MORE than one hundred Nigerian Ph.D students on the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) scheme studying in the United Kingdom, are stranded on their various campuses, leading to some engaging in odd jobs to survive. The lecturers who blamed the prevailing economic recession in the country for their woes said the naira to pound sterling exchange rate has shattered their dreams and brought them untold hardship.
As a result, many of them can no longer concentrate on their research work as they have to do menial jobs to survive.
Flexible exchange rate
Some of them who spoke with Vanguard on their ordeal noted that before TETFUND money was released to beneficiaries, the flexible exchange rate was N285 to a pound. One of the beneficiaries and a lecturer with the Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST), Engr. Tubonimi Jenewari, said: “We are now at the mercy of black marketers who sell a pound for N600 and above, because even the bank rate of N440 to a pound is not available.
“The money that was released to beneficiaries was released before the flexible exchange rate came in, which was N285 to a pound. TETFUND was supposed to release the money in the currency of the country to our respective universities in Nigeria which would in turn released to beneficiaries in tranches according to the duration of the programme.
“Before I left for the programme, I wrote them to do the needful, but they replied saying once disbursed, nothing can be done. So our fees have not been paid, we are now using the money for only upkeep. The universities here have sent us reminders for payment of fees. We have a letter from our various universities that we are being sponsored by TETFUND, the UK universities honoured the letter and gave us entrance without asking for a dime, now that the fees are not forthcoming, they have been writing letters, reminding us.
“I really can’t tell the implications for failing to honour the agreement with the institutions in the UK. I came to UK on TETFUND scholarship in October 2016 and will be rounding off my course in 2019,” he said.
Engr Abraham Wiri, also of RSUST, is doing his Ph.D at Loughborough University under TETFUND scholarship. He noted that the major issue in the UK was the payment of fees and transfer of funds from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
He said, “When I came to UK in 2015, my funding was based on N250 to a pound, but now, it is N600 to one pound. Because I am now in my second year, I cannot pay fees based on the former rate. I have already filled form for cash transfer but till now, the form is still with my bank. TETFUND is reluctant about our appeal for additional funds. I have been receiving emails from Loughborough University for payment of fees.
“My bank keeps telling me that I have to source funds from the black market to pay fees. Right now, I can’t move to my third year because no access to transfer of funds.” Wiri who disclosed that his Ph.D workload was intensive, explained that he has to be in the laboratory daily for research. “We need additional fees from Tetfund,” he added.
Speaking in the same vein, Engr. Igwe Ikechi, RSUST, urged TETFUND to listen to their cries, lamenting that he cannot continue to wash plates and do other menial jobs to raise money for his upkeep.
Additional fees from Tetfund
He said: “I spent all the money they gave me for this year in the black market to pay my fees only. They approved our funding with an official rate of less than N250 to a pound. Currently, it is about N600 to a pound. They said that it is 100 per cent sponsorship but right now, it can barely pay for tuition, much less living expenses. I cannot continue to wash plates and do other menial jobs to raise money for my upkeep.
“A university lecturer, now washing plates and doing other menial jobs to pay for upkeep just because I want a PhD? TETFUND should look at what PTDF and NDDC have done for their scholars here in the UK. In Nigeria, I teach Petroleum Engineering at the RSUST. I am fed up. I can no longer concentrate on my research. Let the APC government help us. They cannot abandon us after sending us here.You may not really know what we are going through here. Please, we are suffering. I mean really suffering.”
For Barr Prince Amadi, law lecturer, studying at Queen Mary University of London, the basic challenge is living cost. He said: “The money I was awarded from TETFUND is only able to pay my tuition, with nothing left to take care of my living costs in London. I am practically stranded. Right now, I am being housed by a Nigerian somewhere in Enfield Lock, far away from the university.
“He gave me this place to stay for free after I told him my story. Since that time, I have to come from Leeds every week to London to have my weekly seminars because I am unable to get a house in London. Even as I speak, I am still indebted to the university for part of my tuition because the exchange rate was so high that I was only able to pay part of over £2000.
“If not for anything, it would have been able to give us within the neighbourhood of £7000 after tuition which should carry us for up to six months for those of us in London and nine months for those outside London. As I speak, I am indebted to the sum of £2,450, making the university to give me conditional enrolment when I explained my funding situation to them.
“I want TETFUND to review my award to reflect the current exchange rate. I want them to pay the tuition directly to the university and give me in pounds or its current prevailing rate for my living cost for the year. If the fees are paid by the government that would help us a lot. Due to the prevailing circumstances, I have to work to support myself. In fact, I had to forgo studies for about three weeks to work in a factory to be able to feed.”
Meanwhile, in a document titled Guidelines for Accessing TETFUND Intervention Funds made available to Vanguard page 9.2 (e) under mode of sponsorship, states: “All foreign programmes enjoy full sponsorship as follows:
- Cover for tuition fees, bench fees, living expenses, health insurance and passages.
- Variation of cost on annual tuition fees only, but subject to confirmation from the foreign university where the AST and the scholar are studying.”
Also, under the mode of disbursement of funds to the scholars, it states that”Approved funds for beneficiaries are released en-bloc to the beneficiary institutions’ TETFUND dedicated accounts.
“The beneficiary institution is advised to open a domicillary account (for foreign programme) and lodge these monies. This is to cushion the effect of exchange rate fluctuations. The released monies are to be disbursed on annual basis to the scholars on receipt of the scholar’s progress reports. First disbursement to the approved scholar by the beneficiary institution should not be more than three weeks of receipt/release of funds from TETfund. ”