TETFund Overseas Scholarship: Let's domesticate the fund in our universities

As Britain was exiting the EU, they knew it would affect their universities. Their leaders have a good understanding of their university system and its needs. They know the critical role of the universities in their nation-building. There was a proper study on the foreseen impact of Brexit and provisions were made to ensure that the UK universities remain among the world's best after the exit.

Interestingly, leaders in this part of the world do not seem to be bothered about the state and the needs of our universities. The former Buhari's minister of state for education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, in 2022 made us realise their thinking about public education. In their head, a public university is an institution without a return on investment. Isn't that a weird idea from an educated person?

This will make you begin to understand why they are not bothered about the funding of the universities and the impact of the subsidy removal and the floating of naira on the universities. The effect ranges from the operational expenses and the welfare of the staff of the universities. But nobody is talking about it. They are expecting our universities to cope anyhow. Meanwhile, each year, we are converting naira to dollars to fund overseas scholarships.

I have expressed my opinion on the need for the full domestication of our current overseas scholarship schemes from various government agencies to build the research capacities of our universities and develop solutions to our local challenges with all purposefulness. The value of the TETFund overseas scholarship was less than 10 million when it started about 10 years ago. Just yesterday I got to know that it has been revised to 49 million now. The scholarship money is constantly under review due to the exchange rate.

However, the NRF research grant is a maximum of 50 million and is meant for research to produce innovative solutions. The budget is usually reduced to between 35 to 25 million by reviewers. The IBR that is meant for basic research in the university is a maximum of 2 million. Some of the research consumables are imported. Convert the money to USD. As the fund for overseas scholarships is under constant review, the little allocated to research in our universities is never reviewed. The exchange rate is assumed not to have an effect on it.

PTDF overseas scholarships started over 20 years ago. TETFund overseas scholarship started over 10 years ago. NITDA overseas scholarship started some years ago. For these years, we have not built capacities to fully utilise these scholars on their return. We have no facilities to execute the research focus of some of them. While we have not utilised them, we are sending more overseas for training.

We all know that PhD is not a training program on how to teach. It is a research training. What was the plan to effectively utilise the research skills gained when these ideas of overseas training were conceived? How many scholars do we intend to train to train others? How many have we trained? How many more do we need to train? When do we hope to achieve that in order to halt the training and domesticate further training? I have not come across such information.

I reflected on the cash for overseas scholarships and I realised that the entire value of our materials science lab was less than 49 million when we put it together a few years ago. The facilities have produced research output published in high-impact journals.

The quality publications from the lab made a professor in Canada poach 2 PhD students from us. I would have kept the students if I had access to the sort of grants that the Canadian professors have. That simply implies that just like some other labs in our universities, we can produce a quality PhD in Nigeria.

So, why do we keep sending PhD scholars overseas to do what we can do here? Imagine having to train a TETFund or PTDF PhD scholar in our labs with the funds taken overseas. Imagine the value that the tuition paid to overseas universities will add to our labs. Unlike the tuition we are given to the universities overseas, whatever facility is acquired to train the students at home will remain in our labs to train other students.

South Africa has a National Research Foundation (NRF) that gives grants for research PhD training in South African universities. NRF is so well established that they are collaborating with DAAD in Germany for a funded PhD in South Africa. There is also the TWAS-NRF-funded PhD but in a South African university. We can take a lesson from that.

The Research Council of Norway usually contributes to research project funds in Norwegian universities to train a PhD or postdoc in non-Norwegian universities. Norwegian universities are tuition-free like Nigerian universities. The grant covers research materials, living costs, travel, conference attendance anywhere in the world, etc.


There is the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which provides UK universities with grants – awarded through a competitive process – to cover the fees and living costs of postgraduate students. Application for the studentship is done through the university you want to study.

It is time to consolidate the gains of the over 20 years of PTDF and TETFund postgraduate training of tertiary institutions' lecturers. I think it is time to pause a bit, have a forensic analysis of the overseas training so far, and then prepare a model to domesticate all FG-funded scholarships. Instead of converting 49 million naira to dollars that we don't have for a TETFund fully funded PhD in Malaysia, let the 49 million be used to fund the PhD in our universities in Nigeria. The facilities acquired from such grants will remain at the university for other students to use.

Some will say I was trained in Europe but advocating that others should not be sent overseas for the same training. But I was trained to train others. I have the skills but lack the resources. I can give you the traniing you are going for if only I have the right environment. So, why can't we domesticate the funds and utilise the resources to provide those already trained with the right environment to train others?

We have developed enough manpower in our universities, especially through TETFund, to handle quality training. We have successful TETFund NRF researchers for quality postgraduate training. The idea of overseas training is defeated if we do not empower these scholars to train others and be solution developers. Domesticating the scholarship fund will give the postgraduate students a good degree, help solve a Nigerian challenge that other countries can benefit from, and help develop our research capabilities.

The experience of what we were able to achieve in our department with a 32 million NRF research grant from TETFund in 2020 gave me confidence that we can make this work. And when you said you are in an economic crisis, you figure out a way to keep your money at home and reduce the demands for dollars. It is time to reflect on FG-oversea scholarships and work out a model to domesticate them.


Prof. Abdelghaffar Amoka Abdelmalik, PhD.
Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

Copyright © Amoka 2024


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