By Dayo Adesulu
STAKEHOLDERS in the education sector have sounded a note of warning on the danger of inadequate funding of the sector and what it portends for the future of the children. They stress that if urgent action is not taken by the federal and state governments to stop the downward trend, a time will come when children from poor families would not have access to education.
They urged government to invest massively in education by funding and making it affordable to its citizenry. They, however, added that for our universities to compete favourably with other institutions globally, apart from funding, the attention of government must also focus on what happens in the sector and how schools are run by private individuals.
Just as it has become glaring that the Federal Government cannot adequately fund education, the situation becomes more pathetic as universities can hardly fund themselves anymore through internally-generated revenues since the introduction of Treasury Single Accounts (TSA).
To make matters worse is the fact that lecturers in federal universities are being paid half salaries without their consent, a development that will most likely prevent the affected lecturers from giving their best to students.
A senior staff in one of the federal universities who craved anonymity said: “Before now, the universities have been poorly funded by the Federal Government. Since the advent of the TSA, we can only pay in money to the government account but we cannot withdraw. No money is being released to the institutions. In most federal universities, only fraction of salaries are now being paid, with some universities getting as low as 40 per cent. We stay in hot offices because there is no money to buy fuel.”
Moreover, you will recall that in February, the President Muhammadu Buhari administration directed that Tertiary Education Trust Fund’s special intervention funds given to tertiary institutions across the country be excluded in the 2017 budget due to past abuses.
The Executive Secretary of TETFund, Dr Abdullahi Bichi Baffa did say in February that special allocations for projects that did not commence prior to August 2016 from the date of his appointment as TETFund boss will be cancelled. Heaping the blames on corruption, he disclosed that over N200bn was recklessly disbursed while the normal intervention that was to be given to all institutions got N50 billion.
He said the TETfund was able to recover N74 billion from the N200 billion disbursed as special intervention fund. While stakeholders applauded the moves to curb corruption and recover looted fund, they argued that it was not enough to exclude funding of tertiary institutions in the 2017 budget because of few who are possibly corrupt in the system.
Meanwhile, the spokesperson for TETfund, Mr. Erasmus Alaneme while speaking with Vanguard explained the difference between the special intervention fund and the intervention fund. According to him, while the Executive Secretary of TETfund, Dr. Abdullahi Bichi Baffa suspended the special intervention fund, the normal fund for tertiary institutions remains intact.
He said: ”Special Intervention Fund is the intervention done at the discretion of board of trustees and not our normal work. For example, the Board can decide that UNILAG needs this or that intervention. That is what we want to put on hold and be able to network the normal intervention. The normal interventions are still on. Special intervention is such that when we get a demand that a school needs a building, TETfund comes to their aid.
”If you recall, in June, the Executive Secretary said they have suspended all special projects because due process was not followed. When we have a new board, we will then know what to do about special intervention fund. Right now, it is the normal intervention fund, which is our annual allocation that is given to tertiary institutions and each university, both federal and state gets over one billion naira as normal intervention for a year. Also, about N44bn is given for academic staff training.”
In the breakdown of the N44billion, he said the academic staff training and development is allocated N300m for universities, polytechnics colleges of education got N200m as against N100m, N70m and N60m respectively, in 2015.
In his reaction, the Director, Distance Learning Centre, University of Ibadan, Professor Oyesoji Aremu, listed funding as causative agent to quality of education, adding that if caution was not taken, it will make access to education practically impossible for a great number of candidates.
He said: ”Generally and especially in Nigeria, the major challenge confronting tertiary education is funding. This has not only eroded the quality, it has also made access to education practically impossible for a great population of candidates.
“With increasing number of universities in Nigeria, the problem of access has not been addressed; the reason being that tertiary education is beyond the reach of an average candidate given the indices of poverty, unemployment and under- employment.
“That expressed, it shows that governments (especially federal and state) remain the best agencies of education funding. The take, therefore, is for the government to reappraise its funding policy to make it more impactful and accessible.
“The policy of Education Tax should again be re-appraised with a view to making industries and organisations contribute adequately to funding of higher education in Nigeria. Also, higher education should attract appropriate budgetary allocation as is obtainable in other climes.”