The Ford Foundation has rounded off its 10-year International Fellowship Programme, IFP, in Nigeria, with a closing event comprising of a public lecture and presentation of awards at the Nicon Luxury Hotel, Abuja, on Tuesday.

The International Fellowship Programme, IFP, is the largest single programme ever supported by the Ford Foundation.

Launched in 2001 with US$250 million, and a further injection of US$75 million in 2006, making a total of US$325 million, the programme offered fellowships for post graduate study to leaders from underserved communities in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Russia.

The IFP in Nigeria is managed by Pathfinder International with a grant channelled through the Association of African Universities, AAU.

According to Farouk Jega, the country representative for Pathfinder International Nigeria, 175 fellows were recruited into the Nigeria programme since 2001.

He also said 44 per cent are women, while 56 per cent are men. He said 11 per cent of the fellows are people with special needs.

He added that 15 per cent of those selected were enrolled for PhD Programs, while the remaining 85 per cent were for Masters and professional degrees.

“81 per cent of the fellows have completed their studies, 73 per cent have returned to Nigeria and nine per cent obtained funding after IFP to further their studies to doctoral level,” he said.

Mr. Farouk also said Nigerian IFP fellows recorded 98 per cent academic success rate over the 10- year period of the programme.

He also disclosed that IFP fellows have already formed an alumni association, saying 10 of the members of the alumni association now work as university lecturers in Nigeria, South Africa, U.K. and the Netherlands.

“We also have four IFP fellows working in International Organisations such as the UNICEF, WHO, the UNDP and a host of other national and International development organisations, a director at the Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies and a Federal Permanent Secretary are Ford fellows,” he said.

Mr. Farouk said as the IFP programme comes to a close, the Pathfinder International would always remain available for the fellows to help with their alumni activities.

IFP Success story

Speaking at the event, the Project Officer for IFP Nigeria, Aba Nwachukwu, said running the IFP was “an incredible journey for all project officers”.

According to Ms. Nwachukwu, the IFP would remain an incredible success story because many of the fellows “are already making a difference in the lives of the ordinary people”.

She said the IFP was not an elitist programme because it sought out people who normally would not have had access or be considered for a scholarship programme.

“A lot of people used to asked us why have you selected these people, because they are used to persons with first class degrees, but we have this incredible panel of selectors who would look beyond just academic performance, but consider people who are committed to making a change or are already doing things to empower the less privileged,” she said.

Ms. Nwachukwu thereafter played a fifteen minute video clip showing some of the “exceedingly small sample” of what IFP fellows are doing.

More funding, not new universities

The Country Director for Action Aid Nigeria , Hussaini Abdu, presented a lecture on the topic ‘Linking Higher Education to Social Change’ where he criticised the Nigerian government’s penchant for establishing new universities without funding them adequately.

“Nigeria, has in the last three decades, experienced massive expansion in higher education, with over 200 higher educational institutions, it is undoubtedly the largest in sub Saharan Africa in both number of schools and students enrolment.

“This expansion is influenced by contradictory processes of state investment and divestment, the government is reducing funding for universities, while at the same time increasing the number of universities.

“I will be surprised that if by 2015, more universities are not created,” he said.

Mr. Abdu also said since 2011, almost every state in the country now has a university. He wondered why a state such as Yobe, which is unable to fill their slots in most universities within its catchment area, is about to have two new universities – state and federal.

He advised states such as Kano that has about three universities – two for the state and a federal one- to consider turning one of the universities into a campus of the other.

He said since 1986, Nigerian Universities had been massively underfunded, under staffed and lacking in basic learning facilities and environment.

“Regulations have been extremely poor and destructive, students unionism collapsed and society driven University community engagement have been deeply relegated, while violent counter culture permeates the system,” he said.

As a result of all these, he said, higher education in Nigeria had become regressive,  a situation compounded by the drop in quality and value.

The former Vice Chancellor of the University of Uyo, Idem Essien, who represented the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, NUC, Julius Okojie, defended government’s decision to establish more Universities.

He said “Last week, about 1.7 million candidates sat for the UTME, but the entire 135 Universities in the country can only admit about 500,000 candidates. So where will the rest go?”

He said the country needs more universities to cater for the need of the ever-expanding request for higher education.

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