Executive Secretary of the Higher Education Trust Fund, Arc. Sonny Echono, has once more advocated for the revival and repositioning of Nigeria’s tertiary institutions in order to help them compete favorably on the world arena.
Echono, who recently spoke at the National Universities Commission’s (NUC) 60th anniversary celebration, said the event was a true platform for stakeholders to not only applaud the sector’s phenomenal growth—from five universities in 1962 to the current 220—but also to review its many accomplishments and challenges in order to determine the best course for the future.
He raised concern that Nigerian public colleges are still having trouble covering their expenses or diversifying their sources of income due to a heavy reliance on the country’s meager government support.
“Hence, the recurring calls for their repositioning and revitalization to enable them compete on the global stage. In Nigeria, public universities are funded majorly by government, taking less than 10 per cent of the federal budget and even less at the states’ level.
“The public universities typically do not charge tuition fees, (although many state institutions have been forced to do so) and charge only a fraction of the full economic cost for services such as power, water supply, cleaning and waste disposal.”
Accepting that, however, the National Policy on Education stipulates that while tertiary education, which offers a full range of learning options and opportunities, is a financial investment with long-term benefits for the individual, basic education, which is regarded as a fundamental right of every citizen, should be free and mandatory in the country.
“Increased social demand for tertiary education in Nigeria and the desire of the country to participate in the knowledge economy have generated the need for greater investment in tertiary education through sustainable funding. But the question is, where will the funds for the needed investments come from? He asked.
Speaking on the theme of the day – “Sustainable Funding of Tertiary Education in Nigeria”, the Executive Secretary held that it was one of the burning issues of the moment. According to him, “a higher education is believed to generate higher level of returns on investment for a longer period as well as promote social cohesion and crime reduction.
“Although tertiary education alone will not make development happen, it is instructive that development in this knowledge era cannot happen without tertiary education”, he stated.
He added that: “The rapid expansion of higher education system, particularly over the last few decades, coupled with the re-occurring global economic crisis and fiscal stringency arising from the structure and poor management of the economy, has affected the funding of tertiary education institutions in Nigeria.”
According to Echono, this situation has made the widespread issues of low graduation quality, overcrowding in classrooms, out-of-date curricula, and crumbling facilities worse.
“Others include high students-lecturer ratio, high ratio of non-teaching staff to teaching staff, inadequate motivation of academic staff, inability to attract academics from across the globe and neglect of other essentials such as library, educational materials and complimentary facilities.”
Echono also posed a number of questions, including where tertiary education fits in, particularly in terms of the national strategy for socioeconomic development, what the policy goals for tertiary education in Nigeria are, the government’s role in a system of diversified tertiary education, and the ideal cap on government spending on education.
The extent to which the government can support and maintain infrastructure in tertiary institutions, the role of government in research and innovation, and the funding strategy for achieving it, the development of a student financing system that takes equity into account, and the willingness and ability of the private sector to invest in public tertiary institutions are other important issues that need to be addressed.
He argued that the continual strikes by different staff unions over the past few decades over inadequate funding had increased the necessity for the country to look up creative, sustainable funding regimes for tertiary education.
“This implies rethinking stakeholders’ involvement in education financing to secure a qualitative and functional tertiary education system, which is an essential tool for sustainable development.”
Echono believed that Nigeria’s tertiary education required a new type of sustainable funding.