Research, TETFUND and the NUC
As a major enabler for countries, businesses or any organization, research is an important factor in the creation of new things and enhancement of existing ones. Through research, solutions to societies’ challenges and problems are not only found, any country or organization not seriously engaged in research will find it difficult to make progress.
This is why the report from the National Universities Commission (NUC) that some N3 billion research fund in the coffers of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) has not been accessed should attract more than a cursory attention. Indeed, in a country like Nigeria where the need for research and new discoveries are so urgent, it is a a big shame and a disservice to the people that N3billion worth of research fund is wasting away in TETFUND.
NUC made the revelation the other day at a national workshop on Research Grant Writing and Administration held at the Lagos State University (LASU) campus in Lagos. Incredibly, the reason for failure to access the research fund is that “many academics do not know how to write research proposals that could secure them grants”. This is a sheme, to say the least.
If Nigeria has been debased to the extent that academics in institutions of higher learning lack the knowledge and skills to prepare acceptable proposals for grant of research funds, then the country is headed for doom. And it is high time concrete and necessary steps were taken to reverse this unacceptable situation.
How can a nation aspire for growth and development without the leading light which research undertakings alone can provide? A principal pre-occupation of tertiary institutions, especially Universities, is conducting researches. And one of the mandates of TETFUND is to provide research and publications funding for academics in public tertiary institutions in Nigeria.
Given the importance of research and the prime position of tertiary educational institutions in that endeavour, no excuse whatsoever should be acceptable for the dereliction of the essential responsibility. It should not matter whether academics are poorly motivated or too busy to carry out research. It should also not be an excuse that they cannot prepare winning proposals since a key performance measure of an academic is the number of quality and acceptable research projects successfully carried out in a year or within other specified periods of time.
A number of issues may, in reality, be responsible for the N3 billion still domiciled at TETFUND. Bureaucracy is one. Another is the capacity of TETFUND itself to effectively handle proposals sent to it. For example, does TETFUND have the type of organizational structure, processes, guidelines and human capital that can facilitate proper and timely assessment and evaluation of grant proposals? It is also possible that management of the fund has been politicized, like every other thing in the country.
Beyond these, how long does it take TETFUND to respond to applicants’ proposals- whether approved or not? How long ago was it discovered that the obstacle to accessing the fund is applicants’ inability to articulate acceptable proposals? What actions were taken to redress this and was there even a duly constituted board in place?
Whatever the case,, it is a sad commentary on Nigeria’s appreciation of scholarship that N3 billion research fund is idling in the bank account of TETFUND unutilized. This could only have arisen because the Trustees and Managers of the fund are not subjected to any performance evaluation. If there had been set performance criteria and evaluation systems to measure TETFUND’s managers’ performance, the motivation for them to ensure disbursement and utilisation of the fund would have been higher.
In managing such an important huge accumulated fund the purpose of which is very well specified, there is great need for accountability. It therefore raises the question of what else TETFUND would want to do with the N3 billion if the only reason for keeping it is inability of the prospective beneficiary researchers to prepare winning proposals.
With this revelation that such a huge sum is awaiting disbursement, it becomes difficult to understand the usual lamentation by some stakeholders that there is inadequate funding for research. Indeed, why should more funds be provided if there is a whopping N3 billion yet to be utilized?
The tertiary institutions and TETFUND must collaborate to find solutions to obstacle(s) hampering timely disbursement and judicious utilization of the fund. In this regard, considerations need to be given to a multiplicity of optional ways forward. One, organization of practical learning programmes for academics to upscale their proposal development knowledge and skills; two, mentoring and coaching of younger academics by the veterans; development and circulation of a proposal template to guide grant applicants; fourthly, accountability is required from all parties to ensure funds are disbursed and used for agreed purposes; and finally, the possibility of keeping portions of the research fund in tertiary institutions should be considered, with strict operating guidelines. If the existing law does not permit this, an amendment can be obtained.
This way, the tertiary institutions will ensure their research interest areas are focused and hopefully with outstanding beneficial outcomes.While a wake-up call has been sounded for the tertiary institutions and their academics to face the challenging tasks of research and publication, it is in the interest of this country that TETFUND releases funds for research and publication, without instituting unnecessary bottlenecks. Let it not again be said and heard that billions of naira in research funds are begging to be accessed and that academics in public tertiary educational institutions in this nation lack requisite know-how to access the funds.
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