Higher education ministers from West Africa's Francophone countries are pressing for a dramatic increase in tuition and other fees at universities across the region to offset dwindling state funding and falling international aid.
Ministers sought to avoid student protests by keeping their decision secret after meeting last month in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso.
They sent details, in confidence, of their recommendation for an overall increase of about 30 per cent to the presidents of the seven countries of the West African Economic and Monetary Union.
But the decision was leaked and students protested in the member state of Benin. Isaya Gabreal, a Benin University student, said most students were so poor they could not afford any fees rise. "The Government should rescind its decision in the interest of peace on the campus."
Ministers said dwindling resources and reductions in financial aid from donor countries had made a big increase in students' tuition, accommodation and commissary fees imperative.