Not long ago, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), acting within the education sector, kicked against the government’s plans to implement a policy that will wean-off public tertiary institutions from its payroll, outlining the implications of such an action, and recommending alternative solutions.
Barely a month after that call for the government to withdraw such a decision, one of the key concerns raised by the CSOs as a likely consequence of such a policy seems to beckon.
They objected that a policy that seeks to transfer the responsibility of tertiary salaries to tertiary institutions would force management to ‘charge realistic higher fees’, increase the percentage of fee-paying students, and reduce access to tertiary education by the poor.
The management of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), last week announced that 6,000 students at various levels were deferred from their respective courses of study for failure to meet at least 70 percent of their tuition-fees obligation.
This mass deferral, the CSOs – including African Education Watch (Eduwatch), Institute for Education Studies (IFEST), and Campaign Against the Privatisation and Commercialisation of Education (CAPCOE) – believe is just the tip of the iceberg of what would happen in case government goes ahead to implement its intended policy.
The Executive Director of Eduwatch, Kofi Asare, indicated that this should give the government a clue of what will happen when it ignores the caution from CSOs and other stakeholders, and goes ahead to implement the policy.
“The current situation is just a tip of the iceberg, it should give us a clue about what will happen when government takes off tertiary institutions from the compensation budget because immediately after that happens the institutions have to raise more funds to pay for the balance needed to complement whatever is received from the fixed amount – ‘block grant,’ and the only way to do that is to increase tuition fees and increase the percentage of fee-paying students.
“So, when you have the universities being pressured through such policies to raise more funding for their survival, some of them will consider increasing the percentage of fee-paying students. Even at present, we have very poor students who are struggling to pay their fees because they are fee-paying and cannot raise the amount in time, and the case of KNUST tells us that. Hence, weaning off tertiary schools is never an option for government,” he said.
Giving a practical example of what is happening in KNUST, he stated that a medical student who is paying GH₵10,000 a year for school fees is being deferred for not paying GH₵7,000 (70%) for this year, which is a huge sum of money.
The Executive Director of IFEST, Peter Anti, on his part, indicated that if the government allows the various public universities to run their affairs in a situation where the major source of revenue would be from school fees, then obviously it will get to a point when students would be overwhelmed by the fees. The consequences would be unprecedented referrals and dropouts.
“When we get to that stage where fees become means of raising revenue for the institutions, and students are not able to pay but the school also needs the money, then various means would be adopted to take the money; and threat of deferral or outright deferral is one of the means to deploy – as KNUST is doing.
If we look at the number of students in that case (6,000 students), clearly majority of them did not have the money, and not because they used it for other things like the authority alleged. And these are fees subsidised by government; so imagine what will happen if students are asked to pay full fees. That is why we should be careful when going on that tangent,” he said.
He added that if care is not taken, this policy will be a big barrier to most of the students from a poor background in accessing tertiary education. If the government goes ahead with such a policy, frequent deferral of a large number of students than what we currently see from different tertiary institutions across the country will become the norm.
The ministry of finance is once again urged to reconsider this policy decision and rather, seek alternative areas like canceling teacher trainees’ allowance to cut down government spending.