Mr. President, The End of ‘Free College Tuition’ Is Not Justifying The Means

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PRESIDENT GEORGE MANNEH WEAH has too much on his plate: he must deal with the impending June 7 protest and at the same time justifies his decision to cancel school fees for all public tertiary schools in the country. The latter is just one of the many policy issues the President MUST fix and we know that time waits for no man – not even a President.

IT WAS A UNSWERVING POPULIST decision which garnered the former world football star applauds although inklings were hovering, casting pessimism about this policy. Nevertheless, President Weah was firmed about maximizing populism, which politicians say is a delicate phenomenon that once utilized effectively, especially in Liberia, would certainly amass approvals from the masses.

POPULISM IS DENOTED as a political doctrine that supports the rights and powers of the common people in their struggle with the privileged elite. Put this definition in context and you’ll fathom the rationale of President Weah’s “free tuition” policy which is now turning out to be a flop.

ACCORDING TO PRESIDENT WEAH, the move was the government’s approach to making a direct social intervention to address the many problems that the young population is facing.

HOWEVER, WE ARE STILL constrained to stress that the “Free Tuition” policy is a popular one. The kind that lacks practicability. Again, we say it is simply a populist move gone bad.

WE DO NOT DISAGREE that the “increasing cost of education in Liberia leading to none enrollments, none attendant and frequent drop out is becoming counterproductive to our development goals” as stressed by the President back in May is true. In fact, we have gathered that the enrollment stats have shown an increment at the country’s main university; however, the by-product is also generating mixed views.

FOR THE PAST WEEKS there have been concerns that the government is considering back-tracking on its free tuition policy. The writings on the wall are emphatic evident by the struggles the government is enduring to salvage the struggling economy amid increasing political tension manifested in a plan to hold a massive protest next month.

THE QUERY FROM THE STUDENT Unification Party – a University of Liberia based political group – is another complication that needs to be urgently extinguished. We are afraid that anything less may spark disorder at the state-run university. There is already brewing tension on the campuses of the university as many students have been heard chanting anti-government slogans with some rejecting any attempt to reverse the policy.

WE ARE ALSO VERY CONCERNED that any possible amendment to the existing free tuition policy should be meticulously reviewed void of the same populist missteps that have now appeared to be hard to swallow.  

ON THURSDAY, MAY 16 THE SENATE ignited a new debate that evinces the possibility of revising President Weah’s decision. We think it is a renewed argument that deserves a podium, but we also suggest that deliberating such issue should absent political maneuvering.

WE ALSO THINK that the Senate’s take on the situation is long overdue. This should have been done weeks after the policy was pronounced. Why does the Senate always showing a characteristic akin to a titular body?  Do they still have their three cardinal responsibilities?

SENATOR VARNEY SHERMAN wants the Senate Education Committee to formulate a policy that would accommodate the free tuition to ensure that students benefiting give back to the country. Another Senator, Gble-Gbo Brown requests that the body’s Committee on Education extends its hearing that would include other universities, while suggesting, “We need to know the impact, we need to know how many universities have been impacted by the President’s proclamation.”

WHILE SENATORS SHERMAN AND BROWN opt for a critical review, Gbarpolu County Senator Daniel Naatehn says the free tuition “is good for our constituencies, but what we need to do now is get to the ministry of finance to have government respond to the pronouncement.”

WITH THE FREE Tuition policy now on the floor at the Senate for debate, we surmise that the reality is now settling in: that the free tuition is failing massively; and that the government cannot foot the bill while it struggles to deal with a plethora of economic challenges.

ALREADY, COMMUNITY COLLEGES, like the University of Liberia, are running out of instructional materials and are not receiving regular disbursements from the Ministry of Finance. The situation appears to be worsening the already “messy education” system.

The FACT, we must state herein, is that all public colleges and universities are extremely underfunded, a situation, we think must be addressed instead of upholding this ‘free tuition’ policy only because of political reasons.

TAKE THE UNIVERSITY of Liberia for example, it is allotted US$16,299,877 per fiscal year amid the enormous challenges it has to put up with year-on-year.

MR. PRESIDENT, as you stated in May this year Liberian knows the colossal gap between the “well-educated” and the “uneducated” and that to “invest in our human capital in order to achieve economic growth” is paramount to sustaining the future of this Republic.

HOWEVER, WE KNOW THAT there are realities that must be candidly outlined when adopting remedies to our long-standing problem and that the already substandard quality of education at state-run universities/colleges compare to their sub-regional counterparts, might just deteriorate if some of the current pressing issues are ignored while the failing free tuition policy adds insults to injury.  

LIKE THE LIBERIAN ADAGE goes: small shame is better than big shame; therefore, it is only expedient that a more feasible policy is reintroduced to remedy the damage that we think this policy has caused. Fixing the problem in a manner and form that will avert unrest within the student populace is also a matter of must.

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