By NBF News

A recent promise by the Vice President, Arc. Namadi Sambo, that private universities would soon be beneficiaries of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund is gratifying to the stakeholders in the sector. In his speech of October 8, 2011, he said 'on our part as a government, we shall continue to facilitate, through the Federal Ministry of Education and its agencies, a very conducive atmosphere which the education sector requires to contribute meaningfully to our short, medium and long-term goals.

'I know for instance that a lot of private tertiary institutions, particularly the universities, still grapple with the issue of funding and are clamouring for consideration with regard to Tertiary Education Trust Fund. The government will as a matter of responsibility, look at this issue and device means by which necessary support will be rendered,' he concluded.

At present, only government-owned universities are benefitting from the Tertiary Education Trust Fund. As a matter of reality, the importance of private institutions especially private universities in Nigeria, cannot be over-emphasised. These institutions, since liberalisation of the education sector by the former president, Olusegun Obasanjo over a decade ago, have contributed their input in students' intake, closing the widening gap of opportunities for prospective students in the public universities. Many of them have also abundantly improved in areas of physical development, curriculum planning and staffing based on National Universities Commissions (NUC) regulations. One cannot at this juncture say contrary to the fact that the NUC has vigorously played its roles in quality assurance of programmes.

As a matter of fact, Nigerian private universities are producing qualitative products as this is evident in their performance at national competitions in recent times. Only few months ago, an 18-year old undergraduate of Crescent University, Miss Zulikha Ibrahim, emerged in the first position of an ICT-based National Microsoft Competition ahead of all other participants from many universities (both public and private). Also, Bells University of Technology emerged winner of 2011 Nigeria Universities/Polytechnics Computer Programming Contest. Page 42 of The Punch, October 18, 2011 reported that Covenant University (another private university) came third in the competition.

Ideally, individuals with social corporate philanthropy are coming up, through their various foundations, to support private universities for further development. A few of these people are Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Chief Kessington Adebutu, Mr Babatunde Folawiyo and several other Nigerians who, as private entrepreneurs, have envisioned a bright future for private universities through severally endowed projects for development.

The sing-song re-echoes that 'government institutions cannot do it alone'. Today, the number of private universities in Nigeria is more than either that of the state or federal universities. This is an indication of future prospects of the education sub-sector in the country. With 45 private universities, 37 state-owned and 36 federal, the government cannot but pay more attention to the private education sector which yields N363.5 billion yearly. According to a research published on page 23 of The Guardian of Sunday, October 2, 2011, 'the sector is perceived to offer higher quality of education and caters for a larger number of school-age population than government-sponsored institutions'. The report also noted that the business failure rate in the sector remains low. This is because all forms of bureaucracies are prevented and there is smooth running of systems.

The services of Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) as highlighted on its website are to provide funding for educational facilities and infrastructural development; promote creative and innovative approach to educational learning and service; stimulate, support and enhance improvement activities in the educational foundation areas, like Teacher Education, Teaching Practice, Library Development and Special Education Programmes and finally to champion new literacy enhancing programmes as scientific, information and technological literacy.

If the mission of TETFUND is, as it claims, to deliver effective and transformative intervention programmes to the tertiary education in Nigeria through funding and efficient project management and its corporate objective is to use funds generated from Education Tax to improve the quality of education in Nigeria, these should not exclude the private universities.

The stakeholders of these private universities do not encourage a situation where staff salaries and other benefits are delayed, thus precluding face-offs (between the employees and their employers) that could lead to industrial strikes of many months as witnessed in public universities, although this is not to say that the former do not have their teething challenges .

The former Chairman of the NUC Standing Committee on Private Universities (SCOPU), Professor Nurudeen Olorun-nimbe Adedipe, in his paper entitled ' Challenges of Access to University Education in Nigeria' published in The Nation on Sunday, October 31, 2010 submitted in the following words: 'I am aware of the enormous resources that proprietors of private universities pump into the establishment of their respective universities. They are unique members of the proprietorial stakeholdership. They need to be recognised for such facilities as Take-Off Grants and access to Educational Trust Fund (ETF) facilities, among others. The case of ETF support should, in fact, be taken for granted since the fund is an accrual of income-related taxes that are no respecter of whatever an institution is, Federal, State or Private'.

Also, in an editorial comment in Daily Sun of Thursday, May 26, 2011 captioned Private Varsities and ETF Funds, the newspaper advocates that 'since the ETF intervention fund is sourced from a Federal Government levy on the profits of the private companies operating in Nigeria, all students in both public and private universities should be entitled to a share if they are not to be unjustly denied of the commonwealth. The relevant laws should be amended to accommodate private universities. But the criteria of accessing the Fund should be clearly spelled out and strictly enforced to discourage a fresh run by profit-motivated proprietors.'

Based on the promise made by Vice President Arch. Namadi Sambo as contextually quoted at the beginning of this article, it is crystal clear that it is quite possible for the government at the centre to devise a model that will cater for private universities' access to the Tertiary Education Trust Fund. When this is achieved, it is believed that private universities will have the capacity to even perform better than what we now all witness in telecoms and aviation sector.

Katib writes from Crescent University,