Repositioning tertiary education beyond TETFund intervention

Suleiman Elias Bogoro

On paper, the Federal Government is committed to promoting education, research and development as illustrated in the creation of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), charged with managing, monitoring and disbursing the education tax to public tertiary institutions in Nigeria. However, Head, Education Desk, Iyabo Lawal writes that more is needed to reposition tertiary education in the country.
On paper, the Nigerian government is committed to promoting education, research and development as illustrated in a draft of education reform plan tagged, ‘Education for change: A ministerial strategic plan (2015-2019)’ to stakeholders and development partners. The document captures the challenges and issues facing the nation’s education system, focusing on curriculum and policy matters education data planning, library services and information and communication technology, among other areas.

In fact, the incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari, had once said, “Today, it is those who acquire the most qualitative education, equipped with requisite skills and training, and empowered with the know-how that are leading the rest. We cannot afford to continue to lag behind. Education is our launch-pad to a more successful, more productive and more prosperous future.”

In spite of this acknowledgement and efforts being made to reverse the downward spiral of the sector, the quality of tertiary education in Nigeria has continued to head south. On many occasions the issue of adequate funding is the albatross. Last year, during an education retreat the presidency held at the old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa in Abuja, the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu called on the federal government to pay attention to education same way it does to insecurity and the economy.

The federal government’s 2018 Appropriation Bill allocated much lower than the 26 per cent of national budget recommended by the United Nations to the education sector. The UN recommended the budgetary benchmark to enable nations adequately cater for rising education demands. But in the proposal presented to the National Assembly only 7.04 percent of the N8.6tn 2018 budget was allocated to the sector. Against this backdrop, Adamu had pointed out that the education sector is under-funded compared to other sub-Saharan African countries’ budgets.

To achieve the desired change in tertiary and other levels of education in the country, the minister said, “There is the need for improved funding and a measure of political will in national governance. Such is the weight of the problems that beset our education and the deleterious effect it has had on our national development efforts that I believe that this retreat should end with a declaration of a state of emergency in education so that we can face the challenges frontally and squarely.”

Since 1999, the annual budgetary allocation to education in Nigeria has been between four and 10 per cent.The Chairman of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), University of Lagos chapter, Dr. Laja Odukoya, and the Deputy Director, Distance Learning Centre, University of Ibadan, Prof. Oyesoji Aremu, had about two years ago complained about the 2017 budget allocation for education.

The 2018 budgetary allocation for the sector will further stretch their patience. In the 2017 budget, the government allocated the sum of N398bn to the Ministry of Education.Reflecting on that financial figure, Odukoya thought it represented the disdain the federal government has for education and foretells future crisis in the sector.

“Clearly this government has a pathological hatred for knowledge and education. What other evidence do we need to confirm that the government is not willing, ready or capable of resolving the crisis in the education sector? A government in deficit to the tune of N800bn to universities for NEED assessment revitalisation funds and over N60bn as Earned Academic Allowances to lecturers, budgeting N398bn for the whole education sector should not be taken seriously. Am afraid, there is crisis ahead,” Odukoya had claimed.

Apart from the budget allocations, the government in 2011 established the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) as an intervention agency under the TETFund ACT – Tertiary Education Trust Fund Act, 2011 to manage, disburse and monitor the education tax to public tertiary institutions in Nigeria.

According to Section 7 of the TETFund act 2011, the mandate of the fund is to administer and disburse the amount to federal and state tertiary educational institutions, specifically for the provision and maintenance of the following essential physical infrastructure for teaching and learning, instructional material and equipment.

Other objectives include research and publication, academic staff training and development and any other need, which, in the opinion of the Board of Trustees, is critical and essential for the improvement of quality and maintenance of standards in the higher educational institutions.

The noble objective notwithstanding, some tertiary institutions say the process of accessing the fund is difficult.In 2015, 33 research topics from at least 20 universities in Nigeria were able to access TETFund. The next year, the Federal Government even voted more money for research and for the general development of higher institutions in the country.

“A deeper look into individual intervention lines shows that the Fund is determined to accelerate the training and support for scholars in Nigeria’s tertiary education institutions to pursue and acquire doctorate degrees; accelerate the process of bridging the teaching and learning infrastructure gap in all beneficiary institutions; and continue to support cutting edge research and innovation,” said Dr. Abdullahi Baffa, erstwhile Executive Secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund at the end of the Meeting of TETFund Management with Heads of Beneficiary Institutions on February 20, in Abuja.

As a result of this, N1bn was allocated to the National Research Fund for 2016. The grant is awarded based on the recommendation of the National Research Fund Screening & Monitoring Committee (NRFS&MC), made up 65 professionals from academia and industry.

