BasseyUbong

PRIVATE VERSUS PUBLIC FUNDED EDUCATION

Introduction:
All Nigerians that had or have access to formal education were/are sponsored by the commonwealth (society). This is an incomplete syllogism used here as a pedestal or hypothesis for what follows. The substance of the argument herein is applicable to all countries of the world where formal education is operative. In this context commonwealth as defined by Oxford Dictionaries is an independent country or community especially a democratic republic (when the determiner ‘the’ is affixed and the letter ‘c’ is capitalized, it refers to the 54 independent countries that regard the British Queen as the titular head). Commonwealth is also seen by this writer as a representation of society from groups to villages to nations where the collective is regarded as providing resources for the well being of the individual and group at different levels of involvement. I, therefore, argue that in a country, Nigeria inclusive, anyone that has had the benefit of formal education (primary to university) did so on the sponsorship or substantial support of the commonwealth. An alternative argument is that no educated person can rightly claim total self-sponsorship to the exclusion of society.
Old Nigeria:
The arrival of Western education was embraced differently by each Nigerian community. Some communities were far-sighted enough to see the future of Western education. For instance, the Ibibio Union established in 1928 sent seven distinguished sons to the United States for university education in the late 1920s. One of them, Chief Attah had a first degree from Tuskegee University in 1931. All the young men returned successfully and acquitted themselves well. Ibibio Union was the first ethnic union in Nigeria to work for specific identity and to send youths abroad for higher education. A few villages up to the immediate post-oil-boom era dedicated portions of annual palm fruit or other commodity harvests to meet the education costs local and abroad for young people that showed promise. Today such practice is rare because many families can afford the assumed school costs for their children. In spite of this, my argument here is that everyone who ever went through and is going through and will go through formal education had received is receiving, and will receive direct or indirect resource support from the commonwealth although the levels of involvement vary from low to high. Cases in point:

