By Chikezie Ogbonna and Emmanuel Ogbonna
- New students to now pay about half a million each
- Management defends fees, lists benefit
The ensuing controversy over what has been termed as exorbitant fees and over billing placed on students of the Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT) might not be over yet.
It will be recalled that The Choice Flame Newspaper ran a report in their early February edition of an activist, Ndubueze Okonkwo who submitted a petition over what he termed exorbitant fees forced on students by the school management.
According to the activist in a petition sent to our office, he alleged that first year students of Law are charged an additional N250, 000 Development levy aside their statutory school fees, acceptance fee and other fees accrued to new intakes. In the same vein medical students in the respective medical departments ranging from Medicine and Surgery, Pharmacy, Medical Lab Science, Nursing Sciences are forced to pay N300,000, N250,000 and N150,000 respectively, while other departments are charged 50,000 as development fee.
Speaking further on the issue, Mr. Ndubueze Okonkwo wondered why Parents are meant to cough out close to half a million naira for fees and why the school has made it a prerequisite for acquiring registration number for first year students . He further revealed that other stringent conditions placed by the school is that until a student makes the full payment, they will not be allowed to participate in the forthcoming first semester exam coming up in few days time, which has been precisely slated for 17th February.
Ndubueze Okonkwo who is also a graduate of Law from ESUT, asserts that he consider it very important that the general public understand what he called an attempt to squeeze parents into paying through their nose in their quest to see their wards acquire university education, which he further described as wickedness and injustice to Parents as well as an utter disregard to the role of government to provide affordable good education to her people, considering the fact that ESUT is a University owned by the Enugu State Government.
Narrowing it down to the Law faculty, Ndubueze in his petition outlined every fee expected by a first year law student to pay before he or she becomes eligible to write the forth-coming first semester 2019/2020 academic session exams come this February, 2020 as follows;
Acceptance fee: N26, 100; School fees: N124, 000; Development fee: N250, 000 and faculty fee: N3, 700 which amounted to the total of 404,700.
The amount is also applicable to the newly admitted student of Pharmacy and Medical Lab science. Their counterparts in Medicine and Surgery must also pay over N500, 000 and failure to pay, the student loses admission.
Ndubueze called for a review in what he called a draconian and inhumane condition of payment such that every student concerned must pay all the fees and levies to the last kobo at once before he or she is eligible to sit for any exam in the school.
Mr. Ndubueze who further questioned the integrity of the management of the school considering the staggering revenue generated from the school since 2013/2014 academic session when the development levy was birthed which he pegged at N180, 000,000 just for the Law faculty alone. According to him, judging from the 150 approximate number of students admitted into the Law Faculty since 2013/2014 academic session , the school has generated over 180,000,000 from an accumulation of all the development funds paid at the sum of N200,000 per student before it was now increased to N250,000 in the current academic secession.
He further called on all stake holders concerned to prevail on the school to soft pedal on their fund drive on students so as not to drive many promising potentials away because of their inability to raise the fund within the time frame given.
Some of the students who spoke to us but pleaded anonymity expressed the level of frustration experienced by students following the condition placed by the school.
They decried the way the fees are causing depression for some students. According to them, some of their mates are considering withdrawing because of their inability to make such exorbitant payment.
Accusation of Corruption and Government withdrawal of subvention
Meanwhile, there were accusation of corruption and mal-administration leveled against the management of the institution. A senior non academic staff who chose not to be mentioned for fear of victimization accused the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Luke Anike of high handedness, corruption, mismanagement of fund and maladministration.
The source attributed what he called the desperate search of fund leading to the overbilling of students to an alleged withdrawal of subvention by the state government to the university. This according to him has made the school administration resort to self financing and according to him; the students are now being forced to bear the brunt.
To get the reaction of the school over the raging controversy, in an interview with our team, the school management led by the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Luke Anike joined by the Registrar, Khama Leonard and the Bursar, Ikenna Ezeugwu debunked accusation of maladministration as they gave better clarification on the development.
According to the Vice Chancellor, the government never at any time withdrew the subvention given to the school, rather it was increased by hundred percent, a claim he backed with documents he made available to our team.
In one of the documents shown to The Choice Flame Newspaper, the governing council of the school in its 160th council meeting approved an extension of the fees to other faculties aside the faculties of Law, Medicine and Pharmacy. In taking this decision, council noted that fees which traditionally used to be increased by the university every 5 years had not been increased for over 9 years, irrespective of the rise in the cost of services, increase in wage bills and inflation. Council however, re-emphasized its resolve not to increase school fees which is also in line with the campaign promise of Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi.
Interestingly, ESUT governing council is headed by His Lordship, Bishop Godfrey Igwbuike Ona, the Catholic Bishop of Nsukka Diocese and was recently reappointed to the position by the state governor.
However, the Vice Chancellor explained that the development fee is not peculiar to ESUT alone as other government owned universities across the country are adopting such measures to increase funding.
The Vice Chancellor further urged students and members of the public to disregard any misleading information concerning the developments in the school.
Explaining extensively the reason behind the development fee, the VC said;
“The funds from the direct sources, for instance the subvention from Government, monies from friends and other sources of money that come into the University for various purposes are not usually enough. Therefore as the growth of the University is being recorded, the need for resources to balance up what is being developed always occurs.
Therefore, the University may reach out to those other established sources or as well review its fee structure to see if it can help to meet up with the financial base of the University, to enable it carry on with her growth.
“So, that was the basis for asking for development levy. It is not like the management rose one day and decided to impose fees or development levy on students. Due process was followed, the management of the University met severally on this issue and satisfied that there was sufficient need for that, we approached the governing council, presented a proposal and supported this proposal with sufficient document and information gathered around it to enable the council take appropriate decision on this.
“The council did and there in the meeting of the council, this development levy was tasked and then for us it is the implementation. This is the usual scenario in the management of the University or most other public institutions.
“Let me say that before now, about three faculties were already paying the development levy, like the faculty of law, medicine and pharmacy, and there was no complain. Perhaps they understood the situation of the University and agreed to pay that amount.
“So, what happened was that this payment of development levy was now extended to other faculties and it became misunderstood.”
The Vice Chancellor also affirmed that the Governor of the State is aware of the development. The VC said; “government is aware of it and even we have gone to the state house of assembly to make our case when they invited us. The matter is being discussed in the state house of assembly. They invited us through their committee on education and we went there to present the case as it is. Perhaps it is important to mention that the development levy is not peculiar to our institution. Public universities all over the world are charging development fees, so it is not out of place”.
Accused disparity of payment debunked
There were stories of disparity in payment. This allegation was raised by students of 2018/2019 academic session.
Couple of students we spoke to accused the school of not effectively monitoring payment as there were allegations that some of them paid while others didn’t pay and the usual threat of punishment for non compliance was not applied on them.
The Vice Chancellor debunked the allegation and revealed that the school holds a strong monitoring apparatus to track payment.
“We have sufficient apparatus to collect levies paid by students, the same apparatus used to collect other fees. So, if somebody dodges paying, at the end of his program he will collect nothing from the University until all the fees owed to the University is paid.
But we are even going further to ensure that the fees are collected at the appropriate time. We continue to increase in efficiency in collecting fees from students”, the VC explained.
Unshaken fee collection structure
Lending his voice to the issue, the school Bursar, Ikenna Ezeugwu threw more light on the mode of fee collection adopted by the institution in their bid to ensure 100% compliance from students.
“The truth is that, students are good in giving out some kind of unreliable information. Before they started exams, the Dean of Faculties asked for the names of people who have paid which we provided very promptly, and we ensured that those who didn’t pay make payment before they wrote exams or they could have obtained permission to be given the chance to pay at convenient time.
“Everybody is not equal, some people may have very good reasons why they cannot pay and if they are able to explain themselves, there could be concession for them to take the exam and they will pay later, that doesn’t mean that the person will not pay. If you didn’t pay, it will be in your record, we have records of students in all the faculties, the account department is situated in all the faculties and their sole duty is to keep record of school fees payment, so nobody escapes.
“It is false information that students are not given concession. How can there be no concession, are we not human beings? Some people may have very good reason, but it is not thrown open, you must be convincing that the reason is genuine before such concession is given.
“The concession does not imply the person won’t pay again, it is just deferred to be paid later, at a more convenient time for the student.
“It is for first year students only. And it is just being introduced for other faculties for this session, 2019/2020.
“At the management level there was a question of increasing the fees for everybody, but it was agreed that because of the situation of things, it may not be convenient to increase the fees for everybody. This fees was last increased in 2010, 10 years back. All of us are in Nigeria we’ve seen how things have changed, the hyper inflation is affecting everyone and everything. Despite all of that, the University has continued to manage things to see if they can carry-on, begging the state government. The state government did their best, by increasing our subvention, but at a point, we saw it was not possible to carry-on like that without any adjustment. We can’t keep on running to government; government has its own other responsibilities.
“So, the decision was reached that, instead of all round levy, let there be a development levy for the first year students only.
“Only people coming in now for other faculties are the ones to pay”, said the Bursar.
VC Enumerates success stories
Meanwhile, the Vice Chancellor of the university whose tenure will be expiring in May this year while enumerating some of his achievement for five years as the head of the administration in school maintained that government never at anytime withdrew the subvention of the university, rather it was increased by 100%. He however admitted that the school needs more funding and has continued to be in discussion with the authority as how to better increase funding of the university.
The Vice Chancellor also thanked God for helping them sail through difficult times in the school.
According to documents made available to us by the School Registrar, Khama Leonard, ESUT now enjoys 100% accreditation by the National Universities Commission (NUC) for all her programs and also has been accredited by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation Quality Group (CIQG) based in the United States of America.
The school also boasts of massive level of infrastructural development as well as investments into research and other advance academic programs.