Established in 2011 to complement the Education Trust Fund (ETF), which was created in 1993, the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) has been leaving its mark in many higher institutions.
It deploys funds and manpower for the rehabilitation of facilities.
According to the TETFund Act of 2011, the agency’s scope of operation extends to all government-owned schools, including universities, polytechnics, colleges of education and special institutes for research. The agency’s source of income is the two per cent education tax imposed on assessable profit of registered companies.
The decaying infrastructure in tertiary institutions became a source of concern for members of the academia, who sounded the alarm that public institutions could collapse if the situation was not arrested. Incessant industrial actions became the order of the day to force the government to provide funds for higher education.
TETFund’s establishment was seen as a breath of fresh air in managing the infrastructure and operations of tertiary institutions.
At inception, TETFund’s activities were present in all tertiary institutions, including colleges of agriculture, which are mandate research institutes. Three years later, the Act 2011 setting up the agency was amended, removing colleges of agriculture from the scheme.
Since then, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), representing the interest of universities, has been countering any move to rectify the anormaly.
To extend TETFund’s activities to colleges of agriculture, Senator Abdullahi Adamu of Nasarawa West is sponsoring a bill seeking re-amendment of the TETFund Act to include colleges of agriculture. The bill wants Section 20 of the Act amended by enlarging the interpretation of the clause “tertiary education institutions” to include “colleges of agriculture”.
The bill, which has scaled the second reading in the Senate, further seeks the amendment of the Principal Act in Section 7(3) by deleting the ratio of 2:1:1 between universities, polytechnics and colleges of education, and inserting the clause “universities, polytechnics, colleges of education and colleges of agriculture”.
At a public hearing recently held by the Senate Committee overseeing TETFund activities, there were heated arguments between interested parties while making submissions on the content of the bill. At the hearing, it was discovered that the bill did not specify the exact quota to be allocated to colleges of agriculture.
Senator Biodun Olujimi, Deputy Minority Whip, who stood in for the Senate President, appealed to the parties to be open-minded in their contributions, and wished the committee a fruitful deliberation.
The committee chairman, Senator Jibrin Barau, said members would be unbiased umpires in deciding the merit of the amendment of the TETFund Act. He said his committee would consider contributions from all parties to make the agency better.
In his presentation, the Secretary General of the Academic Staff Union of Research Institutes (ASURI), Dr Theophilus Ndubuaku, said it was a disservice by the agency to exclude colleges of agriculture from the list of beneficiaries of the scheme. He said the decision could not be justified, noting that research institutes had the mandate to engage in academic research with the objective to equip middle-level manpower.
He said: “Research institutes, in a real sense, require TETFund intervention more than universities, because our activities focus on better equipping those who not only help in commercialising agriculture in Nigeria, but also help in modern research to drive diversification of the economy and re-engineering being championed by the Federal Government.”
Ndubuaku queried the decision of TETFund to exclude colleges of agriculture, which, he said, are awarding degrees after four to five years of studies, but fund colleges of education that “award low-grade certificates” after three years.
He accused ASUU of laying a bad foundaation for the future of education, saying it would be illogical for any academic union to consider research institutes as non-academic institutions.
Ndubuaku said: “Let the Federal Government give a fair share to research institutes, specifically for research purposes and post-graduate studies. Our researchers often end their careers in universities as lecturers after receiving training from our institutes.”
In his counter-argument, ASUU National President Prof Biodun Ogunyemi disagreed with the Senate Committee members and advocates of the inclusion of research institutes. The ASUU boss noted that universities remained under-funded under the current TETFund operation, saying the agency should not be further burdened with additional beneficiaries.
He said any change to the TETFund Act would be resisted by the union, urging colleges of agriculture and research institutes to engage the government on other means of getting funds, rather than calling for the amendment of TETFund Act.
Some non-governmental organisations (NGO) and civil society groups at the public hearing lent their voices in support of ASUU’s position, urging the Senate to stop the proposed amendment.
The representative of TETFund at the hearing noted that the N1 billion given to varsities yearly was not enough to address the challenges of infrastructure and academics in the institutions, adding that the inclusion of over 30 research institutes would overstretch the agency’s resources.
While the drama played out, members of the Senate Committee tactically gave their nod to the submissions made by the parties to douse the tension at the hearing.
While the Senate Committee closed the hearing on the bill, it was unclear which side the outcome would favour.
CAMPUSLIFE gathered that there is a similar bill being sponsored by Senator Monsurat Sunmonu of Oyo Central, which seeks the amendment of TETFund Act to include research institutes as beneficiaries of grants, scholarships and other interventions by TETFund.
According to Sunmonu’s bill, Section 7 (3) of the Principal Act should be amended by substituting the clause “The distribution of funds shall be in the ratio of 2:1:1 as between universities, polytechnics and colleges of education” and inserting a new clause: “The distribution of funds shall be in the ratio of 2:2:1:1 as between universities, research institutions, polytechnics and colleges of education.”
CAMPUSLIFE gathered that Sunmonu’s bill is yet to be considered for public hearing after scaling the second reading in the Senate.
Some members of academia, who spoke to CAMPUSLIFE, lent their voice in support of the amendment of the TETFund Act to accommodate colleges of agriculture and research institutes.
Prof Leonard Agwunobi of Faculty of Agriculture, University of Calabar (UNICAL), said since the agency’s mandate is to support education and research, there should be no excuse for not incorporating all academic institutions in its activities.
He said: “If the amendment of the Act would help these excluded colleges and institutes to improve their activities, the Senate should go ahead. These institutions, in my opinion, should be part of beficiaries since they have mandate to carry out research and TETFund captures reseach as part of its scopes.”
Dr Celestine Okonobe of Nigeria Institute For Oil palm Research (NIFOR) said TETFund was established to support tertiary education.
He said: “The question is, are colleges of agriculture not tertiary education institutions? If yes, why excluding them from TETFund’s support? The agency needs to extend operations to research institutes that feed universities with needed materials and data for research works. If research institutes are not poperly equipped, how can they serve the mandate of their establishment?”
Managing Consultant of TF & Associate, Mr. Toye Fawole, said: “I have followed the ASUU/ASURI debate on the amendment of TETFund Act closely. It is obvious that ASUU wants to monopolise the agency and makes it serve universities alone. This is not right. I expect ASUU to call ASURI for discussion on how to ensure that the frontier of learning and research is expended through the intervention funds.
“For our education to get better, these unions must learn how to accomodate each other and work for common interest. This carry-your-cross-alone spirit is very unfortunate. Research institutes must be adequately funded by the government, just as universalities are being funded.”