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Francis Wale Oke explains why TETFund support to public universities should be extended to private higher education institutions

It is impossible to write the history of private universities in Nigeria without a generous reference to Archbishop Benson Idahosa. The seed of faith known as Christian Faith University, for which he applied for a license to operate in 1992, which would later become Benson Idahosa University in his honor, received approval from the National Universities Commission in 2002 to operate as a full-fledged university, being one of the first seven so authorized by the NUC. By then, the private sector, including many faith-based institutions, has invested in higher education. For faith-based institutions, the main motivation has been to fulfill the mandate of transforming young minds for national development.

It is important to establish that the growing involvement of the private sector in university education has coincided with a decline in the fortunes of public university education in the country, with stakeholders deploring the deplorable state of facilities, overcrowding , the poor state of services and a number of other factors which have resulted in relentless strikes by workers, with universities repeatedly closed, at a time, for nearly a year, with the academic calendar continually being disrupted .

Twenty-two years after graduating from the first group of private universities, not only has the number grown to 99, which is half the number of universities in Nigeria, but institutions have stepped in to fill the void. in terms of enrollment and provision of quality education. for Nigerians. The quality of facilities at many of these private institutions is only comparable to the best in the world. The huge and sacrificial investment in human and material resources by the owners of these institutions has not only created a more conducive teaching and learning environment in these private universities, it has created a stable and predictable academic calendar, which must, in part, be responsible for the success recorded therein.

Faith-based universities have become major engines of economic progress in Nigeria, the products of these institutions playing an exceptional role in different sectors of the economy. Graduates of faith-based universities have particularly distinguished themselves in financial technology solutions and entrepreneurship development. The impact of Sola Akinlade and Ezra Olubi (Paystack), Babatunde Akin-Moses and Onyinye Okonji (Sycamore) testifies to the quality of learning and global development available in these institutions; Joshua Chibueze, Odin Eweniyi, Somto Ifezue (Piggyvest), among others.

There is no doubt that private universities, especially faith-based universities, have played an important role in national transformation and development. This has not only been substantiated by reports of the NUC accreditation exercise with private universities doing better than their public counterparts, recent findings from the Nigerian Law School have also reinforced the case for the quality of teaching in private universities, with their products, are among the best in the bar exam.

Given the giant strides that have been made by private universities in just two decades of operation, there is no doubt that the development there offers us, as a country, an opportunity to continue to fill the identified gaps. in higher education and take the step towards technological advancement. This is only possible if we tackle some of the challenges facing these private institutions, which have to do with the lack of access to long-term finance. Unlike public universities which receive government grants, private universities fund themselves from private companies, investors and tuition fees. Unlike other parts of the world where the culture of endowment is firmly entrenched, private universities benefiting from it, as well as grants, while tuition fees are paid through student loans, private universities in Nigeria depend on it. investor financing and / or loans obtainable at high interest rates.

The time has come to revise the Higher Education Trust Fund (Institution, etc.) Act 2011 so that private higher education institutions in Nigeria can benefit, alongside their public counterparts, from the Trust Fund for Higher Education (Institution, etc.). higher education (TETFUND). TETFUND’s mandate for the rehabilitation, restoration and consolidation of higher education in Nigeria can only be partially fulfilled and difficult to fulfill if its focus continues to remain exclusively on public universities while private universities which constitute 50% universities in Nigeria are being left out, while the fund itself is generated by contributions from the private sector, under the 2% school tax paid on the taxable profits of companies registered in Nigeria. Greater progress can only be made in the development of higher education with the support offered by TETFUND extended to private higher education institutions.

The argument that private institutions cannot benefit from funding is wrong. In the same way that private sector actors in banking, aviation, agriculture and other sectors have received different forms of support and financing, private operators in the field of education, which is a even more critical sector, with a fundamental role in national development, should be given the same consideration. The argument is further reinforced by the fact that the bulk of investors in higher education are social entrepreneurs, whose primary interest is not profit. Indeed, the statutes which govern the establishment of private universities already insist on the fact that they are not-for-profit companies: charitable company limited by guarantee and the owners or operators, owners, trustees or administrators. are ineligible to benefit from the university ”.

The federal government must take into account that circumstances have changed considerably since the creation of the Education Trust Fund (ETF) in 1993, with private universities now entrenched and important players in the higher education space. . With the inclusion of private universities as beneficiaries of TETFUND, institutions, which have, over time, developed robust governance systems that allow for greater accountability and transparency will be able to access funds for l essential physical infrastructure for teaching and learning, institutional materials and equipment; research and publications and the training and development of academic staff, as well as other critical needs that would contribute to the overall improvement and maintenance of standards, helping TETFUND to fulfill the mandate for which it was created.

The executive and legislative branches of the federal government should work together on amending the TETFUND law to widen the window to accommodate private higher education institutions. It can only be a win-win for everyone in the higher education space. Collaboration between the public and private sectors is essential, it is the way forward to move the nation forward and achieve the goal of rapid transformation.

The African Centers of Excellence for the Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID) established in 2013 by the governments of Nigeria, Burkina Faso, the Republic of Benin, Ghana, Cameroon, Togo and Senegal, with the support of the World Bank, to promote regional specialization among university participants and address particular common regional development challenges and strengthen the capacities of participating universities to provide high quality training and applied research in the fields of agriculture, health, as well as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is domiciled in University of the Redeemer, Ede.

The success recorded by ACEGID, with its various intervention research and diagnostic advances, in particular with Ebola, Lassa fever and Covid-19 is an indicator of the way forward. It attests to the wisdom of greater collaboration between public sector intervention agencies, multilateral institutions and private universities. He talks about one of the ways TETFUND, NITDA and other agencies can tailor their intervention programs in private higher education institutions for the development of the education sector and Nigeria as a whole.

Bishop Oke is National President of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria and Chancellor of Precious Cornerstone University