Monday, 11th December 2023

How TETFund intervention facilitates Nigeria’s access to horizon Europe project

By Guardian Nigeria
02 September 2023   |   3:02 am
Several development efforts made by the Arc Sonny Echono-led Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) to boost capacity of academic staff of Nigerian universities have continued to yield positive results. Aside physical structures visible across beneficiary institutions...

Executive Secretary, TETFund, Arc. Sonny Echono (right) in handshake with Mr. Tope Toogun, the Nigerian Team Lead for the Horizon Europe Project, during a meeting to update the Fund on Nigerian researchers’ participation in the project in Abuja last Thursday

Several development efforts made by the Arc Sonny Echono-led Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) to boost capacity of academic staff of Nigerian universities have continued to yield positive results. Aside physical structures visible across beneficiary institutions, greater efforts are also made to enhance the intellectual capacity of lecturers and the non-academic staff, whose roles are critical to human capital development in their various departments.

Consequently, one of the moves to attract major international research grants to Nigerian scholars received a massive boost as the European Union (EU) graciously pledged a 440,000 Euro to support shortlisted research teams in the country under the Horizon Europe Project.

At the meeting with TETFund’s team on the Horizon Europe Project, held on Thursday, in Abuja, to share information on Nigerian researchers’ participation in the project, the Executive Secretary, Arc. Sonny Echono, reiterated the Fund’s commitment to ensure that Nigerian researchers attain a level they can compete favourably in international arena. He disclosed that beyond the Horizon Europe, the Fund is equally targeting other global research bodies to attract grants for scholars in the country.

He reechoed that research and innovation remain critical in addressing socio-economic challenges confronting the country, and that the Fund under his leadership will stop at nothing in championing schemes that will deepen research in the country.

Echono in his characteristics has been committed to his earlier promise on assumption of office to impact public tertiary institutions positively, and he has not relented even in the face of glaring challenges including funding limitations. Riding on the Renewed Hope slogan of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s administration, Echono is doubling efforts in his desire to behold a nation that is fast becoming increasingly competitive in the international arena.

He said: “We want to see how we can harness the full potentials that we have. We keep talking about Nigeria in potential terms rather than in complete terms and we believe that research and development are the prime areas we can leapfrog some of the obstacles that we have.

“It will not just give us the visibility we need, but can also be translated to practical solutions to our problems as well as improve the standard of living of our people by creating wealth, generating employment and increasing goods and services. And we are determined to ensure that this happen.”

Speaking further, Echono stated that every partnership his administration has entered into was aimed at ensuring that Nigeria researchers break the glass ceiling. He felt that it was embarrassing to see or read publications from other African countries such as South Africa, Egypt, Algeria or even Kenya participating more and getting more research grants from development partners, particularly the EU.

“With our population, there should be no competition with any country in Africa in any intellectual engagement. That is the reason we felt we needed to bridge that gap.

“To engage them, we told them to work with all our academia, use all the instruments to ensure that Nigerians can now actively participate and get grants just like others across the beneficiary nations.

“They have come to give us feedback on how far they have taken the project and they are willing to share what we are trying to do with our stakeholders and Nigerian people. If there is an area of corrective measures, they will let us know and we will share it with our community. The press will also help us publicise some of these steps and make more Nigerians become aware and actively participate”, he added.

In his presentation, TETFund’s Team Lead on Horizon Europe programme, Mr. Tope Toogun, spoke on ongoing efforts to ensure that Nigerian researchers participate actively in the global renowned research project.

He frowned that in spite of Nigeria’s rich human resources, the nation before now has been relegated in the area of accessing the EU Horizon project grants. But he was optimistic that the situation is currently changing for the better following TETFund’s engagement with the EU and its decision to set up a team to address factors that had prevented Nigerian researchers from participating in the project.

Toogun said: “It is embarrassing that Nigeria with all our intellectual capital cannot participate in Horizon Project. The EU works in terms of seven-year framework, the current one is Horizon Europe, the previous framework was called Horizon 2020 and it ran from 2013 to 2020.

“Africa got about 350 projects of which South Africa alone cornered 146, Egypt and Morocco got between 50 and 70 respectively while Kenya got 46. Nigeria was not on the radar. It doesn’t mean we have not been participating; just that we have been on the sideline.”

Toogun, who had come to the meeting with his colleague in the team – Ayo Ajayi, identified the inability of Nigerian researchers to organise themselves and prepare adequately for the Horizon Project as one of the major impediments to accessing the grants.

“Hence, the decision by TETFund to set up the team with a view to clear the hurdles. We have shortlisted initial 60 research teams from about 400 applications and the EU Commission has committed to the provision of a facility of 440, 000 Euro in technical assistance to support the development of capacity.

“We are going to carry out an intensive physical training programmes for the research teams we have identified in September and in that training, one of the key components will be on EU project management competency.”

Toogun further informed his audience that his team has developed a National Contact Point (NCP) network for Nigerian researchers and has uploaded same on the global portal. This, he said, was a major requirement for accessing the grants. Beyond that, the team has deployed research management software and all the 400 research team members would be uploaded on the platform. Toogun also used the occasion to give a brief account of how Nigeria came on board the project and the level it has attained in the process.

“The journey to where we are today started in June last year when the Executive Secretary led a delegation to the EU Headquarters and demanded that we want Nigeria not to be on the sideline but on the front line of participation. Prof Ajayi was the team lead for the technical team on delivery of the project.

“From the very first time that EU framework started, Nigerian National Contact Point network has been successfully loaded into the proper portal that is managed directly; that was the first outcome.

“That process started in November last year, that was when we had an engagement under the EU-AU framework programme and developing what is called, an NCP network. The first step for any country to successfully participate is to have that NCP network. We developed and trained the team. We started with 60 people but eventually, in terms of meeting the requirements, only 35 made it. By June, we finally got Nigeria officially uploaded onto the central portal.

“What we specifically targeted for Nigerian researchers is the world programme that will start in October this year; that is called the 2023 -2024 World Programmes. We have selected 60-research team that would benefit from an extended Tetfund intervention.

“One of the marching orders we received was to prepare team that can meet the management of those projects. The EU has very specific technical requirements of those who will manage projects they are funding.

“We have established national level collaboration with the Spanish and Finnish NCP networks. Spain is very interesting for us because they came from being number 17 or 18 in terms of European countries that are accessing EU grants, they are now deploying a strategy over two or three years’ period and that strategy worked and they became the fourth country in Europe to access the EU grants.

“We may not become the fourth country taking grant from EU in short period but we believe that it is a matter of time. We believe that by 2025 or 2027 World Programme, Nigeria would be featuring in a significant and very competitive position. Participation in Horizon Europe is going to significantly increase researches in Nigeria,” he said.

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