FX Crisis: TETFund Mulls Suspension of Foreign Scholarships
By Adedapo Adesanya
The Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) has revealed that consultations are ongoing to suspend foreign scholarships as a result of the current FX crisis in the country.
The Naira has performed badly at the foreign exchange (forex) market lately, particularly after the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) floated the local currency, allowing market forces to determine its value.
Since this move last month, some students studying abroad have found it difficult to access FX because of its high rate.
The Executive Secretary of the fund, Mr Sonny Echono, at a public hearing on alleged missing N2.3 trillion in TETFund between 2011 to date, organised by an Ad hoc Committee of the House of Representatives, said the tax accruable to the fund is generated by Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) and the fund’s account is domiciled in the CBN.
Mr Echono said that some of the tax comes in foreign currencies to CBN, but when it is time to pay fees for scholars abroad, the apex bank insists TETFund source forex from other channels, making the fund lose value due to the disparity of the rates.
According to him, “We operate a system where our forex is being sold on our behalf at the official rate, and we apply like anybody else to get it, sometimes it leads to additional cost.”
He urged the committee to intervene and compel CBN to allow TETFund access to its forex to pay fees as and when due.
“Currently, as I speak, we are in consultations with all our stakeholders to suspend, for a year or two, foreign training.
“This is because of the recent exchange rate adjustments; we are unable to continue based on our disbursement guideline; the money we allocated in naira cannot cover the dollar requirement for training.
“Those who are currently there, we now need more naira to pay for the dollar that is required for their annual fees,” he said.
Mr Echono said that the fund had l identified courses where Nigerian universities have the competence and the right quality of faculty to run.
He said that the fund had earlier decided that only limited curses “where we do not have the capacity in our institutions will qualify for foreign sponsorship.”
The executive secretary announced that most training will now be done locally through experienced, first-generation universities as well in collaboration with other specialised universities here in Nigeria.
This, he said, will allow the fund to retain revenue to cope with the volatile exchange rate, which is now at the mercy of market forces.
Mr Echono raised worries that no fewer than 137 sponsored scholars have absconded from 40 institutions abroad.
He said that some scholars who are sent for foreign training to acquire higher qualifications have refused to return to Nigeria to serve.
He said that TETFund was working with other stakeholders on stringent measures to ensure this sharp practice is ended. One of which is the signing of a bond agreement.
“The scholar undertakes that you will come back, it is required that you have a guarantor, and in many cases, the guarantor has suffered undue hardship because when you disappear, we hold the guarantor to pay all the money expended on your behalf, but that has not been effective.
“We believe that in a system where we work with our embassies and the institutions, we can enforce the repayment for those who insist they will not come back.
“If they don’t, we will declare them persona non grata. We will write to the embassies, and they will make it available to those countries, and they will not be able to get jobs; they will be seen as fugitives of law from their countries,” he said.
Mr Echono called for the review of existing regulations to ensure that those who benefit from the TETFund programme must come back.
According to him, we are not against people looking for greener pastures but do so on your own, not our scholarship or through our sponsorship.
On the alleged missing N2.3 trillion, Mr Echono said that the revenue accrued to the fund within the period stood at N2.47 trillion.
He said that between 2011 to date, a total of N371.3 billion was borrowed by the Federal Government, and only N48 billion had been repaid.