Graduate Employability: Time to Take Action – PART 5
By Tope Toogun
Broadband Internet access and embedded power generation
Second, can we also explore possibilities to guarantee broadband access through fibre-optic networks and constant power through embedded off-grid power plants to all our tertiary institutions, public and private alike? The Oxford Business Group 2015 Nigeria Report indicates that “though internet access is rising throughout the country, most Nigerians are going online on mobile phones where usage is limited by high data rates and slower speeds………..mobile data accounts for 57.9% of all web traffic in Nigeria-significantly higher than the global average” Going further and speaking more specifically to higher education the OBG report says “Constrained bandwidth has limited the ability of the larger public universities to install a robust intranet that could effectively spread ICT across campuses………an Institution of higher learning requires around 1000 Mbps of bandwidth per month to run a sufficient campus network. Even so, acquiring this amount of bandwidth transmission remains difficult costly outside Lagos. Similarly, Nigeria also faces the further obstacle of an unstable power supply in running a functioning and interconnected campus computer network”.
Aha! See why we have to address the two issues in tandem? But sadly, the major initiative that should help our universities move into the 21st century; the Nigerian Research and Education Network, has been suspended due to lack of funds. The objective of NgRen was for a Research and Education Network that will connect all higher institutions of learning together, and to the global research and education network. Why was it shut down? Non-payment of the segment bandwidth fees! According to Austin Okere, CEO of CWG, the NgRen project “would have afforded Nigerian universities the opportunity to a quantum leap in standards, and significantly improved their low rankings in quality of teaching and research output, thereby bringing them closer to their global peers” Yet TETFUND is sitting on billions, with an ostensible mandate to ensure that the institutions are able to produce highly skilled manpower and individuals with entrepreneurial flair! The NUC and Committee of Vice-Chancellors were involved in the NgRen project. If there was a true commitment to the cause of revamping education in Nigeria, how could the Ministry of Education, NUC, CVC and TETFUND not find the resources to sustain the project?
Can TETFUND guarantee off-taker agreements for IPP or embedded power generation projects for public institutions and facilitate long-term low-interest loans for private institutions? We will leapfrog and advance into the 21st century in terms of educational outcomes. We will have taken a giant step in creating a conducive learning environment for our students, and have achieved a lot more impact (presumably at a lower cost) than the current regime of celebrating mediocre outcomes achieved through humongous spending.
There is no reason why private institutions should be excluded from TETFUND interventions, though it should not be to the same degree as for public institutions and it may well be in the form of single-digit long-term loans. There is nothing in the TETFUND (Establishment, Etc) Act 2011 preventing TETFUND from providing long-term loans for private institutions. I do understand that as fee collecting private-sector operators, they have the responsibility of meeting their infrastructure requirements such as lecture and hostel buildings. But section 6(j) of the Act empowers TETFUND’s Board of Trustees to “do such things as are necessary or incidental to the objects of the Fund under this Act or as may be assigned by the Federal Government” Additionally, Schedule 6 (g) of the Act mandates the BOT to “invest funds inappropriate and safe securities” Surely, working with some banks or the CBN to provide long-term, single-digit interest loans to private tertiary institutions to provide broadband access and embedded power supply can be considered as one of those “necessary” or “incidental” items to the objects of the Fund?