By Aare Afe Babalola, SAN, OFR, CON
Issues bordering on the administration of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund, TETFund, have been the subject of debate in education circles for some time.
There have been arguments about the calls for the inclusion of private institutions in the scheme.
Recently, it was reported that the Executive Secretary of the Fund itself, Professor Suleiman Bogoro, had waded into the matter at a public forum when he was reported in the media that he condemned those making such calls. Reporting on the matter, a national daily stated as follows:
He said it was rather absurd that some people were canvassing for the inclusion of private tertiary schools among the beneficiaries of TETFund interventions, saying the fund was set up to cater solely for the needs of public tertiary institutions from colleges of education, polytechnics to universities.
While noting that the idea to set up the fund came from the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, he said the purpose was for the overall interest of children from poor homes, majority of whom he said were students of public tertiary schools.
He described private schools as money-making ventures, adding that their inclusion as well as monotechnics into TETFund scheme would deny the children from poor homes the opportunity to have access to quality education.
To be certain, some of the claims credited to the Executive Secretary are not entirely new as they had equally been made in times past without basis by those opposed to the calls for the inclusion of private institutions in the beneficiaries of the Fund.
What is, however, disturbing is the fact that those false claims could be repeated by Prof. Suleiman Bogoro, the head of TETFund who is presumed in law and in fact to know better than those outside the system. What is more disturbing is the claim that private institutions are money-making ventures. The ordinary man who cares to know something about the origin of private universities in Nigeria ought to know that Chapter 3 of Education (National Minimum Standards and Establishment of Institutions) Act Part 1 and Schedule thereto Article 3 provides as follows:
“The Federal Government or its Accredited agency shall ascertain and be satisfy that (C) the proposed university is registered or incorporated in Nigeria as a charitable company limited by guarantee and the proprietors or operators, owners, trustees or directors are disentitled from drawing profits from the university”.
In other words, private universities are not money-making ventures and no proprietor or promoter of such a university can draw any profit from the university. The statement of Prof. Bogoro that private universities are profit-making ventures runs counter to the law. It is annoying and designed to ridicule and denigrate private universities. It is libellous.
Private institutions: An answer to the state’s educational shortfalls
Education is one of the most basic rights of every individual and it is one of the rights recognised in International Law. According to the United Nations, every year of formal education increases an individual’s earning capacity by up to 10 per cent and education has been identified as a principal tool for realising other human rights, unlocking prosperity and eradicating endemic poverty. This, perhaps, accounts for why it remains one of the primary responsibilities of a government to provide education for its citizens and to provide the enabling environment for the realisation of the citizens’ educational ideals.
In its bid to provide education, the governments of advanced countries have quickly realised that the government alone, with all its responsibility for infrastructure development in other sectors, cannot construct and build the required quality universities that will accommodate the citizenry. Due to this inadequacy, private universities were established by churches, philanthropists, monarchs, corporation of students, mutual aid societies, governors, communities and heads of state who in their lifetime donated money to start universities or through testamentary disposition bequeathed their wealth to trustees to found universities.
Some examples include the University of Paris which was founded in France by the Catholic Church in 1150, Harvard University, a private research university established in 1636, Yale University, an American Private Ivy League Research University founded in 1701, among others.
Historically, the emergence of private universities is a response to the government’s admission of its inability to provide full access to education. Private universities in Nigeria were established to support the Federal Government invitation for public-private participation in order to provide more access to education.
Governments all over the world do appreciate the contributions of private universities to education development. Consequently, governments support these private universities and their founders not only in words but also by the provision of grants.
However, unlike Harvard, Yale, Stanford and other Ivy League universities that are being extensively supported through direct research grants and aid by the American government, the Nigerian government expects private universities to survive or perish at their own expense. Afe Babalola University Ado Ekiti, ABUAD, is the first and only Nigerian university in history to have commenced operations with all faculty buildings up and running before applying for and obtaining NUC approval.
Similarly, ABUAD is the only institution in the country that currently has what is known as Talent Discovery Directorate where students are made to discover their gifted areas early enough and get mentored through the provision of the right type of equipment until they are nurtured to stardom.
Despite these and other efforts to spearhead technological research and innovation, Nigerian governments refuse to support those achievements and efforts. Instead, lopsided and archaic policies that exclude private universities from accessing university research funds continue to hold sway. This lopsided policy is more particularly demonstrated in the statement attributed to the Executive Secretary of TETFund, Professor Suleiman Bogoro.
Private universities should be beneficiaries of TETFund
As I stated earlier and contrary to popular sentiments, including those held by Professor Suleiman Bogoro, private universities in Nigeria are not created as profit-making ventures. As earlier identified, they were created to bolster the apparent deficit in tertiary education in Nigeria.
Recognising this, the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, in an editorial released by the National Universities Commission on December 18, 2017, remarked that anyone setting up a private university with the sole purpose of making profit should drop the idea and invest the money elsewhere as universities are not profit-generating ventures.
He noted that all over the world private universities were set up not for profit, but as social service and the desire to advance knowledge and education for the upliftment of a group, a society or a nation. He further noted thus: “Universities, when established, take up to half a century to fully mature. People setting up universities do not live long enough to see them mature and if the motive is profit, they will surely be disappointed. In Nigeria, the establishment of private universities was pioneered by religious groups whose motives were definitely not profit and understandingly, most of the 74 private universities in Nigeria are owned by such religious bodies”.
Birthing the Fund
In 1993, in the realisation of the inability of the government to fund education alone with budgetary allocations, the government in the course of discussions with the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities, ASUU, decided to set up a Trust Fund from which, as proposed by ASUU, tertiary education would be funded. This led to the enactment of the Education Tax Act Cap E4 Laws of the Federation 2004.
By Ss. 1 and 7 of the said law, 2½ per cent education tax collected on the assessable profit of all registered companies in Nigeria shall be disbursed only to educational institutions at the federal, state and local government levels across six geopolitical zones on primary, secondary and tertiary institutions in the ratio of 50 per cent, 20 per cent and 30 per cent respectively. Therefore, the government extended the use of the fund beyond that proposed by ASUU.
In the ensuing years, the effect of the funds was felt across the country in the form of infrastructure and equipment in almost all institutions and which always bore the inscription of the name of the Fund.
However, upon the realisation that other levels of education were benefitting from other sources of funding such as the Universal Basic Education Commission, agitation began for the reversal to the original concept of limiting the Fund only to Tertiary institutions.
This led to the enactment of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (Establishment, Etc.) Act 2011. By this new legislation, the Education Tax Act was repealed. It is, however, alarming that government in enacting the new law failed to take into cognisance the arguments canvased over the years for the extension of the application of the fund to private tertiary institutions. By virtue of S.3 of the law, the main purpose of the Fund is “the rehabilitation, restoration and consolidation of tertiary education in Nigeria.”
Curiously by the provisions of Section 7(2) of the Act, private universities are excluded from benefitting from the funds collected from companies which are mainly private. It seems clear that Section 7(2) of the Act contradicts the provisions of Section 3(1) thereof.
The exclusion of private institutions apart from the contradiction between Sections 3 and 7 of the law is obviously unconstitutional, unfair and unjustifiable. If the government has itself licensed private universities, then reference in section 3(1) to “tertiary education in Nigeria” cannot but include private universities.
In the next edition, I will write on the grants and financial support given to private universities by advanced countries.