By Debo Ikuesewo-Akinbami

The Ondo-State-owned Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba Akoko, is factually a front-line academe by any standard. The young university, clung on the fine vision of her founders and ingenuity of her successive handlers, has attained consequence. Evidences litter the public space to the effect that the University blazes the trail where it matters and has been in acclaim for same. In content and character, it occupies the front seat, even with comparative credence.

This intervention, however, is not necessarily about the contest of status or contexts of stature, but about an institution’s resolve to retain the height it has reached, to keep her worth in the comity of the nation’s universities, and the price it must pay to reach her goal.

In this all-important attempt to retain her reach and to extend its frontiers, Ajasin varsity has been heatedly in the news, lately. The issue has been a controversy over increase in its tuition fees. Her proprietor and management, who desire stouter capacities for it, reckon that her finances are too lean to meet her needs, and have therefore resolved that increasing the tuition is inevitable if the University must compete and retain luster. It birthed recriminations.

The University has administered low tuition, unarguably the lowest in any state University in the country for a long time. Until last session, her students paid twenty five thousand naira as school fees where universities in the country (public and private) charge astronomical fees. Even other higher institutions owned by the same state government pay fees in the neighbourhood of a hundred thousand. The state-owned University of Medical Sciences pays even more. This arrangement some call obvious injustice. Yet, it has been a deliberate commitment of government to keep the fees low for as long as it’s practicable to so do.

This, to fair thinkers, only shows the extent of the state government’s compassion and commitment to keeping higher education within the reach of the underdogs. Yet, it must be said that keeping it low over the years must have cost the government a fortune and the University management a high measure of sacrifice. It therefore pops up the supposition that increment, at this juncture, may not be unconnected to the obviously serious and ubiquitous economic constraints.

Meanwhile, it beggars telling that economic constraint has been a national bane and whose coming has affected all of the country’s parts. As an institution, Adekunle Ajasin University has been feeling the heat since the dawn of 2015, but it continued to struggle within meagre means. However, financial struggling, for any institution, is a heavy cog. The same, for a university of AAUA’s ranking and standing, is a drawback that will certainly hurt her flight. And unless we merely choose to harbour hurtful illusions, financial inabilities will only land the best intents in mirage.

It reduces collective right to civility, when, at times like this, stakeholders who should contribute candid commentaries to a matter of this import, choose to reverse either to mischief, sentiments or outright mutism for ulterior reasons. Others would either indulge in transacting falsities or sacrifice truth at the alter of political necessities. While each man is entitled to expressing his viewpoint on any matter of public concern, such expressions should not be cloned to incite wrong reactions. After all, we all are the ultimate beneficiaries of whatever the university becomes.

For one, there is no question about the locution that the government of Ondo State is committed to making sure that the standard of higher education of learning in the state remains competitive and comparable. No doubting that it is also resolute about ensuring that parents get value for the monies expended for the training of their wards. But while government does not lose sight of the expected inconveniences that increment brings, it has also restated its preparedness to strategically intervene in terms of giving scholarships to deserving students, facilitating grants and donations to the University as ways to enhance the University advancement efforts and to also cushion the probable harsh financial effects.

AAUA, despite her meagerly charges, gives about the same among it charges as tuition out as monthly stipends to her students through its Work-Study Scheme- which allows her indigent students to work for two hours per day in any of the University’s offices and earn a decent income to support themselves while their studies last. If, by now, the same University which has cheaply been giving her best, is now constrained to shoot up her fees, it should deserve good audience and not wicked hilarity; it should deserve fair attention and subjective references.

For those who know, increment arrival was neither easy nor early. It was a difficult delivery for a university that prides in affordable fees. Decision witnessed heated debates at different fora, both at the management and government levels, all seeking practical ways to resolve the scorching financial stress of the University possibly without upping the fees, in the interest of the lean purses. After all, government handlers, members of the University’s Governing Council and Management are also parents with genuine concern and sympathy. However, they are well constrained to either leave the meagerly school fees the way it was and have the high-flying institution trudge and ultimately, take the back seat, or do the needful and retain the University on the rare rung.

It does no good to the University and her members to gloss over the truth that the University deserves better fiscal attention to enable it to meet heapy needs. It is vain to pretend that it has enough to encourage competitive research and development, or to assume it can manage to pay recurrent bills. We do know that leading universities around the world do not run on cheap costs. Even parents who, with pleasure pay hundreds of thousands to train wards at the secondary level, cringe to pay far less for higher education. We cannot get the best from pretense. It sure costs dearly to finance the facilities that have consistently produced distinctions on all fronts.

The challenge is a huge one. The words of Dr. Tunji Abayomi, Chair of the University Governing Council and Pro chancellor, mirror the magnitude. “Salary approximately N2.5b per annum. Maintainance of students and campus life approximately N3.1b per annum to add up to approximately N5.6b. Now income from Government N1.8b per annum. Income from students approximately N5.5m per annum. Income from other sources approximately N400m add up to approximately N2.75b. Subtract income from expenditure to know how serious is the financial challenge AAUA faces. Should we allow the school to go under or sacrifice for her survival?”

To allow AAUA to go under is an intolerable option. To agree with the government on this needful increment is to show genuine concern. To see reasons for upping the fees is to assist the university to reach her goals. If it could emerge as the nation’s best state University twice and could continually produce leaders across genres, it could only soar with more resources at its disposal. Getting the university to sit atop peers is the dream of government, which is a good and noble. To make exponential and visible difference on the face and functions of the University is a commitment for her handlers. This is a difficult time to pay more, but to keep the university afloat, it is necessary to do so.