President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has directed the Federal Ministry of Education to stagger the take-off of some of the federal tertiary institutions established by the previous administration.
Minister of Education, Dr Mamman Tahir, who disclosed this to journalists at the State House, Abuja after meeting with President Tinubu on Wednesday, explained that the decision was based on some considerations, including funding.
Tahir told journalists at the briefing that he visited the President to update him on developments in his ministry, including issues surrounding a stakeholders’ conference scheduled for today (Thursday), appointments of heads of agencies and boards of tertiary institutions.
Speaking on the plan for take-off of the federal institutions established towards the end of the Muhammadu Buhari administration, Tahir said about six specialised institutions, which focus on areas like education, agriculture and medicine.
Former President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration had approved the establishment of five new universities specialized in technology and health, which his administration argued would close the huge gap in the doctor-patient ratio as well as in medical research and production of pharmaceutical products.
The administration had also approved a take-off grant of N4 billion each for the universities of technology and N5 billion each for the universities of health sciences from the funding resources of TETFund for early take-off.
The former President had also approved the establishment of and take-off of seven new federal polytechnics in some States of the federation where none existed.
They include those slated to be established at Monguno, Borno State; N’yak, Shendam Plateau State; Wannune, Benue State; Ugep, Cross River State; Ayede, Oyo State; Ohodo, Enugu State; and Orogun, Delta State.
He also approved six new federal colleges of education in each of the six geo-political zones to be sited in Bauchi, Benue, Ebonyi, Osun, Sokoto and Edo States.
However, speaking on the new plan, Tahir said: “There are quite a number of universities and other institutions which were approved in the last days of the last administration, which because of issues of funding and even staff, it may not be prudent to get these institutions to take off altogether at once.
“So Mr. President has directed we stagger their commencement (their takeoff) whether the government can properly support them”, he said.
Explaining the reason for the new direction, Tahir said “honestly there are very many, probably about a dozen of them, if not more than a dozen or 14, that’s the number and you know tertiary institutions are highly capital intensive, they need a lot of money, especially at that takeoff stage, for infrastructure, staff recruitment and all other needs.
“So by the time you want to start off about 12, 14 institutions at once is a very heavy burden on the finances of government, so that’s why.
“Ordinarily we would have said we’ll review whether we should actually go ahead with that, but most of them are specialized institutions; colleges of education, agriculture, medicine and they are institutions that will support some of the mandates, the priority areas of this government.
“We will have need for trained teachers, which colleges of education will provide and the same thing with agric. So that’s why government has not stepped down that approval, instead the President in his wisdom said we stager their implementation on the grounds of funds, essentially.
“We’re starting with about six, two of each; two agric, two colleges of education and then two medicine.”
Asked if the current administration would be scaling down on the number of universities’ approvals, the Minister said most of the institutions approved towards the end of the last administration’s life time were private and would not be tampered with by Tinubu but said the era of proliferation of institutions without capacity to make them productive had ended.
“I believe most of those universities you mentioned, the 37 you mentioned, are private. Private institutions are investments of the proprietors who set them up, so government cannot stop them from doing that. He’s not going to scale down on anything, the only thing government has control over is its own institutions.
“This time around, we’re going to be conservative about the pace of development of tertiary institutions. The priority of this government is going to be on institutions that provide skills that enable its graduates to stand on their own. So that’s the direction we’re moving at the moment”, he said.
On financial autonomy for universities, he said it is an ongoing conversation but noted that the funds are not there for government to deploy, adding that in other parts, funding education is a collaborative effort among government, parents, students and other stakeholders.
“This is still an ongoing conversation because the funds are simply not there and in any case, the whole world, funding of institutions is a combination of parents, students, government and other stakeholders. It’s never government alone. So we’ll continue with the conversation. That’s where we’re at the moment,” he said.