  1. The cost of university education in Nigeria would be prohibitive without public resources. One way of looking at this is to consider university education in the private sector. The American. University of Nigeria (AUN), established by Alhaji Atiku Abubakar in 2004 may be for-profit or not-for-profit (breaking even should be the primary aim of every school proprietor for education is a public good). AUN’s website posts a base annual tuition fee of N1, 570,000 per student. The university is yet to have law and medicine programmes that are usually more expensive. Anyone that has held a high position at the tertiary education level will likely agree that the above fee is realistic.
    One way of justifying private school cost is by use of average cost concept in economics. Take a public institution with a wage bill of N2 billion and other allocations of N1billion for one year. Assume a student population of 5,000. The implication is that each student should pay N3 billion divided by 5,000 which works out at N600, 000 per student per year. Consider further a tertiary institution that faced a peculiar situation, was receiving about above allocation yet had 1400 students on roll. The per-unit fee should have been N2.143 million per year but students – where they agree and pay at all – were charged between N28, 000 – N50, 000 each depending on the programme. The direct implication was that students were paying 1.31 % 2.33% respectively while the public or society (assume everyone pays tax or makes a contribution to the public pool of funds) met 98.69% and 97.67% respectively. Can any ‘fee-paying’ student in that institution claim to have been self-sponsored? Can one imagine the proportion where there were 100 students in a Federal institution?
    Above analysis ignores public utilities that all educational institutions enjoy such as electricity, water, roads that staff and students use, sanitation, and the hundreds of thousands of workers at Federal, State and Local Governments that provide administrative cum technical services that impact the operations of schools private and public. Imagine for instance closing down a Police station near an institution of higher learning. This does not require explication other than drawing attention to the enormous cost of funding security and what it would mean if each student were to pay for such public service (even when the bad eggs in the Police mess themselves up).
    Let us, before drawing the curtain on this segment remember student accommodation. Students have succeeded in foreclosing attempts by the government to raise the charge on bed space which has thus remained at N90.00 (Ninety Naira) for decades. The market value of bed space in a hostel can be deduced from what favoured students charge their colleagues. After intervention by a lecturer, a guardian paid N40, 000 (forty thousand Naira) for bed space to and for a student at the University of Uyo six years ago. The asking price had been N50,000 (fifty thousand Naira) for what students paid N90.00 (Ninety Naira) for. What profit percentage is that?
  2. Private universities charge different fees that are assumed to cover the cost of staff salaries and allowances and all teaching/non-teaching operating expenses. Imagine that a Professor should not earn less than N6million a year; imagine that to secure National Universities Commission (NUC) accreditation less than one Professor per Department is unthinkable, and imagine that even if one student is registered in a class all requisite lecturers and teaching/learning materials must be available. A simple deduction should generate the conclusion that over a dozen lecturers, technical assistants, and numerous materials must be acquired and deployed to cater for that one student (average cost falls the higher the number of fee-paying students enrolled). Is it therefore too difficult to establish the ‘high’ fees charged by private universities that have tuition as their sole source of operating revenue? Is it by extension not now easy to agree that ‘self-sponsorship’ of beneficiaries of public school education is a figment or ruse? From the President to Professors to the security man with First School Leaving Certificate all of them benefited from funds of the commonwealth and owe that commonwealth some obligation. Above analysis uses AUN as an average or median because extreme cases include Pan Atlantic University, Lagos at N2.5million tuition per year; Baze University, Abuja with an annual tuition of N3.1 million; and Nile University, Abuja (Turkish) charging N5.7 million per year (Source: Brand Spur, 2019).
  3. Someone may want to know how private universities survive. Outsiders are not let into secrets of funding. For instance, does the Living Faith Church provide financial support to Covenant University at Otta; does General Ibrahim Babangida or Alhaji Atiku Abubakar continue to support IBB University or AUN at Minna or Yola respectively or do the institutions receive offshore grants and robust endowments? If they operate with school fees only, their staff are not well paid and quality of offering must below. If the staff are well paid and motivated and instruction/research are optimal, there is external support. Stanford University in the USA in 2019-2020 posted an operating budget of $8.9 billion. This meant that almost 25% of Nigeria’s 2020 budget of $34 billion was deployed by one institution of higher learning (and Nigerians expect to be in the 1st 500 top-ranking universities in the world!).
    A number of private Nigerian universities are regarded as legacies by the proprietors rather than profit-making ventures.
    If the above fee by AUN is used as a basis for argument, the question arises: how many Nigerian youths would have attended universities? This is the rationale for probably the two best resistance actions of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to date – objection to government’s plan to privatize university education and insistence that the Gray Longe Commission recommendation on Education Tax Fund must be implemented way back in 1993. The offspring, Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) is today the neck and waist of tertiary education in Nigeria (without TETFund public Universities, Colleges of Education, and Polytechnics/Monotechnics should be termed institutions of post-secondary education not institutions of higher learning).

Staggering Cost of Higher Education:
Professor Peter Okebukola published a compilation in 2003 under the aegis of National Universities Commission on the unit cost of university education in Nigeria. The analytical work detailed the estimated cost of public university education with Medicine being the most expensive. It showed even then ( 2003) that the average Nigerian youth would not attend university if they were to pay the actual cost of receiving instruction and graduating. That effort did not include or even imputed costs associated with public utilities and related services that each Nigerian student uses while studying. Public power supply, public roads, hospitals for health and practical work among others can hardly be factored into the cost of schooling yet they are indispensable (e.g. Hospitals where medical students go for practical training and public schools where Education students go for compulsory teaching practice). How many of us consider the cost of maintaining the Police and other security agencies as part of the cost of education? I ran a Federal institution of higher learning in a community that faced insurgency; I can say something with confidence about the cost of security and the impact of the absence of it on teaching and learning. Who has ever heard of students being escorted to classes by Mobile Policemen or Police guarding examination halls throughout semester examinations? All of these were paid for by the Federal Government. Meanwhile, my brother Mr Ekanabasi Ubong reminded me of the quality of food we used to eat in universities in the 1970s. No hotel would cost one plate less than N2,500 today. By 1981 my school fee in the hottest degree programme in the world in the 1980s – the MBA – was an incredible N180.00 (not thousand please) for a whole year at the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus. My father paid the money but it was a fraction of a drop in the bucket of what it cost to train me to qualify for an MBA.

