NIGERIA: Funding boost for tertiary institutions

Nigeria's government has started disbursing funds to selected public tertiary institutions to help them fast-track the development of teaching, research and infrastructure including student hostels. The extra-budgetary funding for six universities, three polytechnics and three colleges of education has been described as a step in the right direction.

A request by private universities to also benefit from the targeted funding was rejected.

The idea of extra-budgetary funding for some institutions was mooted by the administration of late President Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, but will be implemented by current President Goodluck Jonathan.

Their selection was based on Nigeria's six officially recognised 'geo-political zones'. The 12 institutions from the zones are well-situated to allow other institutions in their areas to make use of improved facilities when they are completed. The Nigeria Defence Academy, a degree-awarding institution, was also chosen because it is West Africa's only military university.

About US$314 million has been set aside for the upgrading project. According to an official of the Federal Ministry of Education, the special funding is independent of the annual statutory allocations to all tertiary institutions.

The funding is from the Education Trust Fund (ETF), a public body created as a result of incessant agitation by the Academic Staff Union of Universities. Companies are compelled to pay a percentage of their dividends towards funding education, especially tertiary institutions.

The major role of the ETF is to collect the education tax paid by all registered public and private companies, from the Inland Revenue Commission. The money is then allocated to tertiary institutions for special projects, to provide new facilities and upgrade existing ones in order to develop their core activities of teaching, learning and research.

Provision has been made for the establishment, in each of the six selected universities, of central multidisciplinary capital-intensive research laboratories that will be accessible to all universities engaged in research and will create opportunities for training postgraduate students in the applied and natural sciences - the kind of laboratories needed to produce the next generation of science academics.

Around US$33 million of the total funding has been set aside for books and journals - the first time in decades that special attention has been given to this critical area of academia.

This allocation, said Ayo Gbade, a lecturer in curriculum studies at the University of Ilorin in Central Nigeria, would enable tertiary institutions to overcome "a major obstacle in the provision of affordable books and journals for staff and students. With the accelerated development of the internet, many journals and books can also be online."

The selection of some polytechnics and colleges of education as beneficiaries of the fund is aimed at upgrading their teaching and research operations. They will receive some US$69 million of the grant. Some polytechnics and colleges have been granted permission to run degree programmes, to help expand access to degree-level study in a country where only 11% of qualified school-leavers gain admission to tertiary institutions.

Private universities were excluded from the project. Many of their vice-chancellors made representations to the government to be included, on the grounds that they too train graduates needed by the economy. But to no avail.

Mahmud Yakubu, Executive Secretary of the Education Trust Fund, explained that the law establishing the fund clearly stated that it should assist public institutions. Also, one of the conditions for the establishment of private institutions was their self-proclaimed ability to fund their teaching and research.

University teachers hope that if the special funds are judiciously spent, postgraduate programmes in the selected universities will finally awake from the slumber enforced by their deliberate under-funding by the military regimes that ruled Nigeria during the 1980s and 1990s.