Of recent, there has been an upswing in the number of owners and managers of private universities agitating that the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) extends assistance to private universities in the country, with the latest call coming from the vice chancellor of Achievers’ University, Owo, Ondo State, Prof. Tunji Ibiyemi.
They insist that like the government-owned universities, they are in the business of providing social services; therefore government should extend financial assistance to them as players in the education sector. They are of the view that their continuous exclusion from accessing funds from TETFund amounts to discrimination in view of the fact that the funds are sourced from the private sector. In our view, this is tantamount to asking the government to subsidise a wholly private venture that was established with profit motive.
TETFund was established as an intervention agency under the TETFund Act 2011, charged with the responsibility for managing, disbursing and monitoring the education tax to public tertiary institutions in Nigeria. The ACT imposes a 2 per cent education tax on the assessable profit of all registered companies in Nigeria. The Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) is empowered by the Act to assess and collect education tax. Specifically, TETFund is for the provision of essential physical infrastructure for teaching and learning, instructional materials and equipment, research and publication, academic staff training and development and any other need which, in the opinion of the Board of Trustees, is critical and essential to the improvement of quality and maintenance of standards in public higher education institutions.
From the specific functions of TETFund, it is clear that most public owned tertiary institutions are in need of critical intervention for which the fund was set up. One would expect private universities to have enough resources to meet the challenges of infrastructure and academic development that besiege public universities, given that one of the requirements for getting approval to set them up is evidence of funds to sustain the university. Also, while we agree that providing quality education is a capital intensive venture and appreciate the efforts of private universities, we equally acknowledge that they charge steep fees, compared to what federal and state owned institutions charge.
Private universities asking for government intervention when the fees they charge are not regulated by the government amounts to double standards. However, Nigeria could borrow a leaf from other countries where it is not unusual for private universities to receive tax breaks, student loans and even grants from government. Grants especially, can be given to deserving private universities pursuing lines of research that have huge potential for public good.
Executive secretary, TETFund, Prof. Suleiman Bogoro, on Tuesday ruled out the possibility of private universities benefiting from the fund unless the law setting it up is amended.