Last month, an inspection team from the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) embarked on a four-day visit to Nigerian lecturers who are on postgraduate studies in Sudan. Despite few challenges, the scholars are relishing their experiences. Daily Trust on Sunday reports.
Adamu Aliyu Muhammed obtained his first and second degrees from Nigerian universities. Though an academic staff of the Taraba State University, he had never imagined he would someday study abroad due to its cost implication.
However, with the intervention of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund, he will soon complete his doctorate degree in Literature from the International University of Africa, Sudan, soon.
"I never thought of an opportunity to even catch a plane, let alone leave this country to study abroad, but thanks to TETFUND; we came out and we studied," the elated Muhammed said.
He is among 2, 000 scholars from several tertiary institutions in Nigeria, sponsored by TETFUND through its Academic Staff Training and Development Programmes. The scholars are in various countries around the world.
The academic training programme started in 2008 after the National Universities commission (NUC) formulated a policy that PhD would be the minimum teaching requirement in Nigerian universities.
During a monitoring and inspection exercise by the TETFUND officials to Sudan, the Director, Research and Development, Malam Aliyu Na'Iya, said there were less than 15 per cent of PhD holders in all Nigerian universities when the policy was made.
He said TETFUND decided to open up and sponsor scholars to acquire their PhDs and meet the requirements, as part of efforts to ensure that Nigeria's tertiary institutions compete favourably with other world class institutions.
He said 95 scholars secured TETFUND scholarship to study in Sudan, while 63 have completed their programmes, 31 are still undergoing their studies, but one person died among them.
Addressing the scholars studying at the International University of Africa, Sudan, Na'Iya said the annual exercise would ensure that the scholars are in tune with what the fund is doing and ensure that they are actually studying. He said TETFUND was reforming the programme due to the failure of some benefiting institutions to comply with laid down rules. He added that the fund would no longer allow scholars benefitting under its scholarship programme to attend any lowly ranked university in the world.
"Only universities that meet the World University Ranking of the Times Higher Education and are top on the league table of universities in a particular country would be approved for the purpose of TETFUND scholarship," he said. This, he added, would ensure that TETFUND scholars are trained in the best universities in the world.
He explained that the University of Ibadan was the only highly ranked Nigerian university in 2017 by Times Higher Education, so academicians may wish to go there instead of going to institutions that are not ranked or those ranked below standard.
Another scholar, Tijani Usman, commended the move by the agency to reform the scholarship programme.
"We are strongly impressed with the efforts of TETFUND in supplementing the efforts in our institutions. I appreciate the issue of ranking. To be sincere, most universities here are not even better than the Nigerian universities, so it is a commendable effort," said the PhD student from the Taraba State College of Education.
However, the scholars said their choice of Sudan was informed by the treatment of doctorate students in Nigeria.
Speaking on what informed his choice of Sudan, Muhammed further said: "I was motivated to come outside by the bad experience I had when I was doing my master's degree. A Nigerian professor is like a demigod; he wants to be worshipped literally and I promised myself never to study in Nigeria again.
"I don't know whether our professors are really teaching or they want to show us their level of divinity when it comes to relationship with people."
He said that when he got the opportunity, he took it because of the simplicity and friendliness and hospitality of the people, and luckily, TETFUND approved and paid.
Usman, however, admitted that most schools in the country are not better than Nigerian universities and blamed the system for frustrating postgraduate students in Nigeria.
"We were forced to come out because of frustrations in Nigeria. Something has to be done to our system, particularly the PhD and master's. In fact, there is a need for complete paradigm shift from the way they operate," he said.
Usman said that in universities outside Nigeria, the moment you come in, you know when to graduate.
"This is the most important thing, but in Nigeria it is not applicable. Most Nigerian universities spend longer years for master's and PhD, which is terrible," he said.
The scholars, however, agreed that they were part of the problem since most of them are lecturers in Nigerian tertiary institutions.
"The problem of the Nigerian university system is us, the academics. We are the problem. There is the need for us to change. The problem is excessive quest for personal aggrandizement," Mohammed said.
He said there was the need to be very rigid in implementing laws, saying that until the Ministry of Education, the National Universities Commission (NUC), in collaboration with TETFUND, make it a policy and stand by it, nothing would change.
Another scholar from the Federal College of Education, Gombe, Abdulganiyu Jimoh, acknowledged the fact that the Sudanese are hospitable, saying it is a very important virtue.
"Professors who are your supervisors look for you; they visit you. It happens only in Sudan, not Nigeria," he said.
Jimoh said: "When you look at the student-to-teacher ratio, there are many professors. Also, when you are qualified, you get admission; it's not like ours where, out of 100, only 10 would get admission. We have the potentials in Nigeria, only that we are not using them."
Mohammed said he left Sudan, not only with his certificates, but also with a renewed mind on how best to relate with his students and ensure maximum productivity.
"Immediately I went back, I was supervising my students the way my professor treated me. I invited them to my house and served them drinks. They were very surprised, wondering what was happening. I said that's the advantage of studying abroad," he said.
He said his relationship with students was very cordial, adding that in Sudan, there was no gap at all as students could speak to their professors anytime, even at the market.
"The moment you come to his office he gives you a cup of tea and you relax. That relationship is lacking in Nigeria," said Mohammed.
"If we can borrow from what they are doing here, I am suggesting if TETFUND can give incentives to every professor in Nigeria, if they are able to graduate a particular number of students, it may encourage them to fasten their belts," Usman said.
However, there are pockets of hurdles faced by the scholars in Sudan.
For Mohammed, it is more about exchange rate, accommodation, food, transportation and expensive lifestyle. He said exchange was challenging because he could not use his ATM card to transact business, as such, he had to change from local currency to dollars. According to him, life is very expensive in Sudan because the country is in economic recession.
Another scholar, Fatima Muhammed Shehu, from the Nigeria Defence Academy (NDA), Kaduna, studying Arabic Language in Al-Jazeera University, Sudan, said it was hectic because she got admission in 2015 but wasn't released from her place of work until September 2016.
"When I applied for visa, I was told that admission letter had expired and I had to renew the admission. In that process, I faced different problems, which desperately made me change university because I couldn't renew my admission," she said.
She, however, said she didn't have any problem with acquiring the fund. "I was told it was N9 million, which was what I was given."
Assessing the performance of Nigerian scholars in Sudan, the Dean of Postgraduate Studies in the International University of Africa, Prof Omar Ahmed Saeed, said they were very excellent.
"Every lecturer here knows that Nigerian students are very loyal, committed to their work and very polite. They are not like other scholars, both in the B.A and postgraduate levels," he said.
Speaking on method of funding, a member of the TETFUND Board of Trustees, Mrs Roseline Kolade, said the entire intervention money should not be released to the scholars at once by their institutions. She noted that the money was supposed to be released annually. "After paying the tuition fee, the money for cost of living should be sent to them annually. This is to discourage them from spending it before time and becoming stranded later," she noted. She, however, said the Board was working towards bridging all the gaps identified by the scholars in order to make the scheme better.