Lessons from cost-saving measures at TETFund

With the renewed determination of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to fight all forms of corruption in a more professional manner and with due regard for propriety, efficiency and respect for the rule of law, it is the expectation of Nigerians that anti-corruption agencies in the country will align with the President’s reinvigorated commitment and discard the toga of media trials and leaks, or being used as instruments of blackmail and character assassination, particularly of public office holders.

Sometime in April 2024, an online media outfit carried a publication on a N7.6 billion “Contract” allegedly awarded by the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), with a similar report emerging from another online newspaper barely a month after.

While it is no longer news that anti-corruption agencies have since commenced investigations into the allegation against TETFund, one is taken aback to note that the investigation of the Agency is not based on any complaint by the Management of its Beneficiary Institutions, or vociferous unions in the institutions such as the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), but a little-known organisation by the name Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA) with neither presence nor footprint in the educational sector.

Reports have it that that the Fund is being questioned over its decision to sign a memorandum of understanding instead of going through the contract process in executing the ICT Roadmap programme. The programme, records indicate, had two components. One is enhancing the communication skills of relevant staff of tertiary institutions while the other is the Blackboard digital learning platform for all students in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions.

Available information indicates that the ICT Roadmap programme is not a new project. The scheme actually predates the tenure of the current executive secretary. It commenced in 2016 and was predicated on the report of a study on the state of readiness and relative level of adoption of ICT by beneficiary institutions.

Just like committees were constituted for the Research Development Programme and Higher Education Book Development Initiative of TETFund, the same was done for the Learning Management System project. These committees parade academicians from all tiers of tertiary institutions across various disciplines with relevant and valuable experience to design the framework for implementation.

The objective was clear. Many of the country’s tertiary institutions were lagging far behind in ICT knowledge and application. While various schools were at different levels, with some requiring additional investments in both infrastructure, systems transformation and personnel training, many institutions in remote locations had little or no broadband penetration. Moreover, newly established institutions have to establish systems, hire and/or upskill personnel before coming onboard the TETFund-supervised programme.

Analysts have argued that considering the “siddon look” attitude of many Nigerians as experienced with updating INEC voters register, collection of PVC and registration for National Identification Number, it is unwise to subject a scheme as the ICT Roadmap – largely a training programme- to the usual procurement process of fixed contracts, with the booby traps of default clauses, stiff penalties and huge cost variations.

Indeed, the framework agreements and MOU approach embraced by TETFund entails partnering, collaboration and cooperation. These are more flexible approaches than the contract system. The approach of the managers at TETFund ensures that only tuition access fees per student/trainee is fixed. This allows variability without penalties and that is why the number of beneficiary institutions have increased to 271 from the initial 253 when the MOU was first executed. Presently, a few private universities have indicated interest in embracing the scheme under the TETFund umbrella. The new joiners will benefit from a fixed cost and enjoy a discounted price!

One other lesson that can be learnt is that service contracts involving access or license fees are typically based on availability, whether it is used or not and are subject to renewal on an annual basis with the possibility of price adjustment. The MOUs adopted by TETFund have three to five years duration and the cost per trainee remain fixed for the entire period.

Going beyond the surface, seeking a strict understanding of the procurement process and the law which established TETFund, one understands that the agency does not unilaterally chart the path for its interventions to beneficiary institutions. In fact, tertiary institutions are at liberty to choose what they want to do with their allocations, while following the guidelines set by TETFund, which is a matter of mere process and compliance with relevant laws and regulations.

Indeed, it is also important to emphasise that the consent of beneficiary institutions was obtained on the Learning Management System project in 2023 with each of them nominating staff of their institution for training in that regard.

Records at the TETFund office indicate that each university, polytechnic and college of education actually gave consent in writing and nominated participants for the ICT training programme. Names of officials nominated for training were submitted; the fixed cost of training for each institution was also stated by all beneficiary institution. All these records are intact in the vaults of the supervising agency.

Rather than running around chasing shadows, let mischief makers consider the positive gains of the academic and training programmes. Let critics consider the efficiency with the huge economics of scale that was achieved with the path taken by the management of TETFund.

For the Blackboard scheme which enrolled 1,753,640 students, TETFund got a 75 per cent discount, paying $2.9 instead of $12 dollars as a result of the MOU. The EDUNET programme attracted 2,536,200 students at $6 per user instead of $15 per user at 87 per cent discount!

The agency has received global recognitions and awards for these innovations and the dexterity in implementing initiatives leading to rapid transformation of the Nigerian education landscape under the leadership of Sonny Echono who has spent barley two years in office.

Olujide Mayowa is an Education Research Specialist in Abuja.

The post Lessons from cost-saving measures at TETFund appeared first on Guardian Nigeria News.

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