Claims by the leadership of the Lagos State University Students’ Union that the fee regime introduced in 2011 has led to a high rate of drop outs due to inability to pay were at the weekend debunked by the Vice Chancellor of the institution, Professor John Obafunwa.
Professor Obafunwa, who spoke at a media interaction with Senior Journalists, said there was no truth in the claims as investigations by the authorities of the University revealed that majority of the students who dropped out did so because of reasons other than the fees.
According to the University don, when the list was checked against the records of the institution, it was discovered that some of the names on the list submitted by the students were those of non students of the institution while others were those who dropped out because they did not meet the appropriate CGP of the school.
Explaining that it was strange that the students’ Union would take to the Streets even after the Governor and Visitor to the school had stepped in, the Vice Chancellor recalled that during the last meeting between the students’ Union Executives and the Governor at the Lagos House, Alausa, “when they mentioned that issue, the Governor reminded them that he had at the first meeting asked them to submit such names (those that dropped out due to fees) to him. So they submitted some names to him, and he gave the list to me.”
“We went back to the University to look at them. Of course, we found some of them were not even students of LASU. We saw some who actually dropped out, but because they did not meet up with the appropriate CGP. We found that some people had actually collected bursary and scholarship and either dropped out or still did not pay,” the Vice Chancellor said.
According to him, “We categorized them also based on state of origin. I remember the Governor saying that if there are indeed indigent students who dropped out because they could not pay government would pay, on their behalf, and I don’t see any government doing better than that.”
He recalled that prior to the meeting with the Governor even the Governing Council had, at some point before the present crisis, met with the students to say ‘look we need to do something about the funding of this University. We are going to offer scholarships to brilliant students regardless of their state of origin provided you can prove that you are indigent’.
Wondering why the fee regime of the institution would generate problems now three years after it was introduced, Obafunwa said because of the many palliatives introduced by Government to cushion the effect on parents and guardians, initial protests against the policy soon died down and the incoming students paid without complaints.
“When the fees were introduced in 2011, it was stated very clearly that it would apply to only incoming students because government thought they had a contract with the old students, and they had to keep it. In doing that government also decided to increase the vote for scholarship and for bursary, and I know a number of students who enjoy both scholarship and bursary,” the Vice Chancellor said.
He said given the fact that government made every effort to ensure that no student who qualify to get admission into the university would not lose such admission on account of his or her inability to pay; the only other reason for the present crisis may not be unconnected with the culture of accountability which the present administration in the institution has brought to bear in the university administration.
“On the question of agitation, it is not unlikely that because of the probing attitude of this administration, the request that everything should be placed on the table, it is only natural that some elements would not be happy. So could it be dealing with issues that are beyond what we are seeing? I don’t know. It is an open question,” he said.
He recalled, “In the external system, apart from the issue of examinations and trying to reduce some distractions; we were also to clamp down on money that has not been well accounted for; either you wanting to claim money for lecture you did not give as a resource person or collect money that was not due to you because you did not actually work for it.”
“We were able to ask questions about certain claims made in previous years because we inherited a lot of backlogs either as honoraria or whatever people were claiming. And when the money was going to be paid it was like pay at sight. You had officials of the internal system there then you have auditors, and you have other monitors there,” he said.
Noting that when the exercise was being carried out it was done campus by campus, the Vice Chancellor declared, “At the first exercise, the director was able to save N114 million, the second exercise he was able to save over N22 million. Hitherto money was being paid to whatever individual account, and they would distribute to whatever. But this time around cheque was written in the name of the resource person from bursary, and you have to present yourself to receive it.”
“So you couldn’t come to say I am so and so a person; records are checked; you cannot impersonate. And if you are entered for four courses, you cannot come in there and say you are claiming 8 or 10 courses. In such a situation, you can be sure some elements will not be happy,” he said.
Speaking on some other achievements of his administration, the Vice Chancellor recalled that when he took over the administration of the institution in 2011, it had lost accreditation for a number of programmes adding that in 2012, his administration had about 17 programmes to work hard to restore accreditation.
“By the time this administration came into being, LASU had lost a number of programmes. So, we went through the exercise in June 2012 and by November, we got our result and 16 of the programmes were given accreditation,” the Vice Chancellor said adding that only one program was not given accreditation.
He continued, “We actually got an interim accreditation, but when you have two interims back to back, you will be deemed to have failed. But one good thing that happened was that we won accreditation of those programmes. Then last year, there were about 19 programmes that were meant for re-accreditation because it was due. All of them went through including Medicine and Dentistry, because it was due for accreditation.”
He said his administration was also able to secure an increase in its quota at the 200 level in Medical School adding that when he came in as Provost, it used to be 50, but by the time he was leaving the institution had secured an increase to75 because it had got improved facilities and could take more students at 200 levels.
“So last year after the accreditation and we got the result; they gave us a further increase from 75 to 100. That is another major thing that has happened. And because we secured that accreditation, we were now in the position to advertise because if you don’t have the accreditation, you cannot advertise the programme. So we were able to advertise the programme when we got approval from NUC,” he said.
Noting that the problems of the University started with the present ASUU and SSANU Executives, Obafunwa said the first sign was the issue of “the so-called 21 Points” by ASUU, which included the tenure of VC, retirement age, the issue of “no vacancy no promotion” which, according to him, “was not coined by this administration,” the issue of Internet provision on campus, the issue of the environment and a lot of other things.
“But it is also interesting that when this administration came in November 2011, we had an ASUU Executive and there wasn’t any problem until that Executive left, and a new one came in. We had SSANU Executive. We had no significant problem until a new one took over. We had a National Association of University Technologists, that gave us no problems; so why suddenly did we start having problems?” he asked.
Still on accountability, Obafunwa said the first of the bloated contract estimates he got was N15 million to repair all that was damaged in the School’s ICT unit, including roofs and other facilities adding that by the time the repairs were finished the institution spent a little over N3 million.
“The new auditorium, it was estimated that we were to complete it with about N29 million, the new auditorium where we had our first convocation indoors. When we did it, we did it with less than N6 million,” he said. According to the Vice Chancellor, the “no vacancy, no promotion” cliché was the creation of the Unions saying there were promotions in 2011 /2012.
He recalled, “We had 256 vacancies. When approval committees for promotion sat down to assess, about 72 percent of them scaled through. If a university is prone to strikes either by students or by staff, as a parent, would you like to send your child there? We should ask ourselves very serious questions what brands are we selling to the general public?”
SIGNED: HAKEEM BELLO
SPECIAL ADVISER TO H.E ON MEDIA