TETFUND: How an obnoxious policy is undermining scholarship in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions -By Professor Abdussamad Umar Jibia

Filed under: Educational Issues |

Two weeks ago I was visited by a young lecturer who is working in a Federal university different from mine. The young man is on a PhD programme in one of the Malaysian universities. He is worried, however, that he is studying in a university he was forced to choose because he is on TETFUND sponsorship. He obtained a Masters degree in Universiti Utara Malaysia but because it is now outlisted by TETFUND he cannot go there as the Fund will not approve it. This put me off as I began to ask him questions after which I made calls to other students I know to be studying in Malaysian universities. After confirming the way TETFUND choice universities are overpopulated with Nigerian students I came to the conclusion that it is better to raise an alarm and set myself free and here I am.

But even before I make my points, the bias of my discussion towards Malaysia must be explained. Foreign exchange has made it unrealistic for heads of institutions to send their scholars to Europe and other parts of the western world. A vice chancellor of a second generation university was telling me that this year only sixty million Naira was allocated to him by TETFund for foreign scholarship. With over thirty departments, his problems are better imagined if he were to send his staff to Europe where his allocation may sponsor only a maximum of 3 persons. This made the choice of a third world country imperative. As things stand, the number of TETFund scholars in Malaysian universities is more than those in other countries put togather. Thus, Malaysian universities are universities that TETFund cannot afford to give ‘any other university’ treatment.

Let me also state that the current executive secretary of TETFUND is a colleague of mine with whom I have a very good relationship. But personal relationship should always give way to collective interest especially if the fate of current and future generations of Nigerians is at stake. I also know that I can always meet and discuss with my good colleague on issues like this but I opt to make it public so that other Nigerians may contribute to the discussion and those who are in position to call the Fund to order may do so if there are such people at all. This is more so since a similar discussion on this issue in the past did not yield any good result.

 

Prof. Abdussamad Umar Jibia

 

Tertiary Education Trust FUND (TETFUND, formerly ETF) was set up as an intervention agency in the education sector following ASUU and FG agreement in the early 1990s. Since then, typical of Nigeria, the Fund has served as the main source of funding for our tertiary institutions especially in the area of infrastructure and staff development. Almost all public Nigerian universities, polytechnics and colleges of Education including state government owned now depend on the Fund for the training of their staff and major projects.

Funding of staff development by TETFUND began proper in the year 2007/2008. The procedure was that staff will obtain admission to study programmes of their choice whose relevance will be confirmed by their Heads of Departments, Deans and the institutions central committee in charge of staff development. The institutions also finally determined the university to which the staff will go and it would depend on the programme and cost of study. Recommendations were then sent to the Fund for approval and funding.

This was the practice until sometime in 2017 when confusion was created in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions due to a new policy that restricts the foreign universities TETFUND scholars can go for their postgraduate programmes. Many things were said about the new policy but because I normally don’t comment on things I do not properly understand, I decided to see the new Executive secretary, the man behind the policy. I did so along with two friends who were also interested in the issue. We had an informal friendly discussion during which he explained to us the new decision. We in turn pointed to him some of the inadequacies of the new policy and how it will undermine scholarship especially in certain areas. The chief executive noted our concern and agreed to look into it. More than a year after, nothing has been done.

The controversial policy is summarized in section 9.1B (ii) of the Guidelines for Accessing TETFund Intervention funds:

a. Public fund would only be expended to train Nigerian scholars in the top ranking Universities around the world;

b. Choice of country of study must be guided by the World University Ranking of Times Higher Education. Scholars should seek for admission in countries that have Universities ahead of the best university in Nigeria (based on the ranking of that year);

c. In those countries, scholars should be guided by the University league tables of the countries to ensure that they are seeking for placement in the top-of-the-league Universities.

Specifically

Choice of country of study must be guided by the World University Ranking of Times Higher Education. Scholars should seek for admission in countries that have Universities ahead of the best university in Nigeria (based on the ranking of that year);

Only Universities that are among the top 20 percent on the league tables of Universities in developed countries would be approved for the purpose of TETFund scholarship;

Only Universities that are among the top 10 percent on the league tables of Universities in developing countries that satisfy (b) above, would be approved for the purpose of TETFund ASTD scholarship.

In sum, by this TETFUND now uses Times Higher Education (THE) ranking to determine the country to which it can sponsor scholars. Any country that does not have at least one university above the highest ranking Nigerian university in THE ranking (currently Covenant university) will have all its universities disqualified by TETFund. That is how all the universities in Sudan, for example, were disqualified.

Secondly, the country’s national ranking determines the specific university Nigerian academics under its sponsorship can go.

Many Nigerians, including some involved in training, do not know that the so-called world university rankings are not conducted by an organ of the United Nations and are not covered by any international treaty. Few of them are aware that most university rankings are conducted by newspapers and magazines and that there are many of such outfits publishing annual university rankings with lots of inconsistencies in their methods and results. This has led to a situation whereby a university that is highly rated by one magazine may not even be worth mentioning by another. For example, this year two Nigerian universities, Covenant University and University of Ibadan made it to the first one thousand (specifically 601 – 800) universities in THE ranking while neither they nor any other Nigerian university made it to the first 1000 in the QS ranking. No Nigerian University is mentioned in the Shanghai ranking. Similarly, no Nigerian university made it to the first 1000 in US News magazine ranking or any other major ranking I have come across.

Another difference is in the scope. While QS provides ranking by subjects in 72 areas, the THE provides for 11 general areas, making it harder for a prospective student to choose the best in specific areas. On the other hand, the Shanghai ranking provides for 46 areas while the US News ranking provides for 22 subject areas.

But why the discrepancies? There are many reasons. They include ability of the outfit to obtain enough data on all universities which is near impossible, the instruments used to arrive at the ranking results and their biases which are influenced by their experiences and cultural issues. These have made it difficult for any Government to impose any of these rankings on its citizens except, of course, Nigeria through TETFund.

The THE ranking which is imposed on Nigeria by TETFund is conducted by Times Higher Education (THE), a weekly magazine based in London, owned by TES Global Limited. THE has outlined their methodology which is available on their website. It includes, among other things, seven criteria a university must satisfy to be included in the rankings and thirteen weighted indicators whose weights add up to give the overall percentage score for each university.

Perhaps the faultiest of all their indicators is citations (research influence), which carries 30 % of the overall score. THE solely relies on Scopus to provide the citations data. One of the problems with Scopus is that it is biased towards English sources to the detriment of other languages like Arabic. This puts to a disadvantage many key universities in the Islamic world that conduct their teaching and research in Arabic. A survey of the THE inclusion criteria shows that the same class of universities are badly off.

Although THE claims to rank universities according to their percentage score based on the stated weighted indicators, the independent audit carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (“PwC”) for TES Global limited covers the universities ranked 1- 200 only.

One of the criteria of inclusion in THE rankings is that a university supplies and authenticates data on itself. In addition, any university that asks not to be included in the ranking is not included. THE does not state the universities excluded in their ranking or at least those included based on their inclusion criteria. This gives the erroneous impression that all universities have been evaluated and ranked accordingly. An enquiry I made on some universities was not replied. Instead, THE referred me to their methodology on their website.

Of course, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (“PwC”) have absolved themselves of any liability in relation to the use of their report (which as mentioned earlier covers universities ranked 1 to 200 only) and they stated that it is provided “for information purposes only”. I thus wonder if TETFund sought any legal advice before relying on THE ranking and imposing it on our nation.

For the league tables of national rankings, TETFund relies on a website whose contents have since been disowned by the National Universities Commission (NUC). This is very shameful. There is no such website, newspaper or magazine to which every country sends her national university rankings for dissemination. Thus the only source for knowing the national ranking of universities of any country is the Public agency like the NUC, overseeing university education in that country. So if TETFund were serious about truly knowing the National ranks of various universities in their countries, it would have taken its time to write the relevant Ministries/Agencies in the different countries. A check at TETFund revealed that nothing like that took place. In addition, the inputs of National Universities Commission and the Committee of Vice Chancellors were not sought. Polytechnics and Colleges of Education were not consulted either. In fact, there was no internal committee within the TETFUND set up to give advice before this policy was introduced.

Each country has its way assessing and ranking her universities. For example, the Malaysian Ministry of Higher Education (MMOH) annually releases the star ranking (SETARA) of all universities in Malaysia and it is not in the usual league table style. MMOH ranks universities as 6 – star (Outstanding), 5 star (Excellent), 4 star (Very Good), 3 star (Good), 2 – star (satisfactory) and 1-star (weak). The universities are further categorized into mature (15 years and older), emerging (less than 15 years old) and university colleges.

The age of the university determines how it is scored using the four instruments. They are Institutional profiles (Lecturer’s capability, academic’s staff recognition, students’ quality and diversity, etc.), teaching and learning, research capacity and services and income generation. According to the MMOH, “University College and Emerging University are expected to consolidate institutional profiles and teaching, while a Mature University is expected to engage in more research and service activities.”

In the 2017 ranking, which is the latest, out of 71 universities, eight universities all of them matured made it to the 6 star category while 21 universities, nine of them matured made it to the 5 star category. I thus wonder where TETFund got its national ranking of Malaysian universities which it uses to restrict its sponsorship to four Malaysian universities. The implication of TETFund policy is that 70 % of our young academics are restricted to four universities which, certainly does not portend a good future for our educational system.

The best body to determine where a scholar should go for a higher degree is the university, Polytechnic or the College they are working. Every university, and indeed every institution of learning, has its own uniqueness determined by the needs of the environment in which it is located. This uniqueness is what determines its teaching curricula and types of research and by implication the university abroad or at home it may want her staff in specific areas to go.

Of recent, Nigerian universities have been signing memoranda of understanding (MOU) with sister universities across the globe that enable them to collaborate in areas of mutual interests. These MOUs cover mutual visits by researchers and students and joint researches which generate PhD degrees. The obnoxious TETFUND policy does not promote collaboration as the institutions are forced to send their staff to specific universities whether or not it is in their interest. I know of a Federal university which has a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with University Teknologi Petronas (UTP) Malaysia where many of her staff members are following PhD programmes in different areas. However, they cannot get TETFUND scholarship even though UTP is a 6-star university by MMOH ranking.

It is a pity that Nigerians have now been politicised to such a level that even the best of opinions is read through political lenses. Thus, even as I am writing my observation I know it is more likely to fall on deaf ears than given any consideration. But if I may ask, do we now have a situation in which nobody is there to check the excesses of anybody?

Professor Abdussamad Umar Jibia
[email protected]

 

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