By Leroy M. Sonpon III
Over 400 students of the University of Liberia (UL) yesterday forcibly entered the premises of the Capitol Building to protest against what they see as the “dormancy of the Legislature to probe and take action” against a tuition increase from approximately US$2 to US$4.
The students were also protesting against the increment of UL’s allotment, despite their April 19 proposal not to increase the allotment unless the tuition hike was cancelled.
The students entered the rotunda of the Legislature, singing: “Mamie water will carry them,” for about 10 minutes as they paraded around the building.
One of the students, who claimed to be the spokesperson, but begged not to be named, said their protest will continue in order to compel Legislators to probe into the UL tuition dispute, adding that there should be no increase of the UL allotment in the 2016/2017 National Budget, because the money would be used “inappropriately.”
“There is no need to increase the UL’s allotment if the tuition is increased; but the allotment can be increased if their tuition remains at L$175, which is approximately US$2,” the ‘spokesperson’ said.
A female student, who also begged anonymity, said as a result of the tuition hike, over 3,500 students are out of school “because of the ‘I don’t care’ attitude of the Legislature.”
The protest was climaxed with throwing of stones when the students were dispersed by officers of the Liberia National Police (LNP).
It may be recalled that on April 19, hundreds of UL students petitioned the Legislature to prevail on the UL administration not to increase their tuition.
The UL administration recently announced through its Board of Trustees the increment of credit hour fees for undergraduate programs from L$175 to US$4; and from US$55 to US$75 for the graduate program.
The students say the increments are too high and are accusing the UL administration of attempting to disallow underprivileged students their basic constitutional right to an education.
The petition, presented by the president of the UL Student Union (ULSU), Mr. Daniel Woart, said: “ULSU sees this astronomical increment in tuition highly inconceivable to accept given the current devastating state of the national economy over the past four fiscal periods. This imposition, in our opinion, is a concoction aimed at depriving thousands of underprivileged students the chance to continue their academic sojourn at the University of Liberia.”
The aggrieved students called on the National Legislature to consider their constitutional responsibilities and other obligations related to public education stated in Article 6 of the Liberian Constitution, Article 26 of the Declaration of Human Rights and Article 1, Sections A, B, C and D of the Charter of the University of Liberia. They also berated the legislators for increasing the budget of the university to US$29m during the fiscal budgetary allotment period.
The UL administration, on announcing the increments, cited the major financial constraint it faces as a factor for the poor quality of services and in some cases, the unavailability of some services at the university.
If the tuition increments take effect, a sum of US$1.3 million will be raised and this will take the university’s budget up to US$16.3 million, but still leave a deficit of US$12.7m to reach US$29 million needed to run the country’s premier government run institution of higher learning.
Presently, the university runs on a US$15.1 million budget which, if raised to at least US$29 million, will help to alleviate the many shortcomings listed by the students in their petition, UL officials said.
The students, in their three page petition read by their interim leadership (ULSIL), cited the lack of internet service, poor infrastructure, inadequately equipped laboratories and unaffordable transportation to and from the campuses, among the deficiencies at the university, which do not warrant the tuition hike.
Another complaint put forward by the students is the lack of internship opportunities for graduating students.
Receiving the petition, Speaker Alex Tyler assured the students that he would present the petition to plenary for their timely consideration.
The student delegation included its Vice President, K. Moses James, Secretary, Jerome D. Dangbuah and Financial Secretary, Dickson G. Goffa.