‘TETFUND is restoring confidence in Nigerian tertiary institutions’
Prof. Suleiman Elias Bogoro is the Executive Secretary, Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND). A Professor of Animal Science, he has over 45 scientific publications in journals, periodicals and conference proceedings in addition to a rumen fermentation model as scientific innovation. He spoke with journalists about the Fund and how it has impacted on tertiary institutions in the country, among other issues.
The nations that make up the first world are presumed to be those that have funded their concept of Science and Technology well. Is it not then wise that TETFUND should lay more emphasis on funding science, vocational and technical institutions?
Yes, you have made a very valid observation. In these modern times, the economy must be driven by knowledge-based infrastructure largely dominated by science and technology. If you look at the most advanced nations, you will see that they have made more breakthroughs in science and technology than anywhere else. And that is precisely what we are trying to do at TETFUND through the public tertiary institutions.
What is your take on calls for the extension of TETFUND to private institutions?
I have never believed that is the right way to go. Very clearly, it would be the wrong way to proceed. The reason is simple – government creates the enabling environment for the private institutions to thrive. Government should not be subscribing their operations. It is a wrong way to think and do things. Our law is very clear in terms of their funding intervention; the private sector is privately owned. In reality, that is in terms of demographic reality in Nigeria.
In the education sector, the public tertiary institutions constitute a glaring majority. It constitutes the majority in terms of student population. If you take it out there you will discover that put together in terms of members, the private tertiary institutions especially universities have caught up; they are the same numbers now with public tertiary universities. But by population I can tell you that the public tertiary institutions constitute more than three quarters of the population. So that tells you that the majority is there. And it has to do with the funding review and government intervention development is aimed at doing the most for the largest segment of the population. So, I think taking into consideration demographic realities of Nigeria, we are in the right direction in funding public tertiary institutions. Left for me, since this is about education – private or public – they are educating Nigerians. And it is only through education that we can be able to achieve the kind of economic growth we are dreaming of. So, I don’t see it as funding the private sector in the real sense of it.
We should use the word subsidising the private sector.
TETFUND under your leadership has just established a research and development centre, a sort of development and excellence centre. Is this going to be applicable to all institutions or limited to science and technology-based institutions?
No! I can tell you research and development much as there is emphasis on science and technology disciplines, it does not exclude the Humanities and other subjects outside the realm of science and technology. There are research and development studies that are in the Humanities. For instance, innovations around communication, sociological tendencies, social challenges, etc. There are very innovative trends, very creative trends. So, it is not that other disciplines are excluded. But are we going to perpetually keep on funding these public schools? In overseas some of these universities that are still public are self-sufficient. Is there no way we can draw a programme where by the universities engage in activities that would be generating funds like those in agriculture going into production?
In recent years, particularly under this Jonathan administration, government appears to have woken up to its responsibility and is reviving the educational sector just like Ghana did. What roles did TETFUND play in this regard?
Do you know that at some point it was actually the reverse? That is, it was the Ghanaians that were the ones rushing to Nigeria for any possible job opportunity but mainly teaching because they were considered to be very strong mentors. This went on for a long time until the Ghanaian educational system was overhauled and Ghana started to stabilise. Their educational institutions bounced back and so the Ghanaians went back home. Barely 10 years after, because their educational institutions became strong, teachers went to Ghana to teach. Nigerian students also patronised their universities.
But I can tell you that with the emergence of TETFUND there was a change. Remember that TETFUND is targeted towards intervention both in terms of infrastructural development, physical infrastructure as well as what we can call academic content.
Academic content in this case involves academic staff development and training for M.Sc and PhD degrees. And as we talk there are so many Nigerians that have benefitted, who are lecturers in Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education. There are over 10,000 who have trained abroad. I think it is 13,000 now and over 3,000 have returned with these higher qualifications. And so it has strengthened our system and very soon we would reverse the trend of Nigerian parents sending their children to Ghana, Cyprus, other African countries, Europe and all that.
So, it is really heart-warming that the sustained intervention of TETFUND in terms of provision of those physical infrastructures as well as academic content, libraries, journals, the research activities as it were, has contributed to restoring confidence. At some point even in Africa, about four, five years ago I think we had only one or two Nigerian universities among the top African universities. Now, I think we have about 10 universities in Nigeria that are rated there. To me that is improvement. We hope that if we sustain our support for the academic content in our tertiary institutions, it would be a reverse brain drain very soon.
Talking about TETFUND accomplishments, I must confess that here is one Federal Government agency where we have gotten it right.
You have managed educational tax in a way that is most beneficial to the Nigerian people. How do we extend the TETFUND story to other aspects of the Nigerian economy, agencies and society?
With all sense of modesty, we are excited that there is focus on us. TELL magazine, for instance, had a forum recently and we participated. I actually presented a paper on TETFUND being a model intervention agency in Nigeria. One of my curricular assistants represented me and presented that paper because the forum coincided with another activity. And my message was very clear.
Yes, it is true that TETFUND is now considered a model, a successful government agency living up to the expectations of the public. But I can tell you there are reasons behind the success of TETFUND.
One, we try to ensure that there is fiscal frugality. Today TETFUND is about the only federal public agency that has made public its audited account. There is transparency. Two, in TETFUND we never give or allocate funds for projects or allocate projects without cash backing. If there is no money we will not issue out contracts. Also, because we have our implementation mechanism, guidelines for assessing our funds and implementation of our projects is such that we do not have failed projects. We have proudly said that we do not have failed projects in TETFUND and I must say this without fear of contradiction. So, we ensure discipline and frugality.
In addition, there are also a number of areas where we have ensured we are a model. Remember that in TETFUND we are a fund managed by a trustee and the trustee now evolves guidelines and policies that ensure that there are standards and those standards are applied. Believe me, this has helped us to be impactful.
Again let us not forget that TETFUND between 1993 and 2011 was known as Education Trust Fund (ETF). The difference between the two is largely that in TETFUND now as contrasted with ETF we have interventions in public tertiary institutions. Before this, and up to 2011, TETFUND money was applied across the board from primary institutions to tertiary institutions and so the fund was thinly applied and could not be very effective.
With the new focus on public tertiary institutions, there is maximum application of the fund. That is why there is manifest impact of the fund.
Finally, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) recently gave you an award as the best government agency. Can you give account of your stewardship briefly and the way forward?
Well, it was not an NGO. In fact, it was a platform of the Civil Societies Coalition. Yes, I will tell you that all they did was to collate the opinions of Nigerians through the social media. Nigerians voted freely for 12 months – over four million Nigerians voted.
It was a transparent process and while we were waiting for them to unveil the outcome of that voting on rating in respect of service delivery at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, journalists representing 15 newspapers across this country were requested to go to the podium and vote there and then. And believe me, TETFUND emerged best. At the end they unveiled the voting result that had taken place for 12 months and behold it was TETFUND again. That day, I collected on behalf of TETFUND, three trophies. So, you better imagine how good we felt. It was the opinions of Nigerians.
But that is not to say we don’t have challenges.
We have challenges because, for instance, a number of agencies, a number of tertiary institutions that are beneficiary institutions have not been able to access their funds. We want those funds accessed; they are there but somehow we discovered that they have not obliged our own prescriptions in meeting our guidelines.
Meanwhile, we are not compromising and if they don’t meet our guidelines we would not allow them take our funds. That is one area of challenge.