Reps task FG to set up N15bn emergency fund for tertiary institutions

The House of Representatives on Tuesday urged the Federal Government to set up a N15 billion coronavirus emergency fund for Nigerian universities and other tertiary institutions.

Tribune Online reports that the resolution was passed sequel to the adoption of a motion sponsored by Hon. Steve Azaiki, Minority Leader, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu and eight others, who underscored the need for the Nigerian government to initiate COVID–19 Student Emergency Grant, as obtainable in $273 million grant set up by Canadian government, and $14.3 billion grant approved by the United States.

In his lead debate, Hon. Azaiki expressed concern on the perception that Africa and particularly Nigeria is still being viewed through a colonial prism due to the continent’s vulnerability rather than its capacity to contribute to concerted global efforts to defeat coronavirus.

While calling for a paradigm shift, Hon. Azaiki argued that “Nigeria must be counted as one of the countries making contribution in science and research to find the cure and vaccine for COVID–19 and to achieve this objective there is need to provide support and funding to universities and research institutions through special emergency funding to enable them carry out such responsibilities.

“The House also noted that due to the outbreak of coronavirus disease, otherwise known as COVID–19, most universities and tertiary institutions in Nigeria have suspended classes as a prevention in the absence of any known vaccines.

“The House is aware that the COVID–19 pandemics have had a devastating impact on Nigeria’s universities and tertiary education system and without a major mitigation, like discovering an effective therapy or vaccine, mass testing and a new strategic infusion of federal funding, the landscape of Nigeria’s university and tertiary institutions may be forever change.

“The House is also aware that the Federal Government, in lieu of the COVID–19 pandemic outbreak and the enormous public health dangers that it poses is yet to decide on a date for the re-opening of schools including universities and tertiary institutions across the country.

“The House is concerned that for four-year institutions, enrolment means revenue; and in the midst of the short-term economic and social shocks of ‘stay-at-home’ orders coupled with difficulties of containing the virus, there are estimates that universities and tertiary institutions will experience at least a 15% reduction in enrolment, as many students will likely decline to enrol in the new session as they may consider delaying their tertiary education.

“The House is worried that universities and tertiary institutions’ tuition income will nosedive as parents who lose their jobs as a result of the pandemic are less likely to fund the university or tertiary education of their wards, as students may demand fee reduction and waivers in the light of economic recession coupled with the shock of unemployment rates that could reach an estimated global average of 25%, higher education may also seem like a luxury for many.

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“The House acknowledges that in the continent and globally, some institutions are establishing the infrastructure needed so that they are able to move all their courses online (should there be an extended lockdown due to the pandemic now or in the future),” he said.

He further noted that Nigeria provides up to 80% funding for public universities occasioning for more far-reaching means of raising funds for universities and tertiary institutions, who need to prepare a business continuity plan for their administrative and academic staff to be able to work remotely while under government’s orders to lockdown due to the pandemic.

In the bid to address the development, he harped on the need to ensure the provision of appropriate student support scheme (COVID–19 Student Emergency Grant) for those affected by the impact of the pandemic physically, economically and mentally, especially the vulnerable students’ groups e.g. persons living with disabilities, students with trauma or mental health issues, refugees or displaced persons within the tertiary education system.

“The House recalls that the government of the United States recently provided the sum of $14.3 billion for higher education, with $12.4 billion split between emergency grants to student and money to colleges for expenses directly related to coronavirus and the disruption of campus operations, as $1 billion would be targeted at historically black colleges and universities, while $300 million will be given to colleges most affected by coronavirus,” he observed.

According to him, in March, 2020 the government of Canada earmarked an investment of $275 million in funding for research on medical countermeasures against coronavirus, which will allow 96 research organisations and projects to continue essential research within the field of infectious diseases, vaccines and clinical management.

He also applauded the efforts by some Nigerian institutions like University of Benin (UNIBEN), Ahmadu Bello University Zaria (ABU) and Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria (DICON) in contributing to the ongoing fight against COVID-19, where researchers have produced clinically tested low-cost and effective ventilators; strategic additional funding could increase their capacity in this regard;

To this end, the House urged Nigerian universities and tertiary institutions to launch a Coronavirus Student Emergency Fund, where indigent and vulnerable students can apply for student emergency grant to assist them to recover from the economic impact of the COVID–19 pandemic.

The lawmakers also tasked the Federal Government to immediately establish an Infectious Diseases Research Institute in 6 selected Federal Government universities across the six geopolitical zones of the country, which will be given specific research funding.

To this end, the House urged Federal Government to constitute a team that will comprise of representatives of the government, academia and relevant stakeholders to undertake a study tour to Madagascar and Senegal to explore the reported progress in indigenous research into a possible cure of COVID-19 and bring back relevant knowledge and knowhow back to the country.

In the bid to ensure compliance, the House mandated the Committees on Tertiary Education, Emergency and Disaster Preparedness and Science and Technology to ensure implementation as well as seek the concurrence of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

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