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Funding: As public universities collapse

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By Tony Eluemunor

Truly, the Federal and state government-owned universities are collapsing owing to inadequate funding. Thus, 2018/2019 academic year that was supposed to begin in September, has yet to start four months after as lecturers are on strike.

Truly, private universities may soon out-pace the highly regarded first-generation public ones in prestige and learning.

There is a third truth; that some of the public and private universities may die within decades as many have died in the US  and Europe—as their owners may prove unable to continue funding them. Government universities are already in dire straits, with over-congested and smelly hostels and crowded lecture rooms.

Some of the private universities’ birth pangs may prove to be their death throes —as they will continue to experience dwindling student population though they depend solely on tuition fees. Their present proprietors may keep sustaining them but their successors may not be that nobly inclined.

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Now this raises a real paradox; why should fully accredited private universities experience inadequate applications when public ones cannot offer admission to a tenth of qualified applicants? Recently, about 1.7 million candidates competed for the less than 500, 000 slots available in public universities, polytechnics and colleges of education. Most applicants struggle to get into the tuition-free federal universities.

Of course, the rich send their wards to foreign universities, with 71,000 in Ghana alone, paying US$1 billion according to the Emir of Kano, Lamido Sanusi, totaling more than the US$751 million subvention for all the federal universities. But UNESCO put the figure at 14,000.

Actually, Nigeria is third on the list of countries with the highest number of students overseas.   18,000 are in the UK, and Mr. Iain Steward, member of the British Parliament, said that UK targets 30,000 by 2020. 7,318 Nigerian students travelled to the US in 2014 and 13,000 are in Malaysia, 6,000 in Canada. 3,300 were in Ukraine, 777 in Russia in 2016. There are thousands more in South Africa, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Hungary, India, Turkey, Australia, Germany, everywhere.

So, the first answer to funding problems should be a reversal of government policy to allow public universities charge tuition fees. Now, the entire fee at the University of Benin is just N71, 000 each; the median rate at all Federal universities. If this is increased to just N300, 000 a year, the schools would become viable.

How do universities elsewhere raise funds? Here, one respondent to my last Saturday’s article, Mr. Fidelis Ojeah, asked me to write about Howard and Georgetown universities, Washington DC, USA.  I don’t know what informed his choice, but I must confess that they are apt for the task at hand. Howard, a leading Historically Black College /University (HBCU) is named after General Oliver Otis Howard, a Civil War hero, who was both the founder of the university and, at the time, Commissioner of the (black) Freedmen’s Bureau. Howard, later served as President of the University from 1869–74.

Georgetown College incepted earlier in 1789 as the first Catholic University in a non-Catholic America, after the American Revolution allowed religious freedom. Understandably, the young Georgetown College was financially strained. The Maryland Society of Jesus began its restoration in 1805, and Jesuit Rev. Fathers poured in as lecturers and administrators. The school relied on private sources of funding and the limited profits from local lands which had been donated to the Jesuits. To raise money for Georgetown and other schools in 1838, Maryland Jesuits conducted an abomination; a mass sale of some 272 slaves to two Deep South plantations in Maringouin, Louisiana from their six in Maryland, ending their slaveholding.

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Today, Georgetown is home to US largest student-run businesses, largest student-run financial institution, and oldest continuously running student theatre troupe. In 2014, Georgetown received $172 million in external research grants.  In 2010, the school received $5.6 million from the Department of Education to fund fellowships. Georgetown’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center is one of 41 research-intensive comprehensive cancer centres in US, and developed the breakthrough HPV vaccine for cervical cancer and Conditionally Reprogrammed Cells (CRC) technology.

Georgetown’s endowment reached $1.7b last year. Hey, have you watched the film, The Exorcist? It was filmed at Georgetown! The props exist today and draw in tourists’ dollars.

Howard, the predominately Black University, was the major engineer of the US Civil Rights movement.  Stokely Carmichael, a student in its Department of Philosophy and the School of Divinity, coined the term “Black Power.” Howard has produced more African-American PhD’s, lawyers and architects than any other institution. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe schooled there.

Founded by church organizations and white philanthropists in 1867, Howard had a mission: to educate newly freed black slaves after the Civil War. As a result, though it is a private university, Howard has enjoyed special appropriations from the Federal Government — about $200 million a year over the last decade. But as a result of congressionally mandated cuts, Howard lost $12 million in 2016.

Also, tuition and other revenue decreased 8 percent to $22 million compared to FY2016. Grants and contracts fell by 5 percent ($3 million) in 2017 as its Teaching Hospital, Faculty medical practice and dental clinic revenues declined by 4 percent ($10 million) in 2017 than in FY2016.

Yet, Howard is solvent because of its endowment funds; $647 million as of June 30, 2017. Approximately 45% of Howard’s endowment is governed by donor restrictions, while the remaining 55% is available for Board’s spending decision.

Globally, Harvard University has the largest endowment fund; $39 billion managed by Harvard Management Company. Yale follows with $29b as at June 30, 2018.  In Britain, Oxford University owns £5.5 billion while Cambridge follows with a billion less.

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Endowment funds support nearly every aspect of university operations. Even with endowment support, Harvard must fund nearly two-thirds of its operating expenses ($5.0 billion in fiscal year 2018) from other sources, such as federal and non-federal research grants, student tuition and fees, and gifts from alumni, parents, and friends.

Remarkably, endowment gifts are intended by their donors to benefit both current and future generations of students and scholars, so Harvard owns shares in blue-chip companies and farms in Brazil, South Africa, New Zealand, Russia, Ukraine, etc. In fact, Brasil Timber Limited, Empresas Verdes Argentina, and Scolopax—may sound like companies mentioned in “Globalization and Agriculture” course at Harvard, but they are  Harvard’s plantations.

Some Nigerian universities sell their own branded sachet water or eggs. Many Nigerians have donated buildings but unless universities incubate endowment funds, they will never thrive.  James Baldwin, the Black activist reminds us: “There is never a time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment, the time is always now.”

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