V-cs in funds limbo

September 20, 2002

Nigeria's vice-chancellors have called for talks with president Olusegun Obasanjo to press their case for immediate extra funding for universities amid a dispute over a World Bank loan.

The availability of a $120 million (£77 million) loan, which they believe could help universities struggling after years of deliberate neglect under military regimes, is a matter of dispute between the bank and the education ministry.

Vice-chancellors want to use the money to update facilities, which will enable universities to meet a tough accreditation system introduced by the national university commission.

Peter Okebukola, executive secretary of the commission, recently told vice-chancellors that the federal government had approved spending of $700 million to rehabilitate the 34 federal universities.

The extra funds have been factored into the 2003 and 2004 budgets, but vice-chancellors insisted that if fresh funds were not released as soon as possible, most of their institutions would fail the accreditation exercise.

They said almost every faculty of medicine, engineering and pharmacy may have its accreditation withdrawn because equipment was outdated and the best-qualified staff had either left the country or moved to the private sector.

Federal minister of education Babalola Borishade said the government had "decided to refocus the World Bank loan to upgrade universities' facilities so that unaccredited degree programmes could get accredited".

But World Bank official Obadiah Tohomdet said use of the facility for "non-priority projects" had been rejected.

"The bank feels that the Nigeria University System Innovation Project, for which the loan was meant two years ago, has not gone as far as we expected," he said.

"There has been a long delay in the performance of the project itself. For the ministry to ask, mid-stream, for a realignment of the loan package shows unwillingness to continue with the programme."

He reminded Professor Borishade that the loan was granted to enhance managerial capacity, encourage women into academic careers and promote internet usage at selected universities.

University teachers and students regard the quarrel as unnecessary. One academic, Ike Okon, of the dentistry department at the University of Port Harcourt, said: "The project and the proposals from the ministry are identical. They are both aimed at assisting the universities to improve teaching and research capacities."

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