Ghent University visit
The National Universities Commission (NUC), last Tuesday, hosted the Belgium Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Daniel Bertrand, who led a delegation from Ghent University, Belgium to the Commission in search of internationalisation of its education offering with Nigerian universities. 
The aim of the exploration visit was to strengthen the bilateral cooperation between Nigeria and Belgium on one hand, and Ghent University in particular with various Nigerian Universities and research institutions.  
In his remarks at the event held at the Idris Abdulkadir Auditorium, the Deputy Executive Secretary (DES) Administration, Mr. Chris Maiyaki, who spoke on behalf of the Executive Secretary, Professor Abubakar Adamu Rasheed, stated that the Commission had in recent times strengthened it Cross Border Policy in line with the Commission’s goal to internationalise university education, with the idea of expanding access to university education across borders. The NUC, he stressed, was currently escalating its internationalisation portfolio by way of granting of access to foreign partners through liberalisation of the policy to come in and invest in the Nigerian space. 
The Deputy Executive Secretary described the meeting as timely, noting that the Commission takes seriously any opportunity to open up access to university education in the country and had developed a policy guideline on Trans National Education (TNE) for that purpose. He stressed that with a population of over 200 million Nigerians, its present 219 Universities could not meet the teeming youth population seeking to earn university degree in the country.
He pointed out that the British Colonial Government miscalculated on the number of universities Nigeria would be requiring as the present implosion and gap in number of graduates and those seeking university education continue to widen. He disclosed that Nigeria had about 2 million candidates that jostled for university admission, while only about 500,000 get enrolled annually, leaving a deficit of 1.5 million, who without sufficient funds to go abroad miss admission yearly.
He further explained that Nigeria had only about 2 million students spread across the 219 universities and 170,000 workers with barely 70,000 as academics among them, which is not enough to carry out cutting-edge research and conduct the business of teaching and learning in the higher education space, especially at the postgraduate level.  
Giving a brief history and activities of the Commission, Mr. Chris noted that the Commission was established in 1962 as an advisory body in the cabinet office and became a statutory body in 1974, adding that the Commission had through its Strategy Advisory Committee (STRADVCOM) worked assiduously to reposition Nigeria’s university education for better performance and quality service delivery. 
He stressed that the Commission had the responsibility of orderly development of university education in the country and saddled with the mandate for the determination and maintenance of Minimum Academic Standards (MAS) in Nigerian Universities.
It is also empowered by law to regulate University activities by granting approval of academic courses and programmes after Resource Verification of the human and material resources available for take-off; conduct accreditation to academic programmes using the Benchmark Minimum Academic Standards (BMAS); monitors universities as well as provide guidelines and process applications for the establishment of Private Universities, among others.
Mr. Maiyaki stated that the Commission was open to foreign collaborations and partnerships in terms of researches, students exchange programmes and mobility, and other University- based educational project that would be of benefits to the country through the TNE policy. He expressed hope of seeing some tangible fruits to grab from the visit of the delegation and the Ghent University administrators as the concept of university is about universalism of operations and curricula.
He said one of the challenges in the Nigerian University System (NUS) is the perennial issues of instability in academic calendar due to incessant strikes by university based unions, stating that NUC would be willing to glean from Ghent University’s best practice in order to entrench a viable and stable university system.  
In another remark, the Executive Secretary, Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), Architect Sonny Echono, represented by the Fund’s Director of Procurement, Architect Erivwo Inene apologised for the absence of the Executive Secretary who was on national assignment but would be on hand to receive the Ambassador the next day on a courtesy visit. 
He noted that the agency was not a policy one, but about mobilising fund to assist in re-engineering the university system through a two per cent tax from companies operating in Nigeria. It is therefore an intervention fund that does not own any institution but only helps to assist public universities through some line funding mechanism including restoration of physical infrastructure, in addition to content development of the academics through sponsorship of academics to acquire postgraduate degrees. 
The 50 per cent of the funds go into physical infrastructure development, while the rest go into academic development which, he referred, to as where Ghent University could maintain collaboration with Nigerian public universities. He said the Fund had helped about 35,000 academics to acquire university lecturers and academics to acquire Masters and PhDs both in local and foreign institutions.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Godfrey Onyeama, who spoke through a representative, Ambassador Emmanuel Sani commended the delegation for the efforts they made to come even in the time past which was derailed by the Corvid-19 pandemic way back in September 2021. He commended Ghent University for collaborating with the Embassy of Nigeria in Brussels to provide support services to Nigerian universities in the areas of faculty and students exchange.
He recalled that Nigeria and Belgium had maintained cordial bilateral relations for a long while, which had helped to strengthen their mutual affinity covering both political, economic and education sectors. He assured the Ambassador and the Ghent team that Nigeria would continue to foster this close relationship with his country in the area of education exchange and commended the University for opening up its frontiers of knowledge for Nigerian universities to tap into. 
In his response, the Belgium Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Daniel Bertrand noted that he was not in NUC to publicise only Ghent University but all universities in Belgium, as the country was at the heart of Europe and a gateway to other European countries and that the quality of its education delivery at the university level was very high. 
He said there were few universities in Belgium, but four of them were ranked consistently among the best 200 in the world universities. Many of the universities had excellent faculties, research centres and other centres specialising in courses such as Pharmacy, Civil and Mechanical Engineering, Agriculture, Medicine, among others.
Belgium had been in partnership with the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos as well as the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan and had contributed to the Institute in Ibadan since inception in 1967 and remained its major sizeable donor till date. 
The Belgium Ambassador, who said he had been in the country for two years, noted that the visit to the Commission was hinged on the fact that the Commission was the anchor point for all international collaborations.  He stated it was unfortunate that Nigeria and Belgium do not have collaborations within the framework of the Belgium Education Development Agency (BEDA), making it difficult for Nigerians in Belgian universities to have easy access to sponsorship. 
He said Belgium is hosting so many headquarters of European institutions.  He informed the NUC team that what the Belgium educational system had to offer would be of interest for the Nigerian education system even though he was aware that most of them preferred UK, USA and Canadian universities.
Mr. Bertrand noted that there were currently about 1,400 Nigerian students undergoing training in different fields of study in Belgium since 2015. He said this does not include those who were already resident in that country or studying in various universities, disclosing that the Government of Belgium intends to open up several sponsorship programmes such as the ERASMUS+ European Union Educational Space, so as to enable Nigerian students gain access to such openings in order to study with ease.
In his remarks, the Academic Director, Internationalisation, Ghent University, Prof. Guido Van Huylenbroeck, who made a slide presentation highlighted that Ghent University is a top 100 university and one of the major universities in Belgium, stating that its 11 faculties offer more than 200 courses and conduct in-depth research within a wide range of scientific domains. He added Ghent University Global Campus was also the first European university in Songdo, South Korea.
While dwelling on the cost and tuition fees obtainable in Ghent, the Director said