The president of Liberia, George Weah, announced a revolutionary change on 24 October. He declared that tuition will be free for all undergraduates in Liberian public universities. An undergraduate is a student at university who has not yet obtained their first degree.
President Weah made the announcement during a speech at the University of Liberia (UL). It was received with loud cheers and applause. Students at UL recently protested against the university’s administration for raising fees. The protest escalated to the country’s president, who promised to address the matter.
For the 2018/2019 academic year, UL was expecting 20,000 students. Unfortunately, only about 12,000 students were enrolled in the university due to the fee hike. Out of these 12,000 students, about 5,000 depend on financial aid or scholarships.
Many students miss out on a university education due to the high cost. The new policy will help a large number of students. It will be introduced in all community colleges and the country’s four public universities (University of Liberia, the Booker Washington Institute, Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law and the William V.S. Tubman University).
WHY IS ACCESS TO UNIVERSITY AND EDUCATION IMPORTANT?
In his speech, President Weah said, “I personally believe in education. Therefore, I feel that the constant drop out of students from the various schools is counterproductive.” The Liberian president also believes that there is a link between education and economic growth.
The Liberian government hopes that providing more education will build human capital. Human capital is a measure of the economic value of a worker’s skill set. It includes knowledge, creativity and positive character traits. These allow people to become better citizens and workers, as such skills allow citizens to find better jobs.
Higher-value labour can generate economic growth and create new meaning in people’s lives. Free education can also help reduce inequality between the wealthy and the less well-off. In turn, these results makes a country better and fairer.
Beyond the economic impact, education can help individuals to improve their critical thinking and social skills. These are valuable to any individual and society.
WHAT ARE EDUCATIONAL POLICIES LIKE IN OTHER AFRICAN COUNTRIES?
Many African countries have free education at all levels, such as free Senior High School in Ghana and free primary education in Sierra Leone.
In Burundi, primary school fees were abolished in 2005. Enrollment rates rose from 54% in 2004 to 74% the next year. By 2010, 94% of children were enrolled in primary school. Clearly, free education makes a big difference.
However, these policies may face challenges throughout Africa. Free education comes at a cost to governments’ budgets. Families must still pay for textbooks, school uniforms and other costs.
Even so, reducing school fees is the first step for progress. Governments must research the effects of such educational policies, and families must support youth at school. When society makes a wise decision to invest in education, the lives of youth in Africa will be greatly improved.