The Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA) has criticized President George Weah’s recent decision making public universities and colleges tuition-free for all undergraduate students.
ALJA says while it welcomes President George Weah’s manifest interest in the education of the country’s youths, it is urging the administration to quickly identify the source of funding for the recently announced tuition-free policy for undergraduate students across public universities and colleges.
The Association said in a press release issued on Monday, November 5, that in these dire economic times, the President has a responsibility to clearly articulate the financial implications and long-term sustainability of a policy that affects thousands of undergraduate students in the country.
In the absence of this, ALJA said the President’s pronouncement should be considered a political gimmick.
But after President Weah’s declaration, acting Minister of Education, Latim Da-Thong, clarified that President Weah’s pronouncement of tuition-free for undergraduate students at public tertiary institutions does not cover fees for registration, ID card, handbooks, among other expenses.
The ALJA said the pronouncement appeared to be spontaneous and meant to garner political support for the President and the CDC led government among the disadvantaged student populace of Liberia.
ALJA said the October 24, 2018 pronouncement was an off-the-cuff action because it is not sustainable. ALJA said it opposes the pronouncement because the President and his political advisors failed to factor in the costs associated with undergraduate education in today’s Liberia.
The Association noted that Mr. Weah’s tuition-free announcement sounds plausible, but neither he nor the government has the monetary and logistical support for the realization of the policy.
ALJA wondered how the President and the CDC administration will fund such an undertaking after he, on January 22, 2018, while delivering his first legislative agenda to members of the 54th Legislature, declared publicly that the Liberian economy and, by extension, the government, are broken.
Then ALJA recalled that the President declared, “this is plain to see, for we are all affected by it: our economy is broken, our government is broke, our currency is in free-fall, inflation is rising and unemployment is at an unprecedented high, and our foreign reserve is at an all-time low.”
In the midst of the reported financial crisis, ALJA said it is preposterous for President Weah and the government to initiate an undergraduate tuition-free policy. Also, the Association further noted it is paradoxical for the President and the CDC administration to herald a tuition-free policy for undergraduate students at public universities while underfunding public education in the country.
ALJA maintained that of the more than US$570 million approved in the national budget for the 2018/2019 fiscal year, the Liberian government allocated a little over US$85 million dollars for public education, adding that more than US$51 million of the money apportioned covers salaries while nearly US$11 million go towards goods and services.
The Association noted that as a result of the Liberian government’s lukewarm support to public education, most public institutions of learning in Liberia, including the University of Liberia and Tubman University, are in financial woes.
ALJA said in the wake of the prevailing situation, most public schools, colleges, and universities remain understaffed, ill-equipped and inefficient in meeting the educational needs of students and the country as a whole. The Association said to keep afloat, most public universities and colleges, including the University of Liberia, rely heavily on the minimum tuition and fees they generate from students for operational costs.
Meanwhile, ALJA says while it is not opposed in principle to the idea of ameliorating some of the costs associated with undergraduate education in the country, the Liberian government has consistently demonstrated an inability to be financially prudent, which makes the President’s policy difficult, if not impossible to achieve.
The Association said unless President Weah’s ill-advised announcement is given a sober reflection, it has the propensity of further eroding learning at public universities in Liberia.
It emphasized that the funding of public education in Liberia goes beyond political ploys aimed at gaining popularity at the expense of the poor. “It requires sustained efforts, planning, resources, and political will,” ALJA noted.