By Afe Babalola,
I commenced this discourse by laying a foundation as to the role of education in the growth and development of all facets of society, particularly in the field of science and technology, medicine, economy, among others.
In the context of the admission of President Muhammadu Buhari that government could not afford the amounting of funding needed to revive the country’s education system, I will, in this edition, discuss the need for government to channel more resources towards the revival of the education sector, with particular reference to the role of the Education Tax Fund.
The funding of education in Nigeria Undoubtedly, education in any part of the world and at any level requires enormous funding. Despite its huge costs, most governments however acknowledge the fact that education must be accorded propriety in governmental budgeting and spending. Indeed, UNESCO recommends that at least 25% of the national budget of every country should be dedicated to education.
Whilst this level of funding may not be easily achievable by most developing countries that have to grapple with other matters demanding equal attention such as health care delivery, security, and infrastructural development, funding of education must nonetheless be accorded prime of place by any government desirous of bringing about positive changes in the social and economic fortunes of the citizens.
The average Nigerian knows that no university in Nigeria ranks among the first 1,000 quality universities in the world; yet, education remains the bedrock of development. We claim to be a rich country endowed with fertile agricultural land and minerals including oil. Without a doubt, the major factors militating against quality education is funding. Before the advent of civil rule in 1999, the education sector was under the military, in a near-total state of ruination.
The military waged a war against learning. While huge funds were budgeted for defence (despite the fact that we fought no wars of our own), the education sector got what could be termed the left-overs. It was as if the military had a mandate to return Nigeria to the stone age. Most of our universities and other tertiary institutions are government-owned. With increased government expenditure on infrastructures and other areas of our national life, less and less funds are made available for education.
The situation was ignited around 1985 when the government of the military president, General Ibrahim BadamosiBabangida introduced the Structural Adjustment Programme. The amount released for education paled into insignificance owing to the gross devaluation of the Naira and the attendant despicable exchange rate. By the early 1990s subventions to schools when they came at all were very minimal. Yet the population of students was increasing when infrastructures were neither increased nor maintained.
The hostels became overcrowded and indecent, the libraries were not equipped, nor were the laboratories. The teachers were poorly paid, and so ill-motivated. The students, teachers, and other staff all became disgruntled and angry. They developed the wrong attitude to their responsibilities and became bitter against their country for its failure to give them even the barest minimum that they required for a proper take-off in life.
The role of the Education Tax Fund Successive governments in Nigeria have overtime, been prodded by civil pressure groups and international organisations to increase the level of funding to the country’s educational sector. This, in turn, led partly to the establishment of the Education Tax and the Education Tax Fund. The Education Tax Fund, ETF, was established under the Education Tax Act No. 7 of 1993. This Act was amended by the Education Tax (Amendment) Act No. 40 of 1998. The Act has been incorporated in the 2004 compilation of the Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and is listed as the Education Tax Act Cap E4 Laws of the Federation 2004. Section 1 of the Act imposes a two percent (2%) Education Tax on the assessable profit of all registered companies in Nigeria.
This tax is to be assessed and collected by the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS. The role of the Education Tax Fund is to administer the tax imposed by the Act and disburse same to educational institutions at the Federal, State and Local Government levels. The funds are required to be disbursed across the country’s six geo-political zones to primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions in the ratio of fifty percent, twenty percent, and thirty percent respectively.
The ETF also monitors projects executed with the funds allocated to the beneficiaries. These funds, by Section 7(1) of the Act are expected to be dedicated to the following: a)Work centers and prototype development Staff development and conference attendance Library system at the different levels of education) Research equipment procurement and maintenance) Higher education book development fund. f) Redressing any imbalance in enrolment mix as between the higher educational institutions. g) Execution of the 9 Year compulsory educational programme.
Has ETF fulfilled its mandate? Without a doubt, the effect of the ETF has been felt in some aspects of the operations of the country’s educational intuitions. It is common nowadays to find vehicles belonging to universities carrying bold inscriptions stating that the said vehicle was donated or bought by the ETF. The same applies to some buildings donated to some institutions by the ETF.
What cannot however be denied is the fact that the operation of the Fund is yet to fully impact on the much-stated goal of developing Nigerian institutions of higher learning to such a position that they would rank favorably with others in the developed world. The failings of the fund in this regard can be stated to be its inability to fully deploy its resources to the actual needs of the Universities and its failure to make education accessible to many more Nigerians.
The failure of the fund to address the specific needs of the institutions it is meant to fund can be directly attributed to the manner in which funds are disbursed to the qualifying institutions. At the moment, the Act provides for the specific areas to which the funds of the Institutions should be directed. Thus, all the administrators of the fund need do is to identify areas of each University’s operations which in their estimation deserve the intervention of the Fund.
I however feel that a more pragmatic approach would be to formulate a policy whereby direct information about the specific needs of each University would come from those charged with managing the affairs of the Institution. This could take the form of visitations by the management of the Funds to the Institutions concerned.
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Furthermore, the Fund could develop a working relationship with some statutory bodies which are responsible for the regulation of academic programmes in universities. One of such bodies that readily comes to mind is the Nigerian Universities Commission, NUC.
The NUC is by law responsible for the grant of licenses to Nigerian Universities and the accreditation of their various academic programmes. Other bodies which play one role or the other at least in the evaluation of facilities available at the Universities in relation to their specific areas of expertise and interests are the Council of Legal Education, the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, and the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria, COREN.
These bodies and others like them assist the NUC in determining whether Universities have the requisite facilities to undertake programmes in Law, Medicine and Engineering as the case may be. This places them in a prime position to provide information on the needs and challenges of each university. An approach such as this will ensure that the funds realized from the taxation of companies in Nigeria are not utilized only to “window dress” Universities and cloak them in borrowed garbs of respectability.
Certainly, the government needs to do more in ensuring that ETF fulfills its mandate to revive the education sector. No doubt, the effective utilization of these funds towards financing research and development, utilizing technological advancements in effective teaching, procurement and maintenance of world-class equipment for effective learning, among others, will engender the much-needed revival in the education sector.
Next week, I will consider the powers of the National Universities Commission and the role it should play in the creation of tertiary institutions.