The Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) has said it might soon suspend foreign scholarships due to the rising exchange rate.
This was disclosed by TETFUND executive secretary Sonny Echono at a public hearing organised by an ad hoc committee of the House of Representatives on the alleged missing N2.3 trillion in TETFUND between 2011 to date.
Echono said the tax accruable to the fund is generated by Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) and TETFUND’s account is domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria adding that some taxes came in foreign currencies to CBN, but failed to provide forex to TETFUND to pay scholarship fees.
“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,” stated the TETFUND chief.
“Those who are currently there, we now need more naira to pay for the dollar that is required for their annual fees.”
Mr Echono said TETFUND had l identified courses in which Nigerian universities have the competence and the right quality of faculty to run, stressing that the fund had earlier decided that only limited courses “where we do not have the capacity in our institutions will qualify for foreign sponsorship.”
He announced that most training would be done locally through experienced, first-generation universities and other specialised universities in Nigeria to retain revenue and cope with the exchange rate.
However, Mr Echono said no fewer than 137 sponsored scholars have absconded from 40 institutions abroad, admitting that some refused to return to Nigeria after completing their courses abroad.
“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,” Mr Echono lamented.
He added, “We believe that 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 a fugitive of law from their countries.”
Mr Echono called for reviewing existing regulations to ensure that those who benefit from the TETFUND programme must return.
“We are not against people looking for greener pastures but do so on your own, not our scholarship or through our sponsorship,” he pointed out.