High fees discourage Nigerian students from remedial schools

ZARIA, Nigeria, Nov. 28 (UPI) -- Remedial education in Nigeria has long been an alternative method of gaining college acceptance for students whose grades aren't as high as they need to be to immediately enter higher education. But skyrocketing costs for remedial programs have some students questioning whether schools are taking advantage of their desperation to earn a college diploma.

Over the past decade, costs for remedial programs at many universities, including at the University of Ilorin, a leading school in the country, have doubled or even tripled. Costs for a standard college education have risen, too, but not nearly at the rate of costs for remedial programs.

"Was the program implemented to serve as revenue source for schools or to help students with result deficiency, like us, still get a shot at acquiring higher education?" asked Sani Abdullahi, one student who struggles to get admitted to a standard university program.

Remedial programs, called "pre-degree" at some institutions, were designed to help students with low grades earn secondary school certificates and propel them toward college.

They were also designed to compensate for a perceived educational disadvantage, especially in science-based courses. Students are re-taught senior secondary subjects, and their new grades are applied toward their university applications.

Rough estimates credit remedial education with providing as much as 30 percent of all students to gain admission into universities each year.

The federal government, in a bid to improve the rate of admittance into universities, gave autonomy to higher institutions to run remedial programs for prospective students with result deficiencies.

Today, almost all of Nigeria's higher institutions have remedial programs. Some universities, including Nnamdi Azikiwe University and the University of Ilorin, have established separate remedial campuses.

But now, students, especially those from economically disadvantaged homes, say they're discouraged from enrolling even in remedial programs -- the one avenue that has long been considered such students' only hope of earning a diploma.

A close look at the programs suggests that they may have deviated from their original motives. Students, angry at higher costs, claim that universities are charging bogus fees.

Schools charge between about $250 and about $950 for a one-year remedial program. That's double, and in some cases, triple, the original cost. At University of Ilorin, the average cost about five years ago was around $200. That program now costs more than $600.

The cost of a standard university education has risen, too. In 2007, Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, the largest university in the country and one of the largest on the continent, was closed for about four months because of students’ demonstrations against a more than 200 percent increase in school fees. The school was reopened after dialogues between school officials and students.

A 2005 UNESCO report stated that private university fees averaged between about $900 and just less than $2,000 per student, depending on the area of study. Public university fees averaged about $850 and polytechnic schools charged about $480.

Some educators and policy makers have proposed alternatives to remedial education.

"There is no doubt that remedial education has done a lot to help students gain admission and remedy deficiencies," said I. Jalija, a professor in Ahmadu Bello University's remedial program. "Still, much has to be done in order to fully maximize its main reason for existence."

The government needs to spend more on the programs, he said, adding that more financial support will help universities "reduce bogus fees."

Another university professor who asked to be called only Dr. Bellow, said remedial programs are being used to generate revenue to fund regular university programs that are suffering because of decreased government support.

"Secondary schools should always cultivate the habit of repeating classes for students if their grades fall below targeted level," Bello said. "This will ensure students make their papers at first sitting and, therefore, reduce the clamor for remedial programs. Higher education schools should not re-teach material students should have learned in secondary school."

But others disagree with this proposal, pointing to research indicating that students who repeat classes demonstrate no long-term gains in academic achievement. Critics also argue that requiring students to repeat classes is generally more expensive than implementing a well-designed remedial program.

Some prospective students say they are unable to enroll in remedial programs because they've become even more expensive than standard programs.

Despite the high cost in fees, students are still enrolling in remedial programs. At Ahmadu Bello University, for example, more than 7,000 students enroll in the remedial program each year.

Not all students who enter remedial programs have deficient school scores. Some students who weren't accepted due to the strict admission policies at universities hope remedial programs will improve their chances.

Tunde Toye, a parent, said remedial programs used to be cheap and students from poor homes could easily work toward university admittance.

"In those days, apart from the free education we enjoyed, we had free food delivered to our hostels daily," he said. "Also, our laundry was always taken care of, but this is not the case nowadays. Rather, the universities only look for ways to extort money from students, no thanks to the government which has continued to show a lack of real interest toward education."

Ebenezer Dauda is a computer science student at Ahmadu Bello University. He gained admission through the remedial program. The major problem he encountered during the program was that of standard of living.

"I would love the institutions and the government to see to the living conditions of students in remedial campuses," he said.