Private tertiary institutions should not be left at a disadvantage simply due to the nature of their ebtablishment by private individuals, many of who appear as being essentially public-spirited and driven by the altruism to see education in Nigeria reach global standards of excellence. It would be more befitting if the Fund’s criteria for the award of grants could include all these institutions…

Recently, the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) approved a huge N292.66 billion intervention fund to select universities, polytechnics and colleges of educations across Nigeria.

According to the disbursement plan, the TETFund is to give N906 million to one university each in the North-East, South-East, North-Central, South-South, North-East and the South-West zones of the country. While N628 million will also go to one polytechnic and college of education in these geopolitical zones.

Among the beneficiaries of these funds are the University of Lagos; Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; Imo State Polytechnic, amongst others, which are all public institutions. It has become a thing of intrigue and interest to wonder why TETFund only focuses its interventions on federal and state educational institutions, despite its name denoting it as a Tertiary Education Trust Fund, which ought not to entertain any discrimination in its application.

Yet conversely, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Fund, Alhaji Kasshim Ibrahim-Imam had once addressed a curiosity around its purpose during the TETFund/FIRS 2020 Joint Interactive Forum, stating that, “Our mandate is to get our public universities to surpass the level of the private institutions. So, the answer to that is capital No. We cannot fund the private institutions.”

Concurrently, alongside the public ones, Nigeria has more private tertiary institutions being set up in the country on a yearly basis and there are huge numbers of students attending these private establishments who could also benefit from the outcomes of many of the TETFund interventions.

It should be recalled that the TETFund was originally set up as an Education Trust Fund in the 1990s to patch up the funding gap in higher institutions. As at then, private universities were not a thing, and the country, being under military rule, was in a constant head-to-head with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), which was always demanding for better infrastructure and facilities for universities, at a time when the funding for tertiary education was continuously dwindling.

…there are presently 79 universities, 22 polytechnics and 20 colleges of education that are privately owned in Nigeria about 10 years after the TETFund establishment Act came into being in June 2011. However, as alluded to earlier, the first criterion for being a beneficiary of TETFund is for the prospective grantee to be a public tertiary educational institution.

Apart from that, running through successive governments in the country has the been the starvation of funds to public universities, in a manner that has resulted in the declining of the excellence of these institutions or even their near extinction.

Hence, the establishment of the Fund, which collects 2 per cent of the tax remits of all registered private companies in Nigeria, towards the direct financing of tertiary institutions in the country. This has been to help in the provision of essential physical infrastructure for teaching and learning, academic staff training, research, book development and publication, which have all resulted in the production of a highly trained public by the recipient institutions, and the advancement of research that has been utilised in addressing emerging challenges in the country.

Still, there are presently 79 universities, 22 polytechnics and 20 colleges of education that are privately owned in Nigeria about 10 years after the TETFund establishment Act came into being in June 2011. However, as alluded to earlier, the first criterion for being a beneficiary of TETFund is for the prospective grantee to be a public tertiary educational institution.

Nevertheless, private institutions certainly have safer learning environments, innovative syllabuses that are taught in record time without disruption to the academic terms by strikes, highly decent welfare packages for staff and students in terms of on-campus accommodation and utilities, and generally more organised systems. Even then, these dos not automatically imply that universities, polytechnics and colleges of education that are private are overflowing with money, or that they are essentially owned and controlled by the affluent.

While it is a fact that the total number of students who attend private establishments is not up to 10 per cent of the entire country’s student body, which may seem quite a marginal number in the grand scheme of things, this does not mean that such populations do not make major impacts in Nigeria’s intellectual, knowledge and productive ecosystems.

With the qualification for access to the funds being narrowed down to only lecturers in Nigerian public tertiary institutions, this appears highly discriminatory of lecturers in private establishments, and can lead to the lack of optimal realisation of the country’s potentials in innovative research and development…

First of all, the notion that private universities are in competition with public universities, or vice versa, should be done away with. Both sides of the knowledge production coin have bred excellent individuals who have gone to become great achievers, and the two sectors in tertiary education can actually be said to complement each other. A clear example of how they balance each other is evident in the opportunities given to young people who possess much zeal for tertiary education but are unable to gain admission into the public universities due to one reason or the other. The private universities emerge to support those who would otherwise have been left out of access to tertiary education.

Furthermore, one of the Fund’s primary areas of intervention is in the promotion of research and development. The Executive Secretary of TETFund, Professor Suleiman Bogoro, in an interview with Economic Confidential magazine emphasised the potential of the organisation he leads, saying, “At TetFund, we are happy to elevate research and development in identifying the right priorities going forward. The greatest of nations, the greatest of econom(ies), and the greatest of technology are all hinged on quality education, and it is research that defines quality education.”

With the qualification for access to the funds being narrowed down to only lecturers in Nigerian public tertiary institutions, this appears highly discriminatory of lecturers in private establishments, and can lead to the lack of optimal realisation of the country’s potentials in innovative research and development, as a virile segment of the knowledge production community is being restrained from access to an essential resource base of national importance.

Another significant frame to consider is in looking at TETFund’s overall vision which states, “To be a world-class interventionist agency in Nigeria’s tertiary eductation.” My understanding of educational intervention is not necessarily in terms of infrastructure or what a Fund can provide in a particular place or setting. It can more so be on the level of what it can give to build up individuals, for example through the offering of scholarships to well-performing students to their choice universities or the likes, whether public or private.

Private tertiary institutions should not be left at a disadvantage simply due to the nature of their ebtablishment by private individuals, many of who appear as being essentially public-spirited and driven by the altruism to see education in Nigeria reach global standards of excellence. It would be more befitting if the Fund’s criteria for the award of grants could include all these institutions, and perhaps limit the applicability to tertiary institutions established and run by Nigerians.

Zubaida Baba Ibrahim writes from Gwarinpa, Abuja. Email: Zubaida71@live.com  

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