Presidential promise to increase university funding

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has reportedly pledged top priority for an increase in university funding, and has instructed the National Universities Commission and the federal education ministry to work out how this might best be done. The populous country’s leader is said to be disturbed by the poor performance of Nigerian universities in rankings.

According to reliable sources, Buhari summoned officials of the National Universities Commission and the Ministry of Education to explain the reasons for the absence of Nigeria in a recent ranking of top 1,000 world universities. From Africa, only institutions in Egypt and South Africa featured on the list.

Although the president was partly pleased that 28 Nigerian universities appeared on a ranking of top 100 institutions in Africa, he felt there could be more.

The officials informed Buhari that low funding was the fundamental reason for the poor performance of Nigerian universities, and the president decided that strengthening university funding would be a top priority of his administration.

His interest in the matter is both political and diplomatic. Ahead of presidential elections earlier this year, Buhari pledged in his campaign manifesto to increase funding for education, to raise all levels of the education system out of a state of decay.

The other reason is Nigeria’s quest for a seat in the United Nations Security Council as Africa’s permanent representative. It is well known that South Africa and Egypt are also fiercely vying for the slot.

Buhari intends to showcase a functional and efficient educational system – especially at university level – to boost Nigeria’s campaign within the international community to occupy an African place in the Security Council.

Raising the education tax

Throwing light on the matter Suleiman Bogoro, executive secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund or TETFund, confirmed that the government had started the process required to increase the current 2% education tax, with which it supports TETFund, to between 3% and 4%.

He said the education ministry had made this recommendation in a comprehensive report to the presidency.

Once the proposal to raise the education tax had been reviewed and parliament had begun amending the TETFund Act to accommodate it, “the fund will play the expected role to ensure that Nigeria’s universities conform with international standards”.

The executive secretary noted that interventions by his agency in the areas of research and development had led to improved performances by Nigerian universities, which he said had also impacted positively on their ranking in Africa.

But Bogoro also confessed painfully that Nigeria was still outside lists of the world’s top 2,000 universities. There were only five African universities in the global top 1,000, three from South Africa and two from Egypt.

“If we increase the intervention fund and there is patriotic application of the funds in priority areas, the ranking of our universities will begin to compete with the very best in the world,” he said.

Academics sceptical

Academics have greeted the news of the proposal with mixed reactions, including scepticism. Many believe that Nigeria does have the resources to increase education funding to the 26% of government spending recommended by UNESCO.

The Buhari administration should understand the fact that great nations had devoted large chunks of their money to funding education, said Dr Wale Suenu, a senior lecturer in history and diplomacy at Lagos State University.

“An increase in the education tax to a paltry 4% will not take Nigeria anywhere.”

Buhari should take his cue from South Korea, which was underdeveloped and on a par with Nigeria in the 1960s but now has the sixth biggest economy in the world thanks to massive investment in education.

Despite the lean resources available, there were excellent research findings from Nigeria’s universities – but the world does not hear about them. This is the view of Muhammad Kuna, a professor of history at Usmanu Danfodiyo University in Sokoto, northern Nigeria.

“Nigeria’s internet system is one of the weakest in the world,” he said, while publishing research and information on the world wide web was an indicator used by some rankings and was one of the reasons why South African and Egyptian universities appeared in global lists.

“Nigeria is still a sleeping giant,” he said. Buhari should encourage the creation of efficient internet services on campuses through public-private partnerships with major ICT – information and communications technology – companies to deliver fibre optic internet access, rather than the current satellite connectivity.

“This proposed TETFund funding should give priority to ICT development on campuses,” Kuna argued, adding that devaluation of the Nigerian currency, the Naira, by 20% would wipe out the purchasing power public universities would have in developing infrastructure.

Saliou Mohammed Bappa, a senior lecturer in the department of theatre and performing arts at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, is not optimistic.

Until corruption and embezzlement among government officials and the top echelons of universities were wiped out, he said, any additional funding would simply disappear. “The Buhari administration must sanitise the education sector so that funds can be judiciously spent," he told University World News.