By Abdelghaffar Amoka Abdelmalik, PhD
I woke up a few days ago to meet a piece of trending news on social media that Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) has earned 11 international research grants worth RM 600,000 (61.3 Million Naira) from the Nigerian government through the Nigerian Institute for Transport Technology (NITT). This possibly angered Nigerians as it came at a time Nigerian university Lecturers are on strike for proper funding of Nigerian public universities. I personally did not find the news surprising. Nigerians patronize Malaysian universities in recent years because the Malaysian government has successfully developed world-class universities with foresight and proper investment in education.
In January 2011 during my PhD at Leicester University, I attended the UK Universities High Voltage Network (UHVNet) colloquium at Winchester, UK. I met and interacted with some Malaysian PhD students from the University of Southampton. I got to realize that they were under Malaysian government scholarship and also the staff of a university in Malaysia. These intelligent and energetic, and very young men and women returned to their respective Malaysian university after the PhD as Senior Lecturers with an already prepared conducive environment for research and training. Malaysia did not just invest in scholarships but also in infrastructures to create an environment similar to what they left in the UK. These are the people training our Nigerian scholars in Malaysian universities today. And unfortunately, when these scholars return to Nigeria, there is no standard laboratory to train others.
I still find it amazing that we use our resources to train scholars abroad and no proper arrangement on how to effectively utilize the knowledge acquired on their return. If Malaysian leaders had behaved like Nigeria, Malaysia would not have being able to create a system good enough for the 11 NITT staff for their postgraduate training at the cost of over 61 million naira.
Malaysian leaders with foresight realize that higher education and international students can be sources of foreign exchange, aside from the human capital development for the country, and they invested heavily in education. Their leaders went to the west to learn how to develop their country and not how to steal from their country.
For example, International students are a key source of funding for UK universities and a source of revenue for the country. The government estimates an income of over £5 billion excluding tuition fees from international students every year. There is currently the fear of a financial crisis in UK universities due to low international students as the result of COVID-19, pushing the universities to request a bailout from the government.
International students contributed $45 billion to the U.S. economy in 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Malaysian leaders not beclouded with greed were able to see that education is not just the key to national development but also a source of foreign exchange and they key into it. Education was allocated RM50.4 billion (over NGN4.6 trillion) in Malaysia’s 2021 budget proposal. International students were reported to contribute an average of RM7.2bn (£1.4bn) to Malaysia per year via tuition fees and other living expenses. the expectation in 2020 was to hit a target of 200,000 international students in Malaysia to generate RM15.6 billion.
Aside from our numerous TETFund scholars doing their Ph.D. in Malaysia and contributing foreign exchange to the country, 11 staff from NITT Zaria will be going to Malaysia in January to contribute RM 600,000 to the Malaysian economy. The celebration of the grant by UTM’s Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Ismail Ahmad Fauzi, on the university’s Facebook shows the importance of the grant to the university and the country.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian government under President Buhari has been shouting diversification of the economy since 2015 but so shortsighted to realize that education is a potential source of foreign exchange. They are paying a lot of money for their kids to study abroad but not willing to create Nigerian universities that will attract international students. Nigerian universities use to be attractive to international students but that was lost when education left the priority list of successive governments with the worse neglect under this government. The current government stops funding education by refusing to fulfill the agreements it willingly signed with ASUU. The officials rather prefer to send their kids abroad for university education.
The slogan has being that Nigeria doesn’t have that kind of money ASUU is requesting for education. But Nigerian governors approved $1 billion from Excess Crude Account to fight Boko Haram in 2017. If we are serious about education, we can also get funds from ECA for the university revitalization fund. FG wants to take a 750 million USD loan from the World Bank for COVID-19 recovery, but they can’t take a loan for the revitalization of the education sector.
While ASUU members are under the hammer for a fight for the revitalization of public universities, the government has a lot to benefit if they invest in higher education. Nigeria is an attractive country for international students if we set our priorities right and inject the needed funds into the universities to make them good enough to compete with the rest of the world.
If we are committed to the revitalization of our universities, even the government officials won’t need to send their kids abroad and that will reduce the pressure on forex, subsequently, a large amount of the money being taken out for study abroad will remain in our country. We’ll rather be having an inflow of forex from foreign students in Nigerian universities. We’ll be able to create a system to give quality training to the rich, poor, and international students.
We have a voice today because we are a product of an elite system that is not elitist. You can join hands with ASUU for the fight for the revitalization of our universities for national development and economic prosperity. The choice is yours.
My name is Amoka and I am just an ordinary Nigerian that believe in the ASUU struggle for the survival of the public university. I believe in the creation of an elite system that is not elitist.
Abdelghaffar Amoka Abdelmalik PhD, writes from the Department of Physics, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.