Reports indicate that Kaduna state is thinking of rolling back its free education policy, what must have informed this decision, could it also be as a result of dwindling resources?
I think this assertion is a very wrong one, this speculation is unfounded and for the sake of putting the records straight, let us refer to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the National Policy of Education and also the Kaduna State Policy on Education. All these documents have highlighted the need for a child in every state of the federation to have access to free basic education. In Kaduna state, we have emphasized that several times in all our policy documents and statements, that a child must have access to free basic education; it’s compulsory for every child to go to school. We have not rescinded that policy, we are only strengthening it.
From 2015 to date, there was never a time when the budget of Kaduna State Government in education was lower than 25%. It has consistently been from 25% to 30%. In this year’s budget, education took 26% and that translates to about N60 billion. Let me highlight the elements of this free education as dictated by the national documents even though Kaduna state is going beyond that.
One of the cardinal principles of providing free basic education is that teachers must be employed and must also be paid salaries. That we are doing very well. We are constructing classrooms; from 2015 to date Kaduna State Government has constructed about 927 new classrooms. In fact, we are constructing not only classrooms but constructing new schools around the state. As at now, there are seven new schools that will be completed and will start academic activities this year; one is in Danbushiya for the gifted and talented, another one is in Pambegua, one is in Hunkuyi, another is in Buruku, one is in Jere, one is in Manchok and the other one is in Rigachikun. The construction stages are between 85% to 100%.
We are also providing instructional materials free of charge. This year, we are going to procure textbooks, handbooks and e-books worth over N800m for the basic education and post basic education. We ensure that the schools are furnished to enable students sit comfortably and learn. From 2015 to date, government has awarded contracts for the supply of furniture to our various schools worth over N3 billion and we are also taking the statistics this year to make sure that where we still have gaps, we will fill them.
Kaduna state is providing free uniforms to our students. About three weeks ago, Her Excellency, the Deputy Governor of Kaduna state, as Acting Governor, was at Government Girls Secondary School Kawo, whose students are currently being housed at Rimi College, where she flagged off the distribution of free uniforms to our teeming students. This year, we spent over N400 million for the sewing of uniforms for our students. In 2020, we spent N800 million.
There is this allegation that on one hand Kaduna state is providing free education from primary to secondary school levels, but on the other hand it is reversing the gains at tertiary level with the increase in the tuition fee. How correct is this interpretation?
Kaduna state is not reversing anything, we are trying to ensure that all stakeholders play their roles in terms of providing tertiary education. The national policy on tertiary education has not made it free and compulsory but has designated it as a stakeholder affair. We have provided the basics that a child needs; the basic 9-year education. We even went beyond that to provide the senior secondary students with free education. After nine years of free education from primary 1 to JSS3, you can introduce fees that will help to support the education sector.
So, there is nowhere in the constitution or higher education policy that says we should provide tertiary education free of charge. Even if the documents say so, I do not think states have the resources to do that. What we are doing in Kaduna state is to make sure that nobody drops out of school after basic and post basic education. Yes, we have increased fees but before we increased the fees, we did some groundwork.
First, we abolished bursary and introduced scholarship and the amount that is given to students was increased from N15,000, N19,000, N25,000 to a lumpsum of N109,000 per student. We are providing three types of scholarships; we have what we call Merit-based scholarship that a student earns by merit. A student that has performed wonderfully, you have no option but to give that child scholarship to proceed further because of his or her excellent performance. The second is the Need-based scholarship, this is where you are supposed to prove beyond reasonable doubts that your parents can not afford to sponsor your tertiary education. How to earn the Need-based scholarship is to fill a form online, so favoritism is not there anymore. The scholarship board is a ‘paperless board’ and you do not need to know anybody to get an award. The computer does not know you, just go to the website, download the application, upload your information, the system will ask you to provide some relevant documents and information such as your parents’ occupation etc. After providing all the necessary information, the system will then process them and notify you, if you are qualified to proceed to the next stage, after certifying that you cannot pay the tuition fees. At the end, the system will notify you the amount you earned as scholarship, at the final level. You are then asked to provide your bank details, and you get credited with the right amount of money without ‘seeing’ anybody.
What about the people in the informal sector such as petty traders and farmers who do not earn salary, how can they be assessed to determine whether or not their wards qualify for the Need-based scholarship?
You see, in Kaduna state, we have the Social Protection Policy and under this policy, we have the Social Register where we keep records of Kaduna residents that live below $1 per day. We have the records in the 23 Local Government Areas. So, if you provide relevant information such as parents’ phone number, we can confirm their status using the Social Register. But some people withhold even this basic information that will enable us to confirm from our Social Register, so we just assume that such persons have the capacity to pay the tuition fees. But those who are ready to provide certain information like BVN, even if your parent is a farmer, we will like to know how much hectares of land he has. At the end of the assessment, we will know if you cannot afford to pay and we will go ahead and give you scholarship. Last year, over 24,000 children accessed scholarship in Kaduna state.
The third type of scholarship that we have is the Disability Scholarship; it is meant for people living with disabilities. The award of this scholarship is automatic, once you are able to pass your exams, government pays everything for you either in Nigeria or outside the country. Apart from the Merit-based, Need-based and Disability scholarships, we have also created a loans window.
Kaduna State Scholarship and Loans Board has N2 billion in FCMB bank for students to access as loan if they need it. So, if you are unable to benefit from the various scholarships, you go for the loans window. Out of the N2 billion only N200 million has so far been accessed. This money has been in FCMB bank, you can go to any of the bank’s branch to access the loan. And the condition attached is that you will pay back when you are gainfully employed or when you graduate.
