of the problem students suffer in pursuit of their programmes. The increment has been minimal, something in the region of 5% and not static but varies, depending on the term and course of studies.

“I think with the skyrocketed cost of fuel which affected virtually the cost of all other goods and services, students, mostly those with poor economic background, are overwhelmed with sustaining selves to graduation.
Talk about the high cost of rent, and transportation, especially for those off campus, food, books, studies and research, some persons are dropping out. I know some for real.”

Students at receiving end of economic crunch, says NANS

The President of the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, Comrade Lucky Emonefe, said it was unfortunate that students are at the receiving end of the economic crunch in the country.

“The condition of many students on campus is pathetic. In a number of instances, students have embarked on crowdfunding to help their colleagues. But that is limited because the students trying to help are under pressure too.

‘’Despite the directive by the federal government that school managements should put on hold further increase in fees, some vice chancellors are not heeding that.

“Some VCs are callous and no one should compound the woes of other fellows. We may have to storm some campuses and put a halt to fee hike. We appeal to the government and everybody to make life bearable and worth living for students, the situation is bad,” he said.

Students dropping out will exacerbate insecurity- ASUU, NAPTAN

The National President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, blamed the country’s leaders for the situation, saying they were focusing on themselves at the expense of the masses.
He added that tertiary institution students dropping out of school could aggravate the security challenges in the country.

“Our leaders should start to think about the people and not about themselves only. Look at the way this year’s federal budget was handled by the National Assembly, they reduced the budget for the Humanitarian Affairs Ministry and increased their own.

‘’The budget to renovate toilets and other conveniences in the National Assembly was set at over N30 billion by the NA, while the budget approved for UNILAG, one of the biggest universities in the country, was just about N2 billion.

“It means that the budget for NA toilets and conveniences is more than the budgets of 10 universities put together. In which serious country is that done? Look at the average Nigerian, many of whom are on N30,000 minimum wage, how do they survive?

‘’A lot of students are dropping out of school and they are not just fools, they are intelligent people. If such students take to crime, one can imagine what will happen. We are sad when we see our students dropping out of school and we are also under constant pressure from students to assist.

“Some of them are very brilliant and no teacher would be happy to see such students stopping their education. That is why as a union, we instituted scholarship scheme across our branches for indigent students but how many can we help? We are toying with out future in this country and I am afraid of what the future has in store for us as a nation.”

The National President of the National Parent Teacher Association of Nigeria, NAPTAN, Alhaji Haruna Danjuma, urged the government to declare a state of emergency in the education sector.

“What we have now is that parents cannot adequately cater for their children, and the children cannot cater for themselves too. The government should just declare a state of emergency in the sector. ‘’Students are dropping out of school in droves. They cannot feed well. How much can a parent give his child now that will be sufficient, with this high cost of living?. The situation is very bad.

“It goes beyond student loan scheme. Assuming you give every student loan, does that cover feeding, transport, buying books and other things like field trips for those who have to do that?
‘’Over 60 per cent of parents cannot support their wards. And such intelligent people dropping out of school would not see the society as treating them well and they may be vicious if they go into crime.”

Agony of a typical parent

In an interview with Vanguard, a concerned parent, Mr. Bode Akinbode, said: “It is heartbreaking to see my children go to school hungry every day.

“They can’t learn if they’re not fed, but we simply can’t afford to give them the meals they need. We’re doing our best, but it’s not enough.

“We want the government to do something about this. Education is a basic human right, and our children deserve to be educated.”

We’re taking steps for make life better— FG

While reacting to the development, the Federal Ministry of Education, through the Director of Public Affairs, Mr Ben Goong, said the government is taking steps to make life better for Nigerians generally.

“ You cannot divorce the cost of living in the society generally from what happens on campuses. The government has instituted the Student Loan Scheme which will soon take off and students are the beneficiaries. Issues relating to transportation, and feeding among others affect the society at large. Therefore, what the government is doing is to make life better for the citizens generally. Students are also members of the society and when things are better and easier for all, they will also benefit,” he said.

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