The Federal University of Technology Akure was to kick off its 2023/2024 session on Monday 15 January with an upward of 300% increase in school fees. But the school management was forced to shut the school down indefinitely that same day by a mass demonstration of students with a simple, powerful message: #NoToIncrement! It also suspended implementing the planned fee increase until further notice.
FUTA’s authorities had announced the increment during the vacation. The new regime of tuition fees that they wanted to put in place would have seen returning undergraduate students’ tuition fees increase from N29,000 to N131,000 while those of fresh students, which was N108,000, would have shot up to N240,000.
The students’ union voiced out their displeasure, even though they had not resumed. They pointed out that the school had increased fees by 100% last April when the 2022/2023 session began.
In fact, management had raised the fees payable by old students at the time from N14,000 to N60,000, while that for fresh students was raised from N50,000 to N108,000. It was only after a spirited fightback by the students that the new fee for old students in 2023 was pegged at N29,000, which was still 100%, with a promise by management that it would not be increasing fees for a while. Alas, nine months later, the school came up with an even more horrendous increment of 300%.
When the students’ union leaders reached out to management in December after the announcement of a looming fee hike, it pretended to be ready to listen to reason, arguing that it was ready to negotiate towards reviewing the planned rise downwards. In light of that, there was an agreement between both parties that the fee payment portal would not be opened until negotiations were concluded. However, management reneged on this agreement. Targeting new students which it saw as the weak link, it opened the portal for freshers to pay even before school resumed. Confident that its trick would have weakened any resistance from fresh and returning students alike, it then ordered the latter to start paying as school resumed on 15 January, without any further negotiation.
But the mass of students was unambiguously against any increment from the very beginning. They categorically rejected any tuition hike, negotiated or not. And they had a good cause for taking this principled stand.
Scores, if not hundreds of students, dropped out of FUTA last year with the increase to N29,000. At least one student also committed suicide as a result of depression from not being able to further his education due to that increase. One could then imagine what the impact of this huge increase would be.
Futarians, including members of the Socialist Youths League, started mobilising to resist the proposed new fee regime both online and in physical clusters over the last few weeks. A few alumni of the school supported their position. The peak of online mobilisation was on Sunday 14 January, a day before resumption. Over 200 Futarians held an extensive discussion on X-Space. The student union president and other union executive members of the union joined them.
The meeting was enlightening and inspiring. Analysis after analysis showed that there was no justifiable basis for such intended commodification of education. If anything, management had been robbing the students for years already.
An example of this is the caution fee of N10,000 included in the package of fees which every student pays. Formally speaking, the cumulative amount of caution fees should be paid back to students on graduation if they have no record of damage to school properties in their four or five-year course of study. However, management has never returned a caution fee to any student. And when this was raised with them last year, the tongue-in-cheek response was that this was because no students ever asked for the reimbursement!
Futarians did not only analyse the situation. They also reached brilliant conclusions about what was to be done. They realise that the onslaught of fee increments in FUTA and across the country requires concerted resistance involving students in FUTA and across the country, the alumni association, trade unions, professional associations, civil society organisations and all community-based associations.
The students have won the first battle. The Monday protest was massive. They blocked the highway, grinding traffic to a halt to make their voices heard. They left no one in doubt that they were ready to fight until victory. They are not under any illusion that the management will simply back down from its nefarious anti-poor students’ policies, except it sees an overwhelming force of defiant students. This force would be reinforced if trade unions, civil society organisations and all other social forces that stand for education as a right and not a privilege throw their weight behind this crucial struggle.
Socialist Workers League and its Socialist Youth League members in FUTA and on campuses across the country call on the Nigeria Labour Congres (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC), their affiliated unions, and all other progressive forces in the country to fully support Futarians in this fight and equally demand an end to the pricing of education out of the hands of children and wards of working-class people with the rash of tuition fees increment taking place across the country.
To Futarians, we say fight this battle to the end; dare to struggle, dare to win!
by Muda OGIDAN