TETFUND and the call for local training of scholars

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By Zubaida Baba Ibrahim

The Chairman, Board of Trustees of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund, Kashim Ibrahim, sometimes in August, advised tertiary institutions in the country to train their staff locally due to the depreciation in the value of the naira.

Kashim gave the advice at the Federal College of Education (Technical) Asaba, Delta State, during a review of beneficiaries of the PhD/Master’s Tetfund Scholarship Scheme.

While he insisted that TETFund placed a premium on academic staff training and development anywhere in the world, he pointed out that the major problem in call for more inward look is due to the depreciation of the naira.

Interestingly, at the occasion, some of the lecturers under the TETFund academic staff training and development programme lamented the shortage of funds to enable them complete their studies abroad. They said that the current exchange rate was a major challenge affecting their studies abroad, which made them embark on taking on certain jobs in order to complete their studies.

Some narrated how the steady depreciation in the value of the naira had affected their studies to the extent that they had to stop at the pilot study stage.

Meanwhile, the Executive Secretary of TETFund, Professor Suleiman Bogoro, at a one-day stakeholders briefing with heads of the beneficiary institutions in Abuja, explained that the Board of TETFund has approved the review of course sponsorship abroad. According to him, more emphasis would now be placed on masters or PhD programmes that are science based.

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Among the overseas masters and PhD course specialisations approved with effect from August are: Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering, Biosciences, Biomedical Engineering, Material Science and Engineering, Industrial Systems and Engineering, Geosciences, Behavioural Sciences, Nuclear Engineering, Oceanography, Mathematics, Mechanical Engineering, etc.

This current development is creating concerns among potential scholars in the Humanities and Management Sciences, as some of the courses that cannot benefit from foreign training now include Law, Languages, Business Administration, Sociology, and many others.

As expected, the development has sent many of these scholars into a frenzy of flaying the hurried nature of the decision, without the consultation of stakeholders. Others also lament that the policy came after they had spent huge amounts of money to secure admissions into various universities outside the country.

Furthermore, the aggrieved student/scholars have argued that, rather than a blanket restriction, the Fund ought to have reduced the number of allocations for courses in the Arts and Social Sciences, while increasing those for the sciences and engineering, where the emphasis now seems to be in.

Yet, while the development may sound unfair and just, the position of TETFund could be understood in consideration of the reality on the ground, as some academic work are better undertaken locally as we still have the human resources and materials for this, alongside a conducive environment, etc. For instance, the fundamental purpose of studying the Humanities, such as the Arts and Social Sciences, is for learners to extend the boundaries of knowledge in relation to human and social behaviour within organised groups. Hence, this could be done as well in local environments that serves as context for some of this knowledge production.

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However, as Nigeria is caught up in a global world of science and technology in which it has a lot to catch up on to be competitive and productive for national survial and relevance, it needs to find ways of training human resource in the hubs of technological development in a increasingly digital world. Hence, scholars in fields related to Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and other cognate disciplines certainly need training in the locations of advanced knowledge in these regard. They could equally benefit from the conducive work environments in these places, while also utilising the available tools to advance and broaden their scopes of knowledge in areas of innovation and creativity.

While the case needs to be made for TETFund for a reconsideration of the funding of some scholars in the Humanities, who will benefit from training in Western centres of knowledge production and research, yet, as mentioned, it is understandable if their funding priorities shift in sponsoring scholars in the fields of Scienceswe already have a dignified tradition of scholarship in the Humanties in Nigeria, which can be enhanced for greater home-based excellence. Even then, online education avails many the opportunities for scaling up on knowledge without having to incur the highly exorbitant fees required to train abroad.

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At this juncture in our national life, there is the need for various tertiary institutions in Nigeria to examine and evaluate the cost of staff training and look more inward for cost-effective ways of building capacity for their staff members at home. Given the challenge of the depreciating value of naira in relation to foreign currencies, the early we face and find ways of adding value to our academic realities on the ground, the better for all of us.

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