By Charles Kumolu
The Executive Secretary of Tertiary Education Trust Fund ,TETFUND, Professor Sulaiman Bogoro in this interview explains why TETFUND must be supported to addresses the fundamental challenges affecting the education sector and why private universities cant benefit from the Fund. Excerpts
I think you heard what I said earlier today at the presentation of research grants funded by TETFUND. Most of the grants approved were for the sciences. Even in conventional universities 60:40 ratio is the standard while in the universities of technology it is 70:30.
In these modern times, the economy must be driven by knowledge-based infrastructure largely dominated by science and technology. This should not be otherwise. If you look at the most advanced nations you will see that they have made more breakthroughs in science and technology than anywhere else. And that’s precisely what we’re trying to do at TETFUND through the public tertiary institutions.
How do you see the call for the extension of TETFUND to private institutions?
I have never believed that’s the right way to go. Very clearly, it would be the wrong way to proceed. The reason is simple. Government creates the enabling environment for the private institutions. Government should not be subscribing their operations. It’s a wrong way to think and do things. I can tell you it couldn’t be otherwise. Our law is very clear in terms of their funding intervention; the private sector is privately owned.
In reality that is in terms of demographic reality in Nigeria. In the education sector, the public tertiary institutions constitute a glaring majority. It constitutes the majority in terms of student population. If you take it out there you will discover that put together in terms of members the private tertiary institutions especially universities, have caught up, they’re the same numbers now with public tertiary universities.
But by population I can tell you that the public tertiary institutions constitute more than three quarters of the population. So that tells you that the majority is there. And it has to do with the funding review and government intervention is aimed at doing the best for the largest segment of the population.
Taking the demographic realities of Nigeria into consideration, we are in the right direction in funding public tertiary institutions. I don’t see it as funding the private sector in the real sense of it. Not funding the private sector but subsidizing it. We should use the word subsidizing the private sector. For example, the children of the less privileged are almost exclusively in the public tertiary institutions and this is a statement of fact. Nobody can contradict it.
In this country, the privately owned tertiary institutions charge excessively and children of those people that earn N10,000 per month are not in these institutions. So these are part of the demographic realities I’m talking about. I really don’t want to dwell on these issues. I know that these are demographic realities.(
TETFUND, under your leadership, has just established a research and development centre. Is this going to be limited to science and technology-based institutions?
No! There are research and development studies that are in the humanities for instance innovations around communication, sociological tendencies, and social challenges etc.( There are very innovative trends, very creative trends. If there is research, you establish the basics and you develop them to levels that they become popularized. They are products of R& D. so it’s not that other disciplines are excluded. (
Is there no way the Federal Government can draw a programme where public universities engage in activities that would be generating funds?
We can have a commercial farm in the university. The faculties of agriculture can also go into commercial farming. They can go into some level of commercialization to assist but that must not be the main focus, otherwise it would be like derailing from the initial purpose. Certainly, if you want to go profit-making ventures in agriculture you would lose focus once that is the main emphasis. It would amount to deviation from the main mandate of the agric department or college.
Has TETFUND played any role towards assisting the government in reviving the education sector?
Yes, I can tell you that with the emergence of TETFUND, there has been a change. TETFUND is targeted towards intervention both in terms of infrastructural development, physical infrastructure as well as what we can call academic
content. Academic content in this case involves academic staff development and training for M.Sc and PhD degrees.
As we talk, there are so many Nigerians that have benefitted, who are lecturers in universities, polytechnics and colleges of education. There are over 10,000 who have been trained abroad. I think its 13,000 now and over 3,000 have returned with these higher qualifications.
This has strengthened our system and very soon, we would reverse the trend of Nigerian parents sending their children to Ghana, Cyprus, other African countries, Europe and all that. So it’s really heart-warming that the sustained intervention of TETFUND in terms of provision of those physical infrastructures as well as academic content, libraries, journals, the research activities as it were, has contributed to restoring confidence. At some point even in Africa, about four, five years ago I think we have had only one or two Nigerian universities among the top African universities.