Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa

A former Minister of Science and Technology, Prof. Turner Isoun has called on the federal and state governments to agree to withdraw another $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) for research and innovation in tertiary institutions in the country if they are serious about education.

Isoun, who spoke at the first matriculation ceremony of the University of Africa, Toru-Orua (UAT), funded through a public-private arrangement by the Bayelsa State government, said Nigeria would continue to lag behind if serious funding is not devoted to research to be overseen by exceptional academics in Nigerian universities.

In his lecture, ‘The University of Africa: In pursuit of an Innovative and Sustainable University, Responding to the Challenges of a State and a Nation’, he said beyond the long speeches during workshops, the government must begin to fund research in Nigerian tertiary institutions.

“The federal and state governments must consider that their contributions to the funding of tertiary education is an investment in their self-interest, as opposed to an expenditure with no returns.

“I wish to challenge the federal and state governments to allocate $1 billion from the excess crude account from which they have certain statutory rights to a fund established by law for use by tertiary institutions.

“If these funds are used to address specific (relevant) problems and needs, through innovative research and its application to products and services, there will be high returns on investment, both financial (to the government) and through improvement to the quality of life and employment opportunities for civil society.

He added: “This fund could for example enable an academically diverse team of innovative academics and students to design a practical means of providing renewable energy systems targeted for use in our remote schools.” Isoun said while some people many argue that the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) was set up to achieve that aim, over 80 per cent of the fund is devoted to physical infrastructure, rather than intense scientific academic research.

While also calling for the establishment of more
universities, he regretted that the 160 universities in the
country could only provide admission for one third of the
average of 1.5 million candidates that apply for university
education annually.

In his remarks, Governor of Seriake Dickson bemoaned the
existing model for funding tertiary education in the country
and argued that it was not realistic to have quality
university education, considered the bedrock of societal
development which is cheaper than nursery education even
within the country.

Dickson also stated that the university is owned by the
Bayelsa government though with a different model designed to
make it self-sustaining through exploring creatives means of
generating revenue.

“The universities owned by the federal and state
governments rely totally on the government for their
running. Look at the decline in the standard of education,
the tendency of our elite to send their children to schools
abroad, whose funding model is different.

“We have announced a policy that the tertiary institutions
in Bayelsa would have to look inward. government would give
grants, build infrastructure, give loans for business
development. That is the new direction in Bayelsa.

“When university education is cheaper than nursery
education, we are not realistic. When it is cheap, it cannot
give us the quality and the innovation that we seek. When
university education becomes cheaper than nursery education,
then something has gone wrong,” he said.

The former Minister of Education, Alhaji Ibrahim Shekarau,
who was chairman of the event, urged the matriculating
students to take advantage of the opportunity of the
admission offered them to excel in their academics and
conduct so that the institution would be proud of them.
The acting Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Valentine Aletor also
warned the students against anti-social behaviour, saying
that the institution has zero tolerance for cultism,
forming of gangs, use of hard drugs, indecent dressing,
bullying and insubordination.