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There are mixed reactions among students at the state – run University of Liberia (UL) against President George Manneh Weah’s pronounced free tuition for all UL students and all public universities here.

A day after President Weah’s free tuition declaration, a lot of UL students interviewed by the NewDawn on Thursday, 25 October said the presidential decision is welcoming, but some of them remain skeptical of its sustainability and implementation while others say they see possibility of its implementation.

President Weah on Wednesday, 24 October declared free tuition for all students at UL and all other public universities in Liberia.“I therefore declare free tuition for all university students at the University of Liberia as well as all other public universities in Liberia,” he said at UL’s Capitol Hill Campus amid interruptions from cheering students celebrating the decision.

But some of the students’ argument is that UL Administration has over the years repeatedly requested government, including former President Ellen Johnson – Sirleaf’s regime, for some US$30 million budget, but only US$16 million would come in at times.
UL students argue that the institution’s request of US$30 million from government was in addition to fees and tuition already being paid by students.

They believe that the President’s good intention to scrap out tuition payment would mean government must now be prepared to shoulder a greater financial responsibility to get the University and all public universities running effectively.Some of the public higher institutions of learning that government subsidizes include the Williams V.S. Tubman University in Harper, Maryland County; Grand Bassa Community College; Grand Gedeh County Community College; Nimba County Community College; Sinoe Community College; and Trinity Bible Community College, Margibi County.

Besides these institutions, UL alone has the A.M. Dogliotti College of Medicines which is the University’s medical arm, and the David A. Straz – Sinje Technical and Vocational College, among others, which require multi million dollars for their effective operations.

Student Mohammed Sheriff from the Business College at UL claims that President Weah’s tuition free declaration will not work due to claims that previous pronouncements on the reduction of rice price and other commodities did not take effect.“We are not against it, if it works, it’s a good thing …, but we are thinking about sustainability. To run this place I mean, on a free tuition basis, it means … government must on an annual basis … appropriate I mean, resources in the tune of over hundred million,” student Sheriff argues.

He claims that excluding external assistance to the University of Liberia, government previously allotted around US$16m and it was even deemed insufficient for the smooth running of the institution.Besides what government gives to the University, he says the University also generates millions of dollars from students too.

Student Sheriff warns that there might be chaos if, for any reason government tries in the near future to shift the responsibility back on students.
According to him, it would make the president appear like he did not do his calculation before making the pronouncement.He reminds the president that country is about to face its biggest budget shortfall, pondering as to where the money will come from to fund all the public universities as the president announces.

Student Sheriff adds if anything happens and this pronouncement doesn’t work, it might push the president too high that it might turn against him.Also adding his voice, student Marcus M. Goodridge believes that the president’s pronouncement is just part of his “numerous pronouncements that he has been making” over the past times.

He claims that the president is allegedly making campaign statements that he never had the opportunity to make during the elections.He alleges that the president is making this declaration as a way of attempting to sway the current discussion from an alleged missing $16 billion Liberian Dollars to free tuition for public universities.

“I listened to 50/50 [Sky FM talk show], I listened to Prime FM, I listened to Power FM, every station was carrying this free school [issue], so now the debate has taken another trend now from 16 billion issue now to free school,” student Goodridge argues.Also speaking with this paper, student J. Benedict S. Paye, Jr., from the Agriculture College at UL expresses appreciation to President Weah on the pronouncement, saying it has been one of the major challenges at UL.

But he says he hopes that the president and his government have put their house in order, especially when he talked about all public universities, and not just UL alone.“So that means it has been widened up in terms of budgetary allocation. So for some of us who are very critical students on the campuses of the University of Liberia, we are now thinking beyond the president’s pronouncement,” he says.

But speaking in support of the president’s declaration, Student Unification Party (SUP) Chairman Emeritus Albert T. Ninneh says the priority of students at UL is free tertiary education, and they hold in high esteem, the statement made by President Weah.In his understanding of President Weah’s statement, Albert says if he wants to add other skills to his education, he can now go to the Monrovia Vocational Technical College (MVTC) free of charge in line with the presidential declaration.

He says it will be an issue if what the president says is not upheld or implemented, meaning that Liberians would have seen that he had failed them.Another student who sees this declaration possible is Student Romeo Famuleh, who says the president’s statement at this time of economic constraints is welcoming.

Student Famuleh says he prays that it is implemented because he sees the possibility of government achieving the free tuition policy.He additionally requests government to improve UL’s facilities.Student Famuleh is buttressed by student Mohammed Jalloh who says the free tuition pronouncement is in the good direction, taking into consideration the economic environment that has many students wondering as to how to begin the semester.

“I think before the president came up with this pronouncement, I believe he had inner consultation, he made lot of, I mean, interactions with his officials and I foresee a possible outcome,” he says.But he wants the facilities at UL to be improved, including laboratories and libraries.Student Jalloh assumes that the president is aware that “it is not just possible” to make such a pronouncement particularly for students.According to Jalloh, “when you promise students, you should also be prepared for the response of the students if it is effectuated.”

-following Weah’s free tuition offer
By Winston W. Parley

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