Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Financing in Adult Education In Nigeria

Financing in Adult Education In Nigeria
Njoku Chijioke

A responsive model for financing higher education should address three broad areas of public interests: (i) the need to provide hope and educational opportunity to ever larger segments of a country’s population, i.e., increase access; (ii) the need to encourage (and possibility subsidize) study in certain fields important to a country’s economic development; and (iii) the need to ensure a steady flow of talent into careers – such as medicine or teaching – where dramatic shifts in supply and demand can negatively affect the quality of life for a country’s people.
In Nigeria, these three needs have been only partially addressed. As noted above, access has certainly increased both in terms of total enrollments and in terms of disadvantaged groups benefiting from admissions quotas. However, financial instruments such as student loans, scholarships or cross-subsidy by wealthier fee-paying students have not yet been effectively employed to help students of limited means to take advantage of these opportunities. This may be one reason for the apparently high dropout rates noted above. Likewise, government funding of higher education has neither been guided by criteria linked to strategic national priorities, nor by a concern to attract talent (teachers as well as students) into careers linked to the public good.
Historically, university funding has been distributed in broadly equitable ways across both institutions and disciplines with little concern for their performance. The result has been to create a system of excessively homogeneous institutions. This approach, although perhaps justifiable in terms of fairness or useful in reducing competitive tensions and political appeals surrounding the allocation process, does not serve the country’s longer term development interests. For example, just 10% of academic programs of potentially strategic development importance were accredited in 2000. Without disciplinary capabilities approaching international standards in at least a few key professions necessary to underpin economic growth, it is difficult to see how Nigeria will be able to compete successfully in the global knowledge economy.
The source of these problems can be traced largely to insufficient funding of the higher education system. In fact, funding shortfalls have been the norm for many years as enrollments have increased more quickly than the government’s capacity to maintain its proportional financial support. Simply put, the system has not had the financial resources necessary to maintain educational quality in the midst of significant enrollment expansion. These funding constraints have been mainly the result of government insistence that it remain as virtually the sole source of financial support for institutions of higher learning. During the 1990s, for example, up to 93% of university funding was provided by the federal government. In current value terms, the government’s recurrent grants to federal universities would appear to have increased dramatically, from 530 million naira in 1988 to 9.6 billion naira in 1999. In real terms, however, total recurrent grants per student in 1999 were at only one-third of their 1990 level. Thus, increased budgetary allocations have been muted by the effect of rising enrollments. When government funding becomes insufficient to maintain institutional performance in teaching and research, universities elsewhere in the world have sought to supplement their public funding with locally generated income (fees, cost-recovery, business income, investment income, gifts, etc.). This is also true in Nigeria. Locally generated income has contributed a relatively constant share of around 15% of universities’ recurrent budgets in recent years, varying among institutions from a low of 4% to a high of 37% (HARTNETT 2000). In spite of active verbal encouragement from government to increase local income generation, it appears that the universities’ capacity to generate revenues in this way may have been reached.
The principal untapped source of university financing remains undergraduate student tuition fees, which government prohibits Its potential is considerable. Already, income from student fees (for non-degree, distance education, and postgraduate courses only) has risen from 4% to 10% of total income between 1988 and 1998. Additional gains are possible. For example, asking the wealthiest one-third of university students to pay tuition fees equal to one-half of the government’s contribution per student (i.e, about $390) would increase system-wide resources by 14%. Similarly, asking the middle one-third of income-ranked students to pay tuition equal to one-third of government’s contribution per student (i.e., about $260) through participation in a student loan program would increase university financing by an additional 10%. Assuming that government’s contribution remains undiminished, tuition fees structured in this way hold the potential of increasing the universities’ recurrent budget by 24%. This would translate into an increase from about $900 to $1,116 in terms of recurrent expenditures per student, including for the remaining one-third of students who would pay no fees.
At this point, it seems clear to many observers that more creative and adaptable financing strategies are needed in order for Nigerian higher education to offset the likely risks of declining educational quality, resource use efficiency, and learning effectiveness that it now confronts. Institutional responses to resource constraints can range from simple belt-tightening to further income diversification, and beyond to creative entrepreneurship. What progress has Nigeria registered on this front?
To tackle the system’s funding limitations, the government announced its decision in July 2000 that institutions were henceforth awarded administrative and financial autonomy. They were now expected to specialize in areas of comparative advantage that will be identified through participatory strategic planning processes, and government’s future budgetary allocations would consider institutional performance in this area. Government further announced an increase in university funding to a level of $900 per student, and urged universities to generate an additional 10% of their recurrent budget from income-producing activities (several urban universities have already surpassed this target). These steps are important because institutional autonomy without revenue diversification can ring hollow, and because when funding is insufficient, the need for strategically determined expenditures becomes all the more necessary. In other words, the benefits of government’s new autonomy policy will only be captured through active strategic planning by universities.
However, government’s policy approach with regard to tuition charges has been cautious and carefully conditioned. This is because cost-sharing with students remains highly contentious within the country's fragile democratic environment. For this reason, government has stated "While student fees and charges remain a legitimate source of revenue for universities in an environment in which they enjoy autonomy, government policy for the time being is that before fees can be re-introduced or charges can be raised, the students and their sponsors must be economically empowered to be able to pay such fees and charges. This empowerment entails a visible improvement in the take-home pay of workers as well as adequate scholarship and student loan schemes...".

Financing. Continued expansion of the higher education system has now exceeded government’s capacity to serve as the principal financier of this growth. Under these conditions, local income generation takes on added importance, and also serves to reinforce policies promoting decentralization and institutional autonomy. Locally generated revenues have grown steadily in recent years, but may be approaching the limits of what is possible under existing circumstances. The only significant financing reform yet outstanding concerns student cost-sharing. In practice, however, announced policy changes in the financial, governance and administrative autonomy of institutions will ideally create the opportunity for cost-sharing to evolve locally through a series of individual institutional decisions rather than to be introduced abruptly by national policy edict. This process is well underway in several African countries (JOHNSTON 2002), and increasingly accepted in others (AMONOO-NEIZER 1998:306; BANYA & ELU 2001:30). Even in Nigeria, the topic is not lacking proponents (BABALOLA 1998:65; BASHIR 2002:7; OKEBUKOLA 1998:317). Whether or not government decides to permit the evolution of these trends in Nigeria will determine how bright or dim the future of higher education is likely to be.

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