Human Capital Flight or Brain Drain:
Imagine therefore what Nigeria is losing. After the millions of Naira spent on each medical student up the Housemanship and NYSC the doctors’ flights and take up jobs in Southern Africa, US, and Europe. Now beat this: the number of doctors to 10,000 people by 2013 in Cuba was 67.2; USA 24.5; and Nigeria 4.1! Cuba is an underdeveloped country yet it ranked first in the world in terms of the number of medical doctors taking care of 10, 000 citizens. Yet every year dozens of Nigerian-trained medical doctors emigrate to other countries to live and work only to return home on retirement as spent forces to wait for the Creator to delete them from world population statistics. Engineers and several professional groups face this. Pity Nigeria. This is a case of one nation’s loss being another nation’s gain. At this juncture, I submit as one of the findings of this piece that one of the reasons for Nigeria’s underdevelopment is sustained human capital flight. This occurs when highly trained persons such as professionals leave in large numbers for the proverbial greener pastures. No one is blaming them. It is difficult to justify letting go wages ten or more times what an individual is in the position to earn in preference to earnings where he or she was trained; it is even more difficult to justify underemployment and worse still outright unemployment for several years. Imagine my young brother, a Civil Engineer operating on a low-Grade Level as a Math teacher in a secondary school; who would stop him if he secures a job with a salary in hard currency plus beautiful work/living environment and security of tenure. The saddest thing, however, is that those who accept to sacrifice by staying back and with the zeal to develop the country at their level are harassed from the road to the workplace to their low-quality homes! But all must know that human beings develop societies. By the 1950s Dubai was a fishing port like Ine on the banks of the Atlantic. Today it is a tourist attraction. Find out what London looked like 200 years ago. Your village could become a world tourist site if you work towards it.
Human capital flight is commonly termed brain drain. The countries that receive free high skilled persons are experiencing brain gain. Recently Fareed Zakaria of Global Public Square (GPS) of CNN reeled out mind-boggling statistics of Nigerian professionals in the USA when the government of that country. was tweeting about sending all Nigerians back to Nigeria. Fareed submitted that it is the US that will lose. However, Nigeria would not gain if those professionals the country trained with millions of Naira return because the country would have neither vacancies nor facilities to engage the capacities of those people. What a pity – the rich gets richer; the poor sinks further down.
And there is no end in sight! Once upon a time, I faced the House of Representatives Committee on Federal Character. I sought to know from them whether there has ever been a private member’s Bill or Executive Bill on job creation presented to the National Assembly. As I expected, the question was deflected. The truth is that Nigerians do not appreciate that job creation is a deliberate activity of government as for example developing micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs)that in highly developed economies provide two-thirds of the job opportunities in such countries. Commercial banks in Nigeria are yet to realize that their client base would rise if they fund MSMEs. Everybody scrambles for public service jobs keeping CEOs sleepless and friendless. I am only aware of Rivers State that once had a Ministry of Employment; after security, the next duty of government is to ensure employment of those willing and qualified to work.

The rationale for this piece:
I sought justification for days of research, hours of data, and even a brush with hypotension to generate my posts given out free of charge for the few persons who care to read them. What I agreed with self was that because I was educated largely at public expense (I never enjoyed ‘scholarship’ because my father rejected the idea) my effort to put information from diverse sources together to make a piece useful is an act in public service. Bloggers make money if visitor traffic reaches a minimum of 50,000 for a specified period but my posts are free. I regard this activity as my contribution to national development as a payback for the national resources put into my education.
It is fit and proper based on above rationale to ask: Nigerians that were educated with public funds (by my argument all) that now deplete the resources of the commonwealth through unlawful means, what justification do they have?

Comparative View:
The education system in Finland has of recent been in Nigerian social media. Education is government business and it is pertinent to remind us that in the eyes of the United Nations, education is a human right. No one in Finland can claim self-sponsorship.
With so much contribution by government, Nigeria, unlike Ghana is a mile away from meeting the UNESCO prescribed minimum of the annual budget of 26% to be allocated to education. Yet if 50% of what is budgeted is released (zero chance) and if a reasonable portion of what is released were employed as designed, outside ego there would have been no need to flood Ghanaian schools with Nigerian children.
One unique aspect of American education is the student loan. About 20 million Americans enter higher institutions yearly as Wikipedia of 2020 states. By 2017 up to 45 million Americans were owing an average of $37, 172 by the time they graduated (Abigail Hess, 2017). At N472 to a dollar parallel rate that means N17.5 million being owed by an average American graduate that went to College (higher institution) with a student loan. Imagine a fresh graduate in Nigeria starting life with an education debt of N17.5 million and entering a job on GL 08! The debt will not be repaid throughout life. In the US, many graduates run away from from the country to avoid student loan repayment whether Federal or private or a combination of the two. Once upon a time, there was a Student Loans Board in Nigeria. It was likely shut down because of massive default and the lack of justification for offering some students scholarship (which implied100% free education) while others were offered loans to be repaid when jobs were uncertain and salaries could hardly meet current needs before loan repayment.
We must applaud Nigerian governments for almost free education for all but use this opportunity to warn governments and their agencies not to send youths abroad when they are not sure they can meet college costs. NDDC is currently guilty of this. On completion of studies, beneficiaries owe the country an obligation to render service even if they did not have to sign bonds.

Conclusion:
Based on the above argument, some conclusions can be drawn for future thought and action.

  1. All citizens that have acquired formal education received assistance from the commonwealth. Each beneficiary should make a positive contribution to the commonwealth in return.
  2. Human capital flight (brain drain) is one of the causes of sustained underdevelopment of Nigeria nay Africa.
  3. Governments in developing countries must as a matter of public policy work to create jobs with attractive working conditions to limit brain drain. Expansion in educational opportunities must go hand in hand with jobs to absorb output (educational planning and personnel planning go together else the former becomes waste or avoidable resource drain on the commonwealth).
  4. Professionals require more than jobs; they require facilities and funds for research and development. A computer expert with rows of computers that cannot boot (that is if there is electricity in the first instance) will never find underdeveloped countries attractive.
  5. Any person that has undergone formal education should see contribution to the commonwealth as a desideratum. Many Nigerians openly state that they can never employ their personal resources for the public good or they cannot do anything that does generate direct rewards to them because they do not owe the country any obligation. They should be reminded of the immortal words of President J. F. Kennedy in his Inaugural Address in 1961, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Nigeria nay Africa has spent so much on you already. All of us cannot be Aliko Dangote; if someone adopts a street, plants flowers thereon, keeps it clean, that is a contribution. Paying the few Naira quoted as school fees for the child of the poor is a contribution because that child could one day change the sad story of power supply in Nigeria. I remain excited about Abolarin College in Oke Ilarogun, Osun State established and 100% funded by Oba Adetokun Abolarin for underprivileged children. All the students have laptops, free uniforms, free food, books, and the Oba pays the salaries of the workers (thanks Ganiyu Abiodun for sending information on that bright spot that is a dots on the Nigerian firmament darkened by mind-numbing scandals generated by citizens educated with public funds that are milking an unwilling and fainting cow while giving nothing in return.
  6. Private educational institutions may, based on conflict theory, be designed to sustain the middle class. Yet they are necessary because of the better facilities available and the employment opportunities they generate. Based on the earlier analysis, “fee-paying” students in public higher education institutions could be receiving as high as 98% public support. If public facilities and services are discounted and assuming N2million as approximate fees for a regular (non-professional) course, a student in AUN contributes 75% of the cost of own education per year (again the upper quartile is not considered and in any case, the students of Nile University do use public facilities and services which the university does not pay for including the free training of their employees while they were students). The alternative argument is that students of AUN are funded up to 25% by the commonwealth. They should still make a contribution to the commonwealth for 25% per year.
  7. Governments in Nigeria have massively assisted students at all levels but mostly at the tertiary level. This goodness must not be messed up because of the desire for political gains by way of awarding scholarships without the certainty of meeting the obligation.

In summary, the commonwealth subsidizes the education of all citizens that go through formal education. The commencement syllogism can now be concluded:
All citizens that have acquired formal education at any level did so via assistance by the commonwealth; Bassey Ubong and about 200 million Nigerian citizens including the President have acquired, are acquiring, and will acquire formal education; All of us received, are receiving, or will receive support at various levels from the commonwealth.
It is imperative that all Nigerians nay Africans should make positive payback to the commonwealth.
I rest my case.

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