“Research in Nigeria’s institutions of higher learning has yet to make a real impact on the technological advancement of the country and the socio-economic well-being of its citizenry,” A. K. Yusuf of the Department of Basic and Applied Sciences, Hassan Usman Katsina Polytechnic, Katsina State, said in his published research on appraisal of research in Nigeria’s university sector.

Yawning gaps still exist in functional use of the product of successful research from Nigerian universities. This is different from what obtains in other countries of the world. In the United States for example, the state of California has one of the largest economies in the world. It generates much of its revenue from absorbing and domesticating much of the intellectual output from its premier university, Stanford University, into commercial products.

Much of the economy revolves around a symbiotic relationship between town and gown. Research from the university feeds the Silicon Valley, which serves as the factory that conceptualises and markets these ideas. It has seen the rise of multinational companies like Apple, Cisco, HP, Facebook, and Oracle among others with budgets larger than many African countries. Some of the companies started even from college dorms.Though it has been recommended that five percent of gross national product be set aside for research, the federal university system spends only 1.3 percent of its budget on research.

The shortfall in research funding was attributed to the yearly increase in enrolment in universities, which usually overwhelms government’s capacity to maintain proportional support for research and other services. So, despite substantial annual increases in government’s recurrent grant to federal universities, tertiary institutions are still short of financial resources to maintain educational quality.

If tertiary education is expensive, the lack of it can be disastrous, some stakeholders have said, urging higher institutions to look inward and devise means of not depending so much on government’s bailouts and handouts.

In a presentation to the international community on ‘Public-private partnership and sustainable higher education funding: the Nigerian experience’, Prof. Bashiru Ademola Raji, few years ago asked the question: how do Nigerian universities cope with these two key issues? The answers are not far-fetched.

According to the World Bank, higher institutions in sub-Saharan African countries like Nigeria face the formidable policy challenge of balancing the need to raise educational quality with increasing social demand for access. “The task of funding these institutions will become increasingly difficult in the years ahead, as the youth population continues to grow, each country will have to devise a financing approach to higher education development that enables it to meet the challenge.”

That “financing approach” stakeholders in the education sector have come to agree is the collaboration between the gown (public) and the town (private partners).

According to Prof. Raji, common models of the public-private partnership adopted in some Nigerian universities include design-build or turnkey project; management contract; lease and operate contract; design-build-finance-operate; build-operate-transfer; buy-build-operate; build-own-operate; build-own-operate and transfer; donor-financed/funded-transfer.

A report by Caitlin Dolkart, a summer Investment Associate at D. Capital and Barbara Kong, a Senior Investment Principal at D. Capital and other industry experts noted that education plays a vital role in promoting economic growth and social justice, and is associated with a wide range of positive outcomes, including improved health to better livelihoods.

It claimed that each additional year of schooling results in a 10 per cent average increase in an individual’s earnings, raises average annual GDP growth by 0.37 per cent and ultimately contributes to a more inclusive, productive and engaged society. However, countries like Nigeria continues to trail significantly behind the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) country levels and enormous gaps remain.

It added: “Governments in sub-Saharan Africa cannot meet the extensive and increasing educational needs of their citizens given significant gaps in funding. SSA represents only 4 per cent ($110.7 billion) of the global education investment (US $2.5 trillion), significantly below its 13.5 per cent share of the global population or its 22 per cent share of the global population of children under the age of 15. The education financing gap in sub-Saharan Africa stands at a staggering $0.8 trillion to 1 trillion dollar at the primary level and $255 billion at the secondary and post-secondary levels.”

Against this backdrop, how will Nigeria continue to increase access to quality education despite the shortfall in resources and the rising population? In providing some answers the report noted the future role of private capital in education. Private capital, it explained, has the potential to improve the education system in a number of ways by enhancing and supplementing existing public sector investments. While the key challenges to investing in education must be addressed, these can be done alongside deploying capital in innovative ways to mitigate those challenges.

“Private capital needs to act to bridge the divide between public and private sector roles. The philosophical debate regarding the role of the private sector in the education system will not be solved easily. Rather, a more productive discussion needs to be had at a country level and across sub-Saharan Africa regarding where and how the private sector is best placed to invest; means for the public and private sectors to partner; and, finally, ways that the public sector can invest in and support the private sector,” it argued.

Continuing, it said: “Today, there is a large divide between private investors funding private delivery models and public investors (i.e. the government) funding public delivery models. It is imperative that the dialogue shifts from talking about two independent sectors to one overall system with different funding streams.”

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