Another thing that is still in the realms of rumor is that some lecturers are going to be sacked from Kaduna State University. Is it true? If so, will that not compound the problems of KASU?
Before I come to the issue of sacking of lecturers, let me throw a challenge to those who think that N150,000 is too much as tuition fees. From the time we made this announcement, many philanthropists have raised their voices to say that they are ready to support indigent students with the tuition fees. That’s what collaboration is all about, that’s what partnership is all about, that’s what stakeholder engagement is all about, that’s why tertiary institutions cannot be in the hands of government alone. Many people can come in to do that.
The second challenge that I am throwing is that, is there any private university in this country that admits students for medicine, or sciences for as low as N150,000 per annum? People are bound to say that a private university is different, government should be able to provide everything. We are saying that no, government cannot because we do not have the resources to do that. But despite that, government continues to pay salaries in tertiary institutions, government continues to build structures in tertiary institutions, government continues to provide furniture in tertiary institutions, government continues to provide overhead cost in tertiary institutions. In fact, government is today building the KASU main campus along Zaria/Kaduna road, behind NTI. So far, we have invested over N10 billion with support from organizations like CBN which is building a whole faculty for us. TETFUND is supporting us by building another faculty. So, we have not put the entire burden of tertiary education on parents.
If every student in KASU pays N150,000 and assuming the current students’ population of the school is 20,000 and all of them pay the fees, it’s only going to amount to N3 billion. But the salaries of KASU staff and the overhead to run the school for one year is over N5 billion. So, it has been shown practically that even the federal government cannot entirely fund tertiary education. If wishes were horses and we could all have what we want, it is for government to provide free tertiary education but it’s not possible.
So, if the students had allowed registration to be completed, we would have identified those who cannot afford the new fees and directed them to the Social Register and confirm whether or not their parents can’t afford the fees. Then they will be placed in the scholarship window. But some lecturers and student leaders pushed the students to go on riot, to go to the streets. This is unacceptable. So, the point that I am trying to make here is that they disrupted the registration, students that genuinely wanted to register were prevented from registering so this brings me to the point of lecturers who have issues.
So, are you saying that that is why Kaduna State Government took punitive measures by sacking them?
Well, I don’t think any of them has received any sack letters from the university. What we have said to the university authorities is that they should investigate what happened and mete out punishments according to their laws, according to their books. If somebody behaves criminally, he should be subjected to appropriate sanctions. If a student goes outside his or her rights to demonstrate and prevents others the right of registering, he or she has gone beyond his or her bounds. I don’t think till date any lecturer has been handed any letter of dismissal or something like that. The university has its laws and it will apply them gradually and diligently. We are appealing to the general public, including the students that we have met with several times, to understand the reasons why the government increased tuition fees.
Is there an ongoing negotiation with students and parents on the one hand, as well as the government and university authorities on the other hand, with regards to reviewing the tuition fees?
We will go into that if it’s necessary. If that is necessary, we will do that because this government is a listening government. I want to tell you from the time we announced the increase of the tuition fees to this time of our interview (Tuesday, June 15th), many people have come to the ministry with different complaints and we listened to them. There have been wise suggestions coming from those discussions that may warrant us to come up with an idea for the government to consider. Some philanthropists and good Samaritans have come with suggestions. On the other hand, some people are inciting students and encouraging them to take to the streets, so that university will be closed. A lot of them are protesting not just because of the increase of tuition fees per se but because they don’t want to write the exams.
Go and study the history of riots and protests in tertiary institutions, most of them are triggered when exam is close, by some students that have the assumptions that they will not pass the exam. They just want to disrupt the academic calendar to cover for their inadequacies. The government of Malam Nasir El-Rufai is a listening government, people who have better ideas on how to fund the university, should come up; we are ready to listen to them. Our doors are wide open.
Education is still free and compulsory in Kaduna state, from primary to senior secondary school levels;
Providing free education is in line with the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the National Policy of Education and the Kaduna State Policy on Education;
The government has strengthened free education by providing free textbooks and uniforms to primary school pupils and secondary school students;
This year, the administration is going to procure textbooks, handbooks and e-books worth over N800 million for the basic and post basic education;
About three weeks ago, Her Excellency, the Deputy Governor of Kaduna state, Dr Hadiza Balarabe, flagged off the distribution of free uniforms to students;
In 2020, N800 million was spent on uniforms and this year, over N400 million has been earmarked for sewing of new uniforms;
From 2015 to date, Kaduna State Government has constructed about 927 new classrooms and it is building new schools around the state;
Seven new schools will start academic activities this year; one is in Danbushiya for the gifted and talented, another one is in Pambegua, one is in Hunkuyi, another is in Buruku, one is in Jere, one is in Manchok and another one is in Rigachikun towns;
In fact, the government is building the KASU main campus along Zaria/Kaduna road, behind National Teachers’ Institute (NTI). So far, over N10 billion has been invested in the project;
The National Policy on Tertiary Education does not provide for free education but makes it a stakeholder affair;
Before the fees hike, Kaduna State Government has made provision for three types of scholarships, the Merit-based, Need-based and Disability scholarships;
Exceptionally brilliant students automatically qualify for the Merit-based scholarship and people with disability are eligible for the Disability scholarship;
To qualify for the Need-based scholarship, a student must prove that his parents are needy and this will be cross checked with the Kaduna state Social Register;
Philanthropists have indicated readiness to support indigent students since the increase in tuition fees was announced.