Forex Volatility: TETFund May Suspend Foreign Academic Programme For Scholars

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The crisis in the forex market, where the exchange rate between the Dollar to the Naira has remained unstable is taking a toll in the tertiary education system, a development that may see the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) suspending its foreign scholarship programmes soon.

Executive Secretary of the Fund, Sonny Echono gave this indication on Wednesday while welcoming participants to a “One-Day Stakeholders Engagement on Emerging Issues with the TETFund Intervention” which held in Abuja.

He lamented that the monetary policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) especially the volatility in the forex system in the past few months was posing great challenges in the settlement of tuition fees for foreign scholars.

According to Echono, since the Fund’s allocation was barely enough to service programmes under its Tertiary Scholarship for Academic Staff (TSAS), we are considering suspending foreign scholarships while also considering an upward review of local scholarships.

Beyond the forex challenges, Echono also decried the trend of scholars absconding after sponsorship by the Fund, a situation that was undermining and complicating the TSAS programme and bringing it under intense scrutiny.

”The Fund at this material time is also discouraging beneficiary institutions from initiating new Benchwork programmes.

”Additionally, there are issues related to scholars not returning to serve their bonds at their home institutions upon completion of their programmes.

”In fact, the challenge of scholars absconding has undermined and complicated the TSAS programme and brought it under intense scrutiny.

”It is for these and other reasons that this engagement was organised. We need to address these challenges and find solutions to ensure the effective and smooth implementation of our scholarship programmes,” he said.

He revealed that the Fund had recently signed several MoUs with some prestigious institutions overseas that include universities in Malaysia, India, Brazil, France and the United States with a view to boosting and enhancing the TSAS programme in the future.

”You will also recall that to enhance the effectiveness of the National Research Fund (NRF), a National Research Fund Screening and Monitoring Committee (NRFS&MC) was established to screen and select proposals from across institutions and researchers for funding.

”The committee comprises senior academic staff of universities and other tertiary institutions across the country. Members are appointed for an initial period of two years that is renewable; however, no member is allowed to serve for more than four years, which is equivalent to two terms.

”Similarly, to ensure the successful implementation of the Higher Educational Book Development Project, the Board of Trustees of the Fund set up the standing Technical Advisory Group [TAG] committee in 2009.

”The mandate of this committee includes working collaboratively with the Fund to fine-tune the Book Development Blueprint into a Strategic working document that clearly spells out the administrative procedures, framework, and guidelines for effective access and utilisation of TETFund Higher Education Book Development Intervention Funds in Institutions within the nation.

”The TETFund Book Development Fund intervenes in three key areas: publication of academic books and the conversion of high-quality theses into books, support for professional Association Journals, and the establishment and sustainability of academic publishing centres.

”It is pertinent to note that the standing Technical Advisory Group (TAG) requires reconstitution just as the NRF Screening and Monitoring Committee, as some members have served for four years,” he added.

Also, the Acting Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Chris Maiyaki stressed the need to develop new strategies for funding while ensuring sensitivity to the evolving challenging dynamics through qualitative funding.

Maiyaki advised the fund to revamp its monitoring for quality assurance so as to have a better return on investment in its projects.

Meanwhile, the Chairman, House Committee on TETFund, Princes Miriam Onuoha, said in making essential infrastructure available in tertiary institutions, there was a need to ensure inclusivity, especially with Persons Living With Disabilities (PLWD).

According to her, in our physical planning, we must make accessible the building to be accommodating to the needs of PLWD.

In the same vein, the former Executive Secretary of NUC, Prof. Peter Okebukola, called for a monitoring and implementation system to ensure that the academic calendars of universities were adhered to.

Okebukola who spoke on TSAS, emerging issues and possible solutions, clamoured for reduced TETFund overseas scholarships while encouraging in-country training in TETFund-strengthened PG programmes.

”In offering solutions to these challenges, there is a need to offer TETFund support to top-rate lecturers from oversees universities to come to Nigeria to join local PG training by Nigerian professors.

”We must send professors (of at least 10 years standing) for capacity building to top-rate overseas universities in carefully selected programmes on return to bolster doctoral education and supervision,” he said.

Okebukola added that rather than continuously spending a lot of funds on foreign training, local universities should be provided with state-of-the-art facilities while carrying out accreditation of postgraduate programmes.

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