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IT has been argued that, if university education is free, many more students than usual will enrol in our universities, and the cost will thereby soar.
In our own judgment, and having regard to available statistics, probably a few more students would enrol; but certainly not many more. There is a limit to the number of secondary school leavers who have the innate capacity for doing a university course. For example, in Britain, where university education is free, only 8% of secondary school-leavers are capable of doing or pursuing university courses, and are, therefore, admitted into British universities. In Nigeria, the percentage is as high as 28. What this figure appears to indicate is not that Nigerian secondary school leavers are of higher calibre than their British counterparts, but that, here in Nigeria, we have gone to the very bottom of the barrel, either because the standard for admission to our universities has been lowered; or because we have treated as university courses subjects which do not qualify for such elevation; or - and this is more likely to be the case - since attendance at post-primary and post-secondary institutions means, in our peculiar circumstances, the survival of the fittest, because practically all the very best among our students have already fought their way through secondary schools to the universities by all manner of legitimate means, including borrowing, working hard to save money for this purpose, and organizing the extended family to share the inevitable burden.
It is also argued that if education were free at all levels, the expenses would be absolutely insupportable. Those who urge this view are doing so in complete ignorance of the facts, or have given little or no thought to the matter.
The decision to introduce free primary and post-primary education will not immediately increase school and university populations phenomenally. The introduction of a scheme such as this, from our experience, requires a good deal of careful planning and preparation. In order to have the required number of graduate and non-graduate trained teachers, about five years will elapse between the time when a decision is taken to introduce the scheme and the actual launching of the scheme. If the scheme is introduced before the graduate and non-graduate trained teachers are ready, it will be a failure or only a qualified and unsatisfying success.
Furthermore, it will be at least six years after the launching of the scheme before there is a large influx into our secondary schools, reaching its peak about eleven years from the time of launching. The first real influx into our universities, and the peak at this level, will not come until thirteen years and sixteen years, respectively, from the launching year.
The point is not at all overlooked that under our Constitution, primary and post-primary education is a residual subject, and that university education is a concurrent subject. This being so, the question then arises as to whether each State can embark on a free primary and secondary education. Our own categorical answer is in the affirmative. In substantiation of this answer, we would make use of the Western State as an illustration. In this State, free primaIy education is now in operation and has been so since 1955. Recently we have given a good deal of thougbt to the problem of introducing free education at the post-primary and post-secondary levels, in this State. Our findings are that the Western State Government will have to incur an additional expenditure of £5.2m, in order to make education free at all levels. Where is this money going to be found?
At the moment about 55% of the taxable male population, that is 1.2 million people, are evading tax in the Western State. We hasten to remark that this is a legacy of the sickening and sordid politics of the past few years. Women pay no flat rate tax at all, even though many of them are more well off than most males. By a more effective tax collection organization than at present, therefore; on the supposition that the population of the State is 8 millions not 9 millions; and at a flat rate of £3 per head of male taxpayers, at least £3.6m more would be brought into the revenue of the Western State. In addition, a special education and health levy at an average rate of £2 per head can be imposed, but so that those in the flat-rate brackets do not pay more than 10/- per head.
This will increase the revenue by another £4.4m. Thus a total of £8m can be brought to revenue without any undue protest, if the purpose is to make education free at all levels and health facilities free to all. This amount can be further increased by about £ 1 m at least, if all the fringe benefits now enjoyed by Government functionaries in the State are abolished. It is clear, therefore, that the money is there; it is the exercises for extracting it that are lacking. And they are lacking because the majority of those who govern the State do not appear to be alive, and willing to dedicate themselves, to the rigorous planning, hard work, and the personal self-sacrifice which such exercises demand.
(To be continued)Share