09.08.2004 Feature Article

Letter From The President: No Free University

Letter From The President: No Free University
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Countrymen and women, loyalists and opponents, you know I don't like childish nonsense. I hate it whether it's coming from a child or an adult who has failed to grow up. Some children in this country are annoying me. I have heard them making so much noise on radio and television, saying things which leave a sour taste in my mouth.

I am talking here about the 'children' in our universities. They have been picketing of late, demanding free education even at the university level. It's all because the authorities at the University of Ghana have decided to increase fees, and justifiably so. These days, I get so angry when I see militant students demanding free university education. My soul bleeds when I hear supposedly educated people opposing any attempt to charge 'realistic' fees for university education. I don't blame them, though. I blame it all on Kwame Nkrumah. Thanks to his policy, I was educated the university level free of charge. The fact that I had free university education does not mean that you are also entitled to it. I was lucky, you are not. I lived in a different era – the era of Nkrumah. He sowed this backward mentality in the people of Sikaman with his 'free' everything policy. But times have changed. In our country, everyone thinks that everything should be free. They want to go to the best universities without paying anything (or paying so little), graduating to earn fat paychecks. Sikaman citizens like to use everything for free – just go to the water and electricity companies and you will be amazed by the high pile of unpaid bills. When I was in opposition, I tended to side with the opponents of fee increases not because I didn't want the right fees to be paid – I was just in opposition and it was my job to oppose anything.

Now that I am in the Castle, I can say with every conviction I can muster that university education is not cheap. You people must accept it and pay up or get your children out of the universities, that is, if you are inciting your ward to demonstrate and make unnecessary noise. I want to believe that no parent has asked his/her child to demonstrate against fee increases. The students are on their own. They think they have 'arrived' so they should also make noise for me to know they are “there”. Well I have heard all their complaints and this is my response to them.

Please, let it be known to the university students of Sikaman, especially those from Accra Legon, Kumasi Legon, Cape Coast Legon, Winneba Legon and Navrongo Legon, that I have heard all what they've been saying and I am not amused at all. I think the fee increases are justified and if they are not ready to pay they should pack out and leave. After all, there are now some thriving private universities in the country. They should enroll in the private universities and they will see for themselves that the peanuts they pay as fees cannot get them even a quarter of the quality education they deserve. What angers me most is that the students, who are not responsible for the payment of the fees, are complaining. Ah! The parents who work so hard to put their wards in school are not complaining or demonstrating. I will only consider doing “something” if parents go on demonstration and demand a reversal of the recent decision to increase academic facility user fees.

It is not easy for all of us. Some people cannot even send their children to an ordinary 'saito' school. If you are lucky to have been educated to the university level, why not keep quite, allow your father to pay your fees (or complain about it) and just sit your bottom down and learn to acquire skills that will make you fit in the money-earning class. Just look at how we are struggling to even make the FCUBE policy a success. My government has been blatantly flouting the constitution by failing to fulfill the mandate to provide Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education. The framers of the constitution were very wise not to make it an obligation for government to provide Free Compulsory Universal University Education. University Education is not for everyone. It's only for those who can afford. It's a simple fact of life every university student should accept. If for any reason, your father or mother cannot pay your fees, drop out. Go and sweep the gutters in Kantamanto and do every available menial job you can find so that you can raise the money to put yourself through school. Life is that tough and you must all accept it. Get rid of that Nkrumah/Socialist thinking that university education is free. We have been so foolish for so long. If you want a good job, you train yourself, pay for your training and earn money for yourself. The fact that you will pay some 'small-small' taxes does not mean that the nation should spend its money to equip you with the skills you need. Have you considered the risks for Sikaman whenever we give a free cedi to a university student to get himself educated? Well let me tell you. Whenever we give a free cedi to a university student, we deprive another, younger citizen, of the opportunity to just learn to read and write. Our money is better spent providing free education at the basic level. I think a nation of 18 million literate men and women is better than a nation with an illiteracy rate of 65 percent and a few thousand graduates. No one should tell me that the few graduates will help the large proportion of illiterates to read and write. So it is better for Sikaman citizens to demonstrate for more money to be pumped into basic education than into university education. If you are a parent and you are considering demonstrating on behalf of your ward in the university (because of what I said earlier in this letter) you better think again or meet me at the Castle junction to have your skull washed. Whenever we give a free cedi to a university student, we also unwittingly take away the capacity of the universities to provide the best possible education for their students. If the universities don't have money, they can't train anyone well. We shall then have half-basked scholars who will come and confuse us with big English words and technical jargon, oftentimes throwing dust in our eyes and staying on the wrong side of common sense. I tell you half-basked scholars are worst than illiterates.

I know it's hard and parents are suffering. The average parent cannot afford to take his/her child to university if I insist that realistic fees will have to be paid. Since I am not an uncaring president, I will make a few suggestions, which I know can help. Elsewhere, in those areas of the world where common sense has been allowed to prevail, students have access to loans. As a student you get educational loans to help you through school and you pay back as soon as you get a job after graduation. Systems are in place for that and they are working. Our banks should not just take delight in raising their minimum deposits, they should come out with innovative loan policies to help us improve on our human resource base. Secondly, I know that a lot of university students travel abroad to work during the vacation periods. It's good. But instead of using the monies they earn from their vacation jobs abroad on mobile phones and the latest fashion gear, they should use it to pay their fees and stop complaining. I don't want to hear any childish nonsense again from the adults in our universities who are refusing to grow up. Grow up, guys and gals and pay the right fees.

University Educated,

J. A. Fukuor

[email protected]

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