Prof. Emmanuel Ufuophu-Biri, the Rector, Delta State Polytechnic, Otefe-Oghara, was one of the over 200 dons that graced the recent interactive session organised by the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) for the heads of beneficiary tertiary institutions across the country. The renowned scholar and author, who spoke on the sidelines of the event, shared his thoughts on the intervention of TETFund in bridging infrastructure deficit in public tertiary institutions across the federation.
There are concerns about tertiary institutions’ over-reliance on government. What can be done differently to change the tide as obtained in the Western world?
If you talk about funding in Nigerian tertiary institutions and funding in the Western world, and reliance on self-fund generation, you will be talking about the school fees paid outside Nigeria and those paid by Nigerian students, and affordability, reliability and workability of it.
Take Ghana for instance; how much does a student pay? Our students go to United Kingdom and the least you can have in a UK university – I can speak of Master’s Degree – is between 17,000 to 20,000 pounds. Convert that in the current exchange rate. Same thing applies in virtually all European countries, Canada and the United States. Then, we run education here as a social engagement, handout compared to what the student pays. If the student has to pay so high as others do in other countries when he graduates, is there an immediate job for him? And when he gets the job, will he be able to pay this money back? So, it is a different situation when you are comparing what people pay outside and what they pay here. It is a different sociological set up, different geographical set up and different economic set up.
But despite this, we survive. It doesn’t make our students less intelligent. What is lacking is that they may not be very much exposed to modern tools of learning which are quite expensive. That is where TETFund comes in. Many of these things, you find them in higher institutions and they are provided by TETFund.
Some have argued that government funding should be discontinued to promote autonomy of higher institutions. Do you share this sentiment?
Arguably, it is a government institution. If TETFund is providing some of these things and it is a Federal Government agency, then government is providing some of these things. But it may not come directly from the Federal Ministry of Education or state government but coming through another agency owned by government, which is TETFund. When you go to higher institutions, you see several buildings constructed by TETFund. It is not a private organisation. Government may not be disbursing the money directly from the Ministry of Education but it is coming through TETFund. It is like you asking money from your dad for school fees, he doesn’t give you the money directly but gives it to your mother. And from there, your mother gives you what you want. If you don’t look critically, you will say, ‘my mother is the one giving me’ but who is giving your mother? It is your father. That is how I look at TETFund. It is an agency of government. Government funds and develops the higher institutions through TETFund.
What is the permanent solution to the dichotomy between HND, B.Sc qualifications?
This issue of dichotomy between HND and B.Sc or First Degree should be tackled because polytechnic graduates actually spend five years – two years on OND, goes for one year compulsory industrial attachment, returns for two years HND. That is five years. And they are quite well-trained. But that dichotomy tends to create inferiority complex or controversy sometimes. They all go for the same NYSC. It should be totally eliminated.
Then the issue of HND proceeding for Master’s Degree is another issue that can be looked into because there are many countries outside Nigeria whose universities accept our HND for direct Master’s Degree. If we produce these graduates, why can’t we allow them for directly for Master degree programme? But even if we say they require Post-Graduate Diploma before they can proceed for a Master’s Degree, that is okay. If they have the need to be employed as lecturers in institutions of higher learning, there should be no reference to the fact that they didn’t have First Degree because that HND is First Degree already. That is where the dichotomy comes in and must be eliminated.
And there is need for polytechnic lecturers, technologists and instructors for continual engagement, exposure to international atmosphere. TETFund has done that very well. From my institutions, we have so many persons who have travelled outside this country for academic development. And even for international conferences and exposure, putting Nigerian polytechnics and the nation as a whole on a global map and visibility. TETFund has tried there. All I just want is sustainability. I wouldn’t recommend anything new to TETFund because it has been doing what it ought to do. My only prayer is that it should sustain what it is doing.