LASU and the angry poor – Thisday

The Lagos State University (LASU), Ojo, is most often in the news for the wrong reasons. The institution has a reputation for incessant strikes and violence resulting in frequent disruption of academic activities and wanton damage to property. For two days, last week, several of its students again spilled into Lagos streets, paralysing the already daily chaotic traffic in Nigeria’s business capital, besides constituting themselves into some other form of nuisance.

The latest wave of angry protests is a continuation of the outrage against the arbitrary increase of school fees by the school authorities that begun three years ago. At the beginning of the 2011/2012 academic session, the Lagos State government jacked up the fees from a mere N25,000 to about N198,000 and N350,000 for medical students, making the institution one of the most expensive public universities in Nigeria. Many of the students, whose parents work for the state for peanuts, considered the hike unbearable. Moreover, the relief offered the old students was short-lived as the government soon abandoned its earlier promise of restricting the new fees to only fresh students. The immediate impact is that some of the students who could not afford the prohibitive fees dropped out while many prospective entrants were discouraged from enrolling as they took some cheaper offers elsewhere.

Students’ enrolment in LASU reportedly has dropped considerably. However, what compounds the current dilemma of the institution is that the teachers too are up in arms against the authorities. Their list of grievances is long but has been significantly reduced to issues of promotion, and retirement which they argue should be streamlined along those of their colleagues in the federal universities. The teachers also are sympathetic to the students cause as they nudge them on to protest the high school fees.

The Lagos State University is afflicted with the general malaise of Nigeria’s public tertiary institutions as it is underfunded and suffers from inadequate infrastructure. Despite the increased school fees, the institution is still finding it difficult to carry out its day-to-day activities and the basic functions of teaching and research. Indeed, for all its cravings for quality and standard, the university still provides less than the minimum standard even when it used to be one of the best state-owned universities in the country. Nothing reflects this dire situation more than the loss of accreditation in many of its courses.

Last week, an ad-hoc committee set up to look into the complaints of the students submitted its report to the state government. It recommended that the fees be slashed – from 34 per cent to 60 per cent across different faculties and courses, a recommendation which the government has accepted. The government has indeed forwarded the recommendation to the University Governing Council to work out the details and implement. The government has also pledged its commitment “to the development of the state university as a centre of academic excellence and will continue to deploy resources at its disposal towards the provision of a conducive learning environment with up-to-date facilities.”

This perhaps would have been better appreciated if it had come much earlier and save the students, the state and the general public the embarrassment and the inconvenience. Even so, the university and the Lagos State government will still have to look for better ways of funding the institution. The subvention from the government for now is still obviously inadequate. That accounts for the primitive state of facilities in the institution, including inability to hook on to the internet. The university too has to eliminate the waste in the system and devise means of raising their revenue base.

The world’s best universities have enormous resources with which they attract the best to their communities– from the best equipment to the brightest professors. That is what LASU needs to redeem its battered image.

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