Nigerians might not need to bother on specialised universities for now according to the Executive Secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), Prof Suleiman Bogoro, but rather on quality of teachers, publications and laboratories, teaching aids, learning environment, ICT service facilities and competitive index among others. He spoke with Kuni Tyessi in an exclusive interview
Proprietors of private institutions have been calling on the federal government to intervene in their institutions through TETFund and their argument, some say does not hold water. What is your opinion on this?
My position and that of my organisation remains consistent and it is informed by historical and economical realities as well as social responsibilities towards others. Each time I have an opportunity to speak on this, I try to make it clear that from 1993- 2011, 2% tax fund that eventually became education fund was applied to the entire strata of the education sector but government decided in its wisdom, after realising that the funds were thinly applied and invariably less than impactive in the desired areas of intervention, decided that there needs to be a re-focus and decided that the area of priority is tertiary education and that’s why the government decided that it should be the public tertiary institutions. In the emerging law that came into being, Tertiary Education Trust Fund which replaced Education Trust Fund, had a clear policy about public tertiary institutions and the law goes further to be specific, and that means federal and state universities, polytechnics and colleges of education. Along the line, the BOT that was entrusted with TETFund issued out policies and statutory guidelines on managing of the funds to show pure compliance within the mandate of the law. Government every where in the world creates an enabling environment for the private sector to thrive and not to subsidise the private sector. It does not happen anywhere. Here we are in a stage of development and trying to find our feet. Even in the most developed part of the world, the emphasis of government funding is on public institutions. Government is out there trying to intervene for the majority in public institutions and clearly in the case of Nigeria. Check out the entire statistics of students in private universities. Their population is just about 80,000 students. But the fact remains that one public institution in Nigeria has almost that number. Now we have 85 public universities and only two will override the population of students in the private universities. What does that tell? We need to get and understand these facts by getting the demographic differences and indices and you will realise that government is right in insisting that TETFund money should be for public institutions alone. Government must be seen taking care of the highest number of people and even with that, it must be seen having emphasis on the less privilege and these categories are in the public institutions and government must target them. Today our public institutions are in fairly bad shape and it’s for that purpose that government decided to refocus. Most of the strikes in the tertiary institutions were as a result of lack of infrastructure and dilapidated learning environment and it was too embarrassing. In the last four years since TETFund came to being, manifest impact can be noticed in our institutions. I’m not saying these because I am executive secretary of TETFund but there’s the need for us to speak as patriotic Nigerians. With time when we consolidate, we will deliberately promote research even in qualitative private institutions especially if the funds can be doubled from 2%-4%.
Nigeria’s state of education is said to be dwindling. Who should take the blame, federal, state or local governments?
Many more persons than just government should take the blame. There is the attitudinal component of of non performance of the sector and such is imported into governance. If I’m not interpreting the backwardness of education properly and I find myself in a public office and either my prejudice or incompetence manifests, that will be too bad. On the other hand, education is on the concurrent legislative list and that is to say the three levels of government have complimentary roles. The federal is largely to do with tertiary institutions and as well as basic since the statutory consolidated revenue of 2% for basic education is managed by UBEC and applied accross the country. There is a national policy on education and it was enunciated by the federal government and largely it is suppose to apply. State government are also involved because there was the need to create more space to accommodate more people and they started going into the establishment of institutions. The local governments are not too involved but the statutory provision for the salary of primary school teachers is from the constitutional funds for local governments. So there are anciliary educational roles they play. The larger responsibility is on the federal and state but local governments also have roles to play. Here in TETFund, we are getting increasingly worried with some state government as they are not injecting enough into the institutions that they created. I must be plain and blunt about this. There is a need for governors to reprioritise interventions at state level. There is no need for state governments to walk away from the institutions they established and it takes the grace of God that there is TETFund.
Some intellectuals are of the opinion that Nigeria has come of age and there is the need to have specialised universities as against the general universities where quite a number of courses are offered. What are your thoughts on this?
The debate is neither here or there. We have specialised universities and more may come up. The argument is much less on celebrating specialisation as contrasted in ensuring that the best in conventional universities are met. What type of lecturers do they have and are the best recruited? Are they attracting and retaining the best teachers? What about the facilities? Are they comparable with those anywhere in the world? What about the laboratories, teaching aids, environment, ICT service facilities, quality of publications and competitive index of the university among other factors are things that need to be considered. When I read a work in my field, I know which is qualitative and which is substandard and that cannot be bought in the market. Cross-disciplinary exchange of knowledge is needed and that’s why these days we need multi- disciplinary laboratories rather than mushrooming laboratories. We should be less preoccupied thinking about specialised universities than ensuring that the basics are there. If the conventional universities are sound, then we can have the luxury of creating specified universities.
What is your advice for the present administration concerning the sector and to state governors concerning their state tertiary institutions.
I have taken time to read the manifesto of Mr. President in respect to education and I’m conscious that a number of the elements of the thoughts in that manifesto and the public statements made by Mr. President is to say that education is a top priority. I believe that details will unfold and it will not be right to preempt specifics that have not been reeled out, but to see it evidently that education has been placed as a priorty and in any case, it couldn’t be otherwise. What I believe we need to do is to watch out and see how the details will unfold in terms of long and short term plans to consolidate in the performance of the sector. Under the previous government, it was transformation and in the present, there is a catch phrase of ‘change’ and that change could imply qualitative and numerical changes.
For the states, my advise is simple. The governors should take a look at their priorities in development and ensure that education does not lag behind. They must resist the temptation of playing to the gallery, spreading infrastructure instead of consolidating. If the foundation which is at the basic level goes wrong, then there will definately be serious problems in the tertiary institutions. I’ll also use this medium to encourage state government who have not accessed their counter funding as required by the laws of UBEC to ensure they do so from now. There is no excuse. The monies are lying there and waiting for their counter part contribution.