How to Close Social Infrastructure Funding Gap

Obinna Chima
One of the leading professional services firms in the country, PwC Nigeria, has stressed the need to improve outcomes in higher education institutions in the country, in order to enhance human capital.

The firm, in a report titled: “Closing the funding gap in social infrastructure – Making the case for adoption of endowment funds,” pointed out that governments at all levels have clearly demonstrated their inability of being the sole source of funding for public higher education institutions in the country.

“There is a saying in Nigeria that if you wait for a crab to blink you will wait a long wait. If the education system is waiting for the government to increase its budget to the UNESCO benchmark of between 15-20 per cent to achieve the needed outcomes, they may have to queue up behind other pressing needs like power and transportation.

“If the endowment funds had been running properly in the country, we will have better outcomes today but like the Chinese say, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago and the next best time to plant is now,” the report stated.

Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product is presently growing below its population growth rate of 2.6 per cent. The country is expected to become the third-most populous country in the world by 2050.

This has serious implications for economic and human development in the absence of adequate funding. According to an Oxfam report in 2017, Nigeria was ranked 41st out of 41 countries in Africa for spending on healthcare, education and social security compared to South Africa that was ranked second with a score of 0.512.

“Seeking alternative sources of funding to boost social infrastructure While Nigeria’s allocation to tertiary education has declined over the years, other countries have actively taken steps to increase their spending commitments in these sectors.
“Relying solely on the government to fund tertiary education is no longer adequate because of the growing government budget deficit and a need to focus on hard infrastructure such as transport network and power,” it noted.

Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children in the world. According to UNICEF, 10.5 million children are believed to be out of school, a figure that represents approximately 20 per cent of the total statistic.
The national budgetary allocation to the education sector in 2017 of 7.3 per cent was way below the UNESCO benchmark of 15 to 20 per cent.
In 2017, the education budget was N544 billion, of which N95 billion was allocated to universal basic education (UBE) and N330 billion to tertiary education.

“To close the funding gap of N572 billion, the 2017 education budget should be in the region of N1.1 trillion. The world over, the cost of providing tertiary education is expensive, however multiple avenues of funding are available, exclusive of government allocation and out-of-pocket payments. “Nigeria needs to find sustainable ways to fund tertiary education. One of such sustainable strategies is through the adoption endowment funds, which have successfully established in the West and will take little or nothing to implement in Nigeria.

“For instance, Harvard University’s endowment fund is estimated at $US35.7billion, and managed by Harvard Management Company, a subsidiary of the University, which serves as the school’s investment manager,” it stated further.

Harvard’s endowment fund is larger than the GDP of half the world’s economies.
Contributions into the fund has enabled the school to provide industry-leading financial aid programs, ground-breaking scientific research and professorships in different fields.

On the other hand, Nigeria’s revenue per student of US$566, when compared with selected universities in the US, UK and Canada falls far short of these higher institutions with diversified income streams from various sources.

Continuing, the report noted that endowment funds are essentially gotten from charitable donations, private investments, among other sources – this becomes the principal, which is then invested with a fund manager to earn income.

The income earned is then used for very specific purposes that are articulated in a charter. In most advanced countries that publically finance education through fiscal spending, endowment funds are increasingly being adopted as an alternative and viable means for funding university education, it stated.

“Most higher education institutions in Nigeria have significantly profound alumni members who make donations to their alma mater via registered or non-registered alumni associations. “These donations can be structured into an endowment fund for better and sustainable outcomes. In return for their donations, the alumni members earn income in the form of return on investment on an annual basis or as predetermined in the endowment charter.

“Furthermore, funds under management in an endowment fund can be loaned to government for infrastructure projects in local currency. This is because we expect most endowments funds to have low risk appetites, particularly in the short term,” it explained.

It maintained that endowment funds are not the only solution to funding social inclusion and closing the infrastructure deficit, but one way that fosters fiscal and monetary discipline. To this end, PwC Nigeria stressed that there was an urgent need for Nigeria to create a system outside the government to improve the outcomes in the areas of health and education.