“What was the purpose of this pronouncement? Were there any corresponding responsibilities as per what the government and people of Liberia will benefit after these students shall have benefited from the tuition waiver? Certainly there weren’t, and so it is an abuse and misuse of public resources,” averred the Grand Cape Mount County lawmaker.
He made these assertions recently in plenary, following brief summary and analysis into the report by the Senate Committee on Education on the lapses of the free tertiary education for public school announced by President George Manneh Weah in October of last year during his visit at the state-run University of Liberia or UL. Plenary is the highest decision making body of the Liberian Senate.
It could be recalled that the pronouncement by President Weah, who is also a visitor to the state-run UL, was marred by huge celebration within the main auditorium and outside of the main Capitol Hill Campus of the UL and extending even to the main street of Capitol Hill.
He noted that the latest pronouncement is not only a boost to the student community and the administration of the UL and other public higher institutions of learning, but in support of the government’s “Pro-Poor” Agenda, which is also pillared on human capacity building.
According to him, the “Pro-Poor” Agenda cannot be possible unless government invests in education, as it is regarded as the bedrock for development for all nations. Though said pronouncement might had been in good fate, the UL and several publicly-run tertiary institutions are said to be faced with serious operational problem as a result of huge financial deficit as a result of the policy.
Accordingly, Sen. Sherman said the policy must be tied down to service in return or something that would benefit the country. “This is internationally best practice where such free tuition is given to students, and so we too need to think in that direction,” he added.
Beside the Grand Cape Mount lawmaker, several other Senators also raised serious issues with the policy.
One of them is Senator Daniel Nathan of Gbarpolu County, who observed that the pronouncement was more political than policy. According to him, there was no program approved, and especially where the budget was already in process.
He said, while the losses incurred by those universities and community colleges cannot be reverted, the Senate’s Education Committee should further go back to the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) and the Ministry of Education (MoE) for a way forward.
Dr. Henrique Tokpa of Bong County recommended that the National Commission on Higher Education (NCHE) and the Association of Liberia University (ALU) be inclusive into the discussion to provide expert knowledge.
However, following minutes of Plenary discussion, the Plenary of the Liberian Senate unanimously voted to give the committee additional two weeks, in which it will meet with major stakeholders, including MFDP, MoE and others on the matter.