Tuition-free education program lacks realistic policy

From all calculations, it seems like President George MannehWeah’s much publicized tuition-freed education program for undergraduate students at the University of Liberia and in all public universities, community colleges and tertiary institutions across the country took off without any clear policy to make it workable. Ever since the President made the pronouncement in October 2018 in the auditorium of the Capitol Hill campus of the University Liberia, the government is yet to fulfill its promise, leaving heads of public universities here strangulated financially.

For nearly two semesters at the University of Liberia after this pronouncement, the government hasn’t paid a dime against tuition for thousands of undergraduate students enrolled particularly at the UL and in other public institutions across the country. The University of Liberia is currently in a serious deficit, unable to fund its operations.

Several attempts by the National Legislature to have authorities from both the Ministries of Finance and Education to provide detail on funding process of the scheme have proved futile with nothing said and done.

In fact, senators at the Capitol expressed their frustrations last week over what they described “hasty” manner in which the President made the pronouncement without a blue print for implementation. This paper also gathers the UL Administration was not even consulted, as its President, Dr. Ophelia Weeks, was reportedly out of the country when President Weah, who is also Visitor to the University, announced the program.

Last week, the Senate Committee on Education and Public Administration chaired by RiverCess County Senator Dallas Gueh reported to plenary, noting there was no consultation made on the introduction of such policy statement with serious public concern about its source of funding.

Senators Varney Sherman of Grand Cape Mount County, Milton Teahjay of Sinoe County, and Daniel Naatehn of Gbarpolu County, respectively argued that criteria should be set up to acquaint beneficiaries of the program on the need to contribute their quotas upon graduation from the University.

In earlier debate, some senators note that President Weah might have been wrongly advised on the introduction of the tuition-freed program without taking into consideration source of revenue to fund the exercise.

Meanwhile, plenary has mandated the Senate’s Committee on Education and Public Administration to schedule a meeting with the Minister of Finance and Development Planning Samuel Tweah to give detail on the scheme, including sources of funding.

Indeed, the Finance boss should provide clarity on the ambitious plan that is going to cost government millions of dollars in such a time when the economy is at rock bottom with walloping inflation, sky-rocketing prices and uncontrollable depreciation of the Liberian Dollar.

Unless a realistically workable plan is drawn out for the scheme and funding identified, we think the government should muster enough courage to modify the program or suspend it for now until the economy is restored, for as it is, the University of Liberia, including other public universities and colleges are in the ‘red’.

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