By; SANI ALIYU, Zaria
The Minister of Finance, Budget, and National Planning Dr. Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed has said that COVID-19 pandemic has deepened inequalities in the education sector, and its disruptive effects have been disproportionately felt by the most vulnerable.
She expressed this in a keynote address at the 14th Annual General Assembly with the theme ” The Role of Universities in Nation Building” at Ahmadu Bello University Alumni Association held at Kongo Conference Hotel, Zaria.
Shamsuna Ahmed said the pandemic has underscored the need for better deployment of innovative teaching methods and technology-driven tools to ensure access, particularly for those in rural communities.
According to her, “It has underscored the vital role of universities in the post-COVID 19 socio-economic recovery process, particularly in the areas of medical and technological research and development, intellectual property; and in shaping the next generation of graduates with a growth and citizen-centric mindset to lead across all societal spheres.”
The Minister believes that collective achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union development hinges in part on whether they are able to sustainably strengthen their universities and other tertiary institutions.
“This is particularly true as the 4th industrial revolution has great potentials to drive global transformation and innovation in the education sector and beyond”.
“Additionally, there are increasing demands for quality tertiary education as a result of the efforts to expand access to primary and secondary education”.
Dr. Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed said these tertiary institutions are their starting point, and pioneer universities such as Nsukka, Ibadan, and the Ahmadu Bello have a clear leadership role to play in helping shape the education transformation agenda. the 2021 ‘Budget of Economic Recovery and Resilience’.
She noted that Government’s Interventions Focused on Tertiary Education. “Even before the COVID-19 pandemic Government had made a demonstrable commitment to addressing issues around education, and specifically to advancing and building capacity towards tertiary education.”
The Minister said, significant investments have been made towards Infrastructural Development in Tertiary Education.
“In 2020, approval was granted to Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) to disburse a total of N395,032,375,000 (Naira Three Hundred and Ninety-Five Billion, Thirty-Two Million, Three Hundred and Seventy-Five Thousand Naira for the development of personnel in tertiary institutions This is aside from the budgetary allocations and Revitalization funds to universities.
“In 2021 N323.3 billion was approved for TETFund. As we are all well aware, financial and other investments are critical to ensuring equal access to tertiary education.
“The Ministry of Education is working to increase enrollment “and improve the quality of technical and entrepreneurial training in polytechnic institutions to meet our national skills gap and meet the manpower needs of our national economy”.
She advised for a call to action on nation building as already stated,
“Universities and other tertiary institutions are key drivers for inclusive and sustainable development, especially now as we work to build back better, and more resiliently post-COVID 19.
“The administrative leaders and Professors at these institutions are change agents with the potential to shape and transform not only their students, but also to drive development and policy formulation through academic research and engagement with government, the private sector and civil society.
“As a testament to the strength of our existing institutions, we have several universities participating in the regional Africa Higher Education Centers of Excellence Project (ACE 1), initiated in 2015 (with support from the World Bank) and focused on promoting regional specialization and capacity building among participating Universities.
“Nigeria was allocated USD70 million to support ten Universities that came top in the regional competition (a total of 22 Universities were selected in the region).
“Notably, ABU was amongst those 20 with a focus on “Neglected Tropical Diseases; and Forensic Biotechnology. A Second ACE Impact project is currently under development, with Nigeria representing 17 out of the 44 Centers selected in Africa.
“The ABU Centers on “Genomics of infectious diseases” and “New Pedagogy in Engineering Education” are amongst the centers, with a total of USD75 million allocated to support the 17 Centers from 14 Nigerian Universities.
the establishment of research facilities, especially in the areas of health, science, and technology; development and use of innovative teaching instruments that prioritize experiential and people-centered learning and through the establishment of stronger partnerships with government and the private sector towards the development of academic research to inform policy decision making.
“A resilient and thriving Nigeria requires that we work collaboratively across the Federal and State Government, and hand in hand with universities and other tertiary institutions, citizens, CSOs and the private sector. Universities have a critical role to play as we build back better.
“As we approach the end of the tenure of the Governing Councils of most of our Federal Universities, succession planning and strategic visioning, with clear and achievable short, medium, and long-term work plans are critical enablers for our success.
“Ultimately, we must keep our citizens, and in particular, our most vulnerable at the heart and center of our nation building agenda,” the Minister said. .