Chris Steven, Abuja
Again, the clamour to amend clause 72a and 73 of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund, TETFund, Act 2011, and expand its scope of intervention, on Monday, suffered a major setback as stakeholders forcefully rejected any change to the law.
Two separate bills proposing the amendments had passed first and second reading at the House of Representatives and came up for public hearing on Monday where stakeholders tersely spurned the amendments as an attempt to weaken the impact of TETFund.
The bills seek to expand TETFund interventions to private universities by about 10 per cent of all the 2 per cent company taxes collected; and to federal tertiary health institutions and teaching hospitals by 17.5 per cent of the taxes.
Speaking at a public hearing held by the House of Representatives Committee on Tertiary Education Services, the National President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi, said private universities are private enterprises which should be contributing to TETFund and not drawing from it.
Ogunyemi argued that allowing private universities to benefit from TETFund will violate the essence of establishing the fund which was to get private sector to contribute to funding of education through education tax.
“How can we be deploying public funds to support private investment? They are charging fees and making profit and they are coming back to say they want to draw from public funds?” he said.
He warned that 40 out of the 74 private universities, representing about 54 per cent of private universities, were faith-based and encouraging them to draw from TETFund will open another window of national crisis.
The ASUU president also argued on the lack of geopolitical spread of the institutions as over 70 per cent of the universities are concentrated in two or three zones of the country which will further raise eyebrows about government using public funds to support private universities in some geopolitical zones.
On the bill to fund tertiary hospitals, he said the National Assembly, in the 2018 budget, actualised the 1 per cent consolidated revenue fund allocated to the health sector as stipulated in the national health act of 2014 which should give the health sector enough fund to take care of teaching hospitals that are strictly under the Federal Ministry of Health.
“Currently there over 56 federal teaching hospital, specialists/teaching hospitals in Nigeria, once this law is amended to include the proposed institutions, the demand for inclusion will increase to the extent that satisfying the request will make the intervention of TETFund ineffective.
“We believe that state universities teaching hospitals will come up, states specialist teaching hospital will come up, teaching hospitals for veterinary medicine will come up and the thing will keep proliferating; the impact of TETFund will actually be watered down.
“Mr. Chairman, we have said over and over each time we appear at the National Assembly; I think this is about the fourth time in the last four, five years that we have come back to talk about tinkering with amendment of TETFund law,” he said.
According to him, the impact of the TETFund will drastically reduce to the extent that the original intent of effectively rehabilitating, restoring and consolidating the quality of our tertiary education in this country will be lost.
Ogunyemi maintained that “the mandate of federal tertiary/teaching hospitals fall under the federal ministry of health; therefore that ministry should continue to undertake the responsibility of funding these tertiary institutions; we know the complications that will come also because of the law.”
Presenting the position of TETFund, the Executive Secretary of the Fund, Dr Abdulahi Baffa, refuted calls for the amendment of the law, stressing that the Act establishing the fund was not broken and does not require fixing.
Baffa took a swipe at the promoters of the amendment to include private universities who failed to show up at the public hearing or were unable to make their presentations, describing it as a sound ground of rejecting their request.
“Again, Mr. Chairman, when intending interested persons wishing to establish a private university apply to NUC, one of the requirement is that they provide an evidence of certain quantum of resources available for the establishment and maintenance of the university.
“If after granting the license they would turn round and be requesting for money from government, it means that what they presented as evidence is not correct and this should be reason to withdraw the licence.
“If ETF, the precursor TETFund, was established to arrest rot and decay and was established to avoid government from charging tuition fee, how could tuition-charging institutions ask to draw from TETFund? This defeats the essence of establishing ETF and of establishing TETFund,” he said.
The TETFund boss advised the House to mandate NUC to include a statement in the licences issued to private universities to read “no recourse to public funds” so as any attempt to draw from public fund could result in revocation of the licenses.
He described the proposal to include federal tertiary hospitals as an anomalous decision taken to soothe the ego of certain individuals who have put medical education in serious jeopardy and by the same token put medical practice in a quagmire in the country.
Baffa said “Just like workshops of colleges of engineering, just like workshops of biochemistry students, just like laboratories of biology students, just like the laboratories of computer science students, medical teaching hospitals were laboratories and are still laboratories.
“They were transferred from universities and huge bureaucracy was introduced around the administration and management of teaching hospitals. This bureaucracy is a misnomer and it is distorting how medical education should be delivered in our country. It is distorting how medical practice should be conducted in our country and this needs to be changed.
“Being a laboratory belonging to a faculty like university, if we say that we are going to isolate the medical laboratory, the teaching hospital and treat them as equal to the Universities and treat them as beneficiary institutions standing on their own rights doesn’t stop engineering workshops, architectural workshops, biological science laboratories not counting faculty of law, what will stop them from requesting to be treated as beneficiary institutions, independent of their universities?”
He said in countries where medical education is healthy teaching hospital belong to colleges of medicine, chief medical directors of university teaching hospitals are appointed by deans of faculties, not even by the vice chancellor, not even by the governor, not even by the minister, talk more of being appointed by the President.
“In our country such a bureaucracy is created that a Chief Medical Director of a laboratory belonging to a faculty is to be appointed by the President to soothe the ego of certain individuals and this has made medical education sick; it has made medical practice sick in our country,” he said.
He lamented that TETFund has recorded tremendous amount of successes in supporting medical education as it has invested billions in supporting the provision of infrastructure in colleges of medicine across the universities where faculties of medicine existed, but there has not beenb commensurate access for Nigerians to study medicine.
“We are pained Mr Chairman, that in spite of our huge investments in training medical lecturers in providing infrastructure, in providing equipment for medicine, still there is a kind of arrangement that will not allow deserving students who are supposed to get admission into medical colleges to be admitted.
“After investing billions, in a given college of medicine, still somebody outside the university system would say that college of medicine will only admit 10 medical students, 50 medical students when we know we have trained all the lecturers, we know we have provided more lecture theatres, we know we have provided more laboratory equipment.
“But still, before our investment and after our investment, the enrolment makes no difference. They refuse to allow medical education to grow as it is growing elsewhere and it is not about funding; it is the desire to create a class of some individuals who remain few,” he said.
Chairman Committee of Vice Chancellors of Federal Universities and Vice Chancellor of Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, Prof Joseph Ahaneku, rejected amendments to the TETFund Act and stated that the law should remain as it is.
Ahaneku wondered why tuition-charging institutions should benefit from public funds, while capital allocations for universities has receded and federal universities are in need of funds as they have not received what is needed to fund the institutions.
He added that teaching hospitals are part of universities and that various institutions should equitably distribute their resources as any amendment will amount to duplication of functions in the same university system.
Also speaking, the Executive Secretary of National Universities Commission, Prof Abubakar Rasheed, aligned with calls to stop the amendments, stating that NUC does not have an independent opinion on the matter.
Rasheed said NUC has convened a meeting with stakeholders to discuss the state of medical education the country and expressed hope that he would return to the House with the outcome of the meeting.
Earlier, the Chairman of Committee of Chief Medical Directors and Medical Directors of Federal Tertiary Health institutions in Nigeria, Prof Thomas Agan, appealed to the National assembly to amend the Act to provide more funding for the health institutions.
Agan said, “this Act needs to be amended. As you are aware, the teaching hospitals and other tertiary health institutions are the workshops of all the universities in this country. Over 80 per cent of students that go through medical colleges of university must go through the tertiary hospitals before they qualify.
“Indeed all medical students, nurses, laboratory scientists, radiographers, physiotherapists and so on must come through there. Even to graduate as a fellow of the postgraduate medical colleges especially from the national postgraduate medical college, the person must go through the tertiary hospitals.”
Chairman, House Committee on Tertiary Education Services, Comrade Aminu Suleiman, earlier introduced the first bill seeking amendment as “a Bill for an Act to Amend the Tertiary Education Trust Fund act, Cap. E4, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 to include tertiary teaching hospital and for related matters (HB. 868).
Suleiman said the second bill is “a Bill for an Act to Amend the Tertiary Education Trust Fund and Education Tax Act CAP. E4 laws of the federation of Nigeria 2004 and the Education Tax Fund Amendment no. 17 of 2004 and Establish the Tertiary education Trust Fund Charged with Responsibility for Imposing, Managing and Disbursing the Education Tax Fund to Public Tertiary Institutions in Nigeria Including Private Universities (HB. 531).”