Liberia: Senate Debates Daft Bill to Legitimize Tuition Free Policy At Public Universities

Monrovia — The policy, established through an executive order declaring tuition-free education at all public universities and colleges in Liberia, could stand alone as a legacy initiative of President George Weah’s Coalition for Democratic Change government only if it is legitimized.

The House of Representatives has passed the bill and sent it to the Senate for concurrence. In the Senate, the Education Committee and the Committee on Ways, Means, Finance, and Development Planning were tasked to review the bill and advise the plenary of the Senate.

For more than three years, it has been at the Legislature with no further actions taken. As a result of no action from the committees, the Senate on Thursday, November 30, 2023, resolved into a committee of the whole to discuss the way forward.

However, there are two groups with different opinions about passing the bill. One group believes there is no rush, while the other believes it is overdue, and there is a need for actions to be taken on the bill.

The group against the passage believes the bill needs more work because, as it is, there has been no fiscal analysis done to determine the cost of such an initiative. They also believe concurring with the House of Representatives on this bill is an attempt to transfer liability to the incoming Joseph Nyumah Boakia.

They have asked the committee chaired by Senator Prince Moye of Bong County and Morris Saytumah of Bomi, who chairs the Senate Ways, Means, and Finance Committee, to conduct a more in-depth analysis and provide a fiscal impact analysis. The bill calls for the legitimization of what has been described by the CDC government as a President Weah initiative, even though it has been funded through the national budget.

The other group simply wants it passed because it has been too long in the corridors of the Legislature. In their argument, for more than three years, the CDC government has paid tuition for students in public universities and colleges and made WASSCE for senior high schools free, so there should be no excuse.

In 2021, the Plenary of the House of Representatives passed and forwarded to the Liberian Senate for concurrence the bill seeking to create a special educational scheme. The Act seeking to legislate “A special Education Fund To support and sustain the tuition-free scheme for the University of Liberia and all public Universities and colleges programs and the free WASSCE fees for ninth and twelfth graders in Liberia” was submitted to the House of Representatives by Montserrado County District #5 Representative, Thomas Fallah.

The bill is expected to create opportunities that would promote the empowerment and development of the young people of Liberia through easy access to higher education.

The committees further believe that the proposed bill will serve as an impetus for students to seek a college education without worrying about the high cost of college education.

President George Manneh Weah, on Wednesday, October 24, declared tuition-free education at the undergraduate level for all public universities across the country.

The President’s pronouncement comes amid tension between the University of Liberia’s students and the administration over the increment in credit hour fees from L$400 to L$600 per credit hour. President Weah’s declaration is a relief for many struggling students at the state-run university. But some political pundits have termed the pronouncement as more of a political posturing and not meeting the current economic reality the nation faces.

For the last several years, during every semester, tuition payment and registration have been marred by protests by aggrieved students, leading to the dropping out of college for some students. The news of the increment by the administration prompted students of UL, mainly from the Fendall Student Association (FENSA), to stage a protest before the Offices of the President.

The protesting students, led by Heylove Mark, told the President through his representatives that the increment, like in previous semesters, will prevent many students from entering school this semester. After listening to the students’ concerns, the President scheduled a meeting with the UL family.