Government funding through grants, allocations and endowments to private institutions has been one of the most propelling factors for the successes achieved in the field of research in a vast majority of the private institutions in advanced countries, and without any iota of doubt, the outcome of these researches has engendered several breakthroughs in the field of medicine, defence, natural sciences, to name a few. Allon Klein, an associate professor of systems biology at Harvard Medical School used the money obtained from federal government allocation to create a device which has occasioned a breakthrough in how researchers analyse cells in the body in order to boost an understanding of the diseases and where to intervene. This device was licensed to private industry where it can potentially be mass-produced in order to help patients. In the words of Harvard President, Larry Bacow, ‘the Harvard community learns, teaches, and innovates in Massachusetts, harnessing the power of new ideas and discovery to solve challenging problems and contribute to the well-being of our communities’. In the United States of America, research at top government-funded universities is heavily concentrated in life sciences and engineering fields and within these fields, medicine is nearly always the largest recipient of research funds. No wonder the USA has one of the highest advancements in the field of medicine and engineering all over the world!
Against the backdrop of the foregoing, it is beyond dispute that Nigeria will make notable advancements if a great percentage of funds are committed into research and development in the private universities wherein quality education, technological advancements and infrastructural developments are already inherent. In fact, even in the USA, public school guidance counsellors and teachers inform students that to be successful in life, they need to go to college and that the extremely successful go to elite private schools.
As I noted in the first edition, TETFund was birthed from the realisation of the government’s inability to fund education alone with budgetary allocations. Eventually, the Education Tax Act was enacted and by the said law, the main source of income available to the Fund is the 2% education tax paid from the accessible profit of companies registered in Nigeria.
The inclusion of private institutions in TETFund: Arguments for and against
Since the call for the inclusion of private institutions into TETFund became pronounced, there had been strong opinions for and against this idea. Once again and hopefully for the last time, I repeat that there is not a single profit-making university in Nigeria as they are all registered as charitable organizations. They are expressly prohibited by law from operating as profit making organizations.
As noted by a writer, Dr. Tayo Oke, there is a tacit admission that the private institutions are doing something worthy of emulation; they are driving standards in education. On the whole, private institutions do not see themselves in competition with public institutions, rather, they see themselves as complementing them.
Another argument which has been proffered against the inclusion of private institutions into TETFund is the logic that the government has no business offering financial support to private institutions especially since the owners of these private institutions paraded a business plan to the National Universities Commission claiming to have the capacity to deliver quality education if granted licence. It has equally been argued that since the overall intake of students in private institutions is no more than 5% of the total student population in Nigeria, TETFund should not be extended to them. However, it only accords to common sense that if the 5% are making the greatest impact locally and internationally, it must mean that the private institutions are doing something right, far above the poor quality of education riddling our public institutions which, recently, have come under heavy criticisms for consistently churning out half-baked, semiliterate graduates.
Generally, in making a case for the inclusion of private institutions in TETFund, I adopt the reasoning of Professor Peter Okebukola in his book titled Private University Education in Nigeria: Case Studies in Relevance. He noted that what TETFund rakes into its revenue pot is about N23 billion annually, which is largely derived from the private sector of the economy. The goose that lays the golden egg that all public universities in Nigeria are enjoying is the private sector. Equity therefore demands that private universities should also be served by TETFund intervention. If the private sector is working to get the money into TETFund purse, then private universities alongside their public counterparts should derive benefit from this commonwealth. In addition, it is discriminatory to exclude private universities from TETFund which is largely funded from the contributions of the private sector. In fact, private institutions ought to be apportioned a larger share of the TETFund revenue. The other equity consideration is that since the goal is to produce quality graduates to be churned into the Nigerian labour market, regardless of the source (whether public or private), then the private universities equally need to be served by the TETFund intervention.
Furthermore, research has shown that graduates of private universities arguably exert more positive influence on the Nigerian economy and socio-cultural life than graduates from public universities. Therefore, supporting private universities with TETFund intervention will further strengthen the productivity of private universities. For instance, The MBA programme offered by the Lagos Business School, Pan-Atlantic University has been accredited by both the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business and the Association of MBAs, thereby making it one of less than 2% of MBA programmes globally that has both accreditations. In similar terms, the short business programmes of Lagos Business School of Pan-Atlantic University have been ranked in open enrolment executive education (2007-2017) and custom executive education (2015-2017) by Financial Times, London in its global rankings. These are just few examples of the enormous impact which Nigerian private institutions are making in the comity of nations.
Also, going by history, the government in Nigeria had provided grants-in-aid to assist the private education providers in having a good start, particularly in the early days of private primary and secondary education in Nigeria. The 1882 Education Ordinance and the 1890 Education Law makes explicit provisions for grant-in-aid to private schools. Government of the Colony of Lagos as well as the Southern and Northern Protectorates instituted the grant-in-aid scheme to ensure that privately-owned schools, especially those owned by missionary bodies, did not fall below established quality standards. This trend persisted until after amalgamation and even slightly beyond 1960 when Nigeria attained independence.
From this antecedent, private institutions deserve support from the government by the provision of grant-in-aid on the platform of TETFund. This will allow for the provision of sustainable impact in education among private institutions in Nigeria. It will enhance staff development through research grant, provision of functional laboratories, libraries, ICT and entrepreneurship facilities; makes for the provision of more hostel facilities; enable private universities to connect with their counterparts in Nigerian public universities and the global academic communities through the Nigerian Research Education Network (NgREN); and such connection with NgREN will enhance the visibility of private universities all over the world which will, no doubt, facilitate competition with other universities worldwide.
Undoubtedly, the inclusion of private universities into TETFund is of a greater advantage to Nigeria. Private institutions are not money-making ventures and they ought to be accorded full support by the Nigerian government. If, indeed, the goal of the government is to provide quality education to Nigerians, the best avenue is to lend maximum support to private institutions which have consistently been at the forefront of delivering quality education in Nigeria despite being set up for non-profit. The bedrock of any society is education, as it concerns every sphere of its development. Therefore, if there is to be any reasonable development in Nigeria, the government has to first jettison the misconception that private institutions are set up for profit-making, and move swiftly to include them in TETFund.
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