Poor education funding… Local foundations to the rescue
Foundations, by their nature, are established as interventionist agencies to bridge a gap in certain aspects of society and make positive impact. Specifically, foundations are expected to direct their energy and resources to the provision of infrastructure. But while the achievements of foreign foundations always seem visible even from a distance, local foundations’ efforts to make impact in the Nigerian society tend to be insignificant at best, or even non-existent.
Yet, a long list of socio-cultural problems which government left unattended to ought to engage the attention of local foundations.
The examples include donation of blocks of classrooms, boreholes for local communities, provision of books and libraries to schools and students, scholarship to a few students in secondary and tertiary institutions, donation of ICT and science equipment to schools, building of markets among other projects calling for intervention.
In fact, they have left a big void in a critical area of social philanthropy where intervention would make a lot of difference to Nigeria’s quest for development – aiding academic and cultural excellence for human capital growth.
Local foundations do not seem to have dedicated programmes to bridge the gap in the academia that empower teachers and lecturers to be better equipped for the job of imparting cutting-edge knowledge to students. In the realm of cultural and artistic propagation, local foundations aren’t seem interested. This is not surprising; many Nigerians do not see the arts beyond the narrow prism of African religion and its associated fetish manifestations.
An example of a foreign foundation often considered for its significant impact is Carnegie Foundation. It has an ongoing diaspora fellowship that brings global scholars teaching in American and Canadian universities to return home with their knowledge and skills and imparts same in their home countries.
It also enables these scholars to take something from the local environments back to the United States and Canada where they reside and work. Three of such global scholars from Nigerians – Prof. Segun Ojewuyi, Dr. Nduka Otiono and Prof. Tony Adah – were in Nigeria last year at University of Ibadan, Delta State University, Abraka and Pan-Atlantic University (PAU) respectively on the Carnegie Foundation Fellowship bill. The U.S. Fulbright Scholarship is a notable intellectual programme that has benefitted Nigerian scholars over the years.
In Nigeria, there are some local foundations that readily come to mind and doing their bit. UBA Foundation provides books to schools; Dr. Bukar Usman Foundation gives scholarship to primary and secondary school pupils and students; Dangote Foundation is partnering Bill and Belinda Gates Foundation to fight diseases, TY Danjuma Foundation is reported to have invested in infrastructural facility at Pan Atlantic University and Youth Empowerment and ICT Foundation which imparts ICT skills on young people. Tony Elumelu Foundation only recently had its scholarship scheme rested after three years.
A writer and former teacher at the University of Lagos, Prof. Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo, noted that the impact of local foundations was not being felt in the academia in enhancing scholarship in the country.
According to her, “I don’t even know they exist. They should help fund scholarship, research and sponsor fellowships. I suggest that they should reorganise their boards to be more effective and for the public to know what they are doing so their impact can be felt in society. With our kind of society, most parents can’t afford children’s education. Foundations can help.
“They (foundations) should partner with governments to equip hospitals and fight diseases and epidemics. Some of them can be active in the area of arts and sciences. Those who run these foundations should utilise the monies wisely for the purpose they are meant for”.
Prof. Tony Afejuku of University of Benin, Benin City also agrees with Adimora-Ezeigbo when he said foundations should sponsor researches and academics to travel to conferences abroad. He said, “They should give research and travel grants and create Professorial Chairs in the universities so as to move the academia forward which they don’t yet do anyway. They need to have relationship with the academia. They should sponsor writers’ programmes, provide grants to help writers publish works and endow chairs and help forge international collaborations”.
Prof. Emevwo Biakolo of Pan Atlantic University, Lekki, Lagos, said foundations are defined by the purpose for which they are set up and subsequently work in that direction. “If they are for education, we can expect something for education,” he noted, adding that his university has benefitted from TY Danjuma Foundation during its relocation period from Victoria Island to Lekki through the provision of infrastructural funds.
“ Broadly speaking, it’s 50-50; it’s not merely enough to have a foundation. How well-funded are they to be able to make impact? TY Danjuma Foundation gave us considerable funding for our movement. Pascal Edozie was helpful in terms of infrastructure. We have received a lot of goodwill. School of Media and Communication (SMC) has received a lot of support.
“In terms of Professorial Chairs, our foundations have not been forthcoming. Human resource is very expensive in universities; that is an area they should look at. No doubt, foundations need to be encouraged, especially if the funds given are put to good use. Universities need to be proactive in terms of funding being properly utilised. Universities ought to make a drive to encourage donors to come to their aid, and show accountability and productivity. At PAU, we always tend to rely on the business community for our activities” .
Prof. Nduka Maduka of University of Port Harcourt doesn’t believe foundations make any impact in Nigeria’s academia. As he put it, “Universities are the pearl of learning anywhere. We’re still fighting for proper social institutions. I hope the foundations will develop and function properly to help the academia move forward. Foundations have to show interest in the areas they want to intervene. They should take an area of interest and develop it and provide facilities. With an area of interest in mind, they should make sure that academics there go for further studies; provide libraries, laboratories and develop them generally. Or is it in the secondary schools, they could train the teachers for better service delivery”.
Prof. Mark Nwagwu, formerly of University of Ibadan and now Paul Okoye University, Awka, Anambra State, said foundations like TY Danjuma Foundation and a few others were doing their bit to lift universities. He corroborated Biakolo in its intervention at PAU, adding that another foundation also donated a very expressive art work. He noted that Foundations needed to do more in terms of the yawning gaps that should be filled. Nwagwu said First Bank Plc also established a Professorial Chair in Agriculture and Petroleum.
According Nwagwu, “Not only are these not enough, it shows we place value in education. We do have a serious problem and attitude to money. Why would anyone accumulate so much money for himself the way we hear everyday? We don’t have value for things that demands value in this country. In this 21st century, funding for our education is going down and down; it’s not encouraging at all the kind of funding education receives”.
However, Dr. Bukar Usman of Dr. Bukar Usman Foundation, Abuja, the only foundation that responded to our enquiry, was of the same view with Nwagwu in acknowledging the widening gap in educational funding and how interventionist efforts appear a mere drop in the ocean compared to the widening needs. His foundation provides scholarships to needy pupils and students. Usman said the sky is the limit for foundations, “from our experience judging the demand we are getting and not even meeting up”.
With a floodgate of applications his foundation receives, Usman said they had to ascertain applicants’ genuineness before taking action. According to him, “We must ascertain if a child is in financial straits. The demand is high but resources limited that the culture is yet to catch up. Government used to meet the needs of pupils, but the number is staggering and overwhelming. We have assisted but not much”.
Usman said foreign foundations were gradually shifting focus since Nigeria’s oil wealth. Missionaries, he noted, were other sources of intervention in educational needs, but government took the schools over for fear of indoctrination. However, such actions didn’t seem wise.
Usman lamented the slow pace of development in the country’s education, noting that there is appreciable depreciation rather than appreciation from what it was decades back.