How tertiary institutions struggle despite TETFund
The present-day world relies on an economy that enjoys a symbiotic relationship between town and gown. University research, for example, feeds the Silicon Valley which serves as the factory that conceptualises and markets these ideas. In Nigeria, research development seems to be a mirage. Could lack of funding be responsible? Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL reports.
Professor Iniolu Mahmud nervously tore open an envelope bearing a letter from TETfund and wiped his brow with the back of his free hand. Head of Department of a federal university and applicant for N25m research grant, he had a lot riding on that piece of paper.
He stole a glance at the ceiling, muttering a silent prayer as he stared at the white and green envelope bearing the TETfund logo on the right hand corner with the reverence fit for a deity.
“Please let it be this time,” he muttered as he mustered enough courage to open the letter. “We are sorry…” he didn’t bother to read the rest. Like Prof. Mahmud, scores of Nigerian academics each year fail to secure funding for their research and a few who do rarely get what they need.
However, Nigeria has a government agency tasked with utilising education taxes corporations pay to fund research. Some say the procedure shuts them out yet some say the quality of research papers submitted are only slightly more useful in wrapping smoke fish.
TETFund: help or hindrance?
The Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) was established as an intervention agency under the TETFund ACT – Tertiary Education Trust Fund Act, 2011; charged with the responsibility for managing, disbursing and monitoring the education tax to public tertiary institutions in Nigeria.
To enable the agency achieve the above objectives, TETFUND ACT, 2011 imposes a two per cent Education Tax on the assessable profit of all registered companies in Nigeria. Nigeria’s Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), the federal tax body is empowered by the Act to assess and collect Education Tax. The Fund administers the tax imposed by the Act and disburses the amount to tertiary educational institutions at Federal and State levels. It also monitors the projects executed with the funds allocated to the beneficiaries.
According to Section 7 of the TETFund Act, 2011, the mandate of the fund is to administer and disburse the amount to federal and state tertiary educational institutions, specifically for the provision and maintenance of essential physical infrastructure for teaching and learning, instructional material and equipment.
Other objectives include research and publication, academic staff training and development and any other need which, in the opinion of the Board of Trustees, is critical and essential for the improvement of quality and maintenance of standards in the higher educational institutions.
The TETFund ensures education tax are utilised to improve the quality of learning in Nigeria without direct contract awarding by providing funds for educational facilities and infrastructural development, promoting creative and innovative approaches to educational learning and services and stimulating, supporting and enhancing improvement activities in educational foundation areas like teacher education, teaching practice and library development among others.
The noble objective notwithstanding, some lecturers say the process of accessing the fund is difficult. In 2015, 33 research topics from at least 20 universities in Nigeria were able to access TETFund. The next year, the Federal Government even voted more money for research and for the general development of higher institutions in the country.Source: TETFund
The allocation for 2016 is the biggest ever annual direct disbursement (normal intervention) given to any beneficiary institution since the establishment of the Fund. “A deeper look into individual intervention lines shows that the Fund is aimed at accelerating the training and support for scholars in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions to pursue and acquire doctorate degrees; accelerate the process of bridging the teaching and learning infrastructure gap in all beneficiary institutions; and continue to support cutting edge research and innovation,” said Dr. Abdullahi Baffa, the Executive Secretary of TETFund at the end of a Management meeting with Heads of beneficiary institutions on February 20, in Abuja.
As a result of this, N1bn was allocated to the National Research Fund for 2016. The grant is awarded based on the recommendation of the National Research Fund Screening & Monitoring Committee (NRFSMC), made up 65 professionals from academic and industry.
“Research in Nigeria’s institutions of higher learning is yet to make a real impact on the technological advancement of the country and the socio-economic well-being of its citizenry,” A. K. Yusuf of the Department of Basic and Applied Sciences, Hassan Usman Polytechnic, Katsina State, said in his published research on appraisal of research in Nigeria’s university sector.
He noted further, “Constraints hampering the realisation of research goals in the higher education sector include inadequate and irregular funding, poor motivation, poor or obsolete research infrastructure, brain drain and rising workload resulting from deteriorating staff/student ratio. These constraints have also generally led to low research productivity.”
Yawning gaps still exist in functional use of the product of successful research from Nigerian universities. This is different from what obtains in other countries of the world.
In the United States for example, the state of California has one of the largest economies in the world. It generates much of its revenue from absorbing and domesticating much of the intellectual output from its premier university, Stanford University, into commercial products.
Much of the economy revolves around a symbiotic relationship between town and gown. Research from the university feeds the Silicon Valley which serves as the factory that conceptualises and markets these ideas. It has seen the rise of multinational companies like Apple, Cisco, HP, Facebook, and Oracle among others with budgets larger than many African countries. Some of the companies started even from college dorms. This synergy is sorely lacking in Nigeria.
“Even in the university sector where several academics are known to have showcased the products of their research in the international intellectual scene, the bulk of this research is conceived in terms of publications, career advancement and intellectual prestige of the individual researchers, often with very little social relevance,” observed Dr. Shehu Musa, in a speech at the 40th Anniversary Lecture of the University of Ibadan (UI)in 1988 – which unfortunately is still true.
Yet, functional research is a product of deep commitment towards funding. Yusuf stated that though it has been recommended that five per cent of gross national product be set aside for research, the federal university system spends only 1.3 per cent of its budget on research.
He attributed the shortfall in research funding to the yearly increase in enrolment in universities, which he maintains overwhelms government’s capacity to maintain proportional support for research and other services.
So, despite substantial annual increases in government’s recurrent grant to federal universities, Yusuf said they are still short of financial resources to maintain educational quality.
As TETfund plans a revision in the guidelines for its existing intervention lines, tertiary institutions have an urgent need to revaluate their approach to research. “The review intends to ensure that all journals that are being supported by the Fund enjoy global visibility. As mandatory requirement for support, journals must be registered with the relevant abstracting and indexing services providers in addition to being accessible through at least one major knowledge gateway,” Baffa said.
According to information obtained from TETFund website, there are different requirements before an institution can access the fund. For example, the requirements for institution-based research funds include a written proposal that must be approved by TETFund. After this, a specific amount would be approved for the project. However, the approved fund shall be disbursed in tranches – 60 per cent before commencement, 30 percent and then 10 cent after submission of final report.
“All researchers must ensure that all required documents are attached as non-inclusion could delay the process or lead to rejection.”
All lecturers in all tertiary institutions in Nigeria are eligible to access fund for institution-based research and the research must be conducted in the submitting institution.
At a recent workshop for Vice- Chancellors, Rectors and Provosts of tertiary institutions in the six states of the South-West held at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), the chairman, board of trustees, TETFund, Dr Musa Babayo said over N100billion is lying fallow, yet to be accessed by the various tertiary institutions.
Babayo cited incomplete documentation on the part of institutions applying for the fund as one of the reasons the funds are yet to be accessed “It is either the tertiary institutions fail to file in the documentation meant for the fund or started but never finished the process.
A beneficiary of the fund, Prof Olumide Adewale of Computer Science department, Federal University of Technology (FUTA) told The Guardian that his team, comprising eight scholars, was selected after a rigorous selection process by TETFund.
Adewale said the research which centered on “U-learning personalised adaptive ubiquitous learning system is expected to be concluded in 2018. According to him, the research funds would be released in three tranches after quarterly presentation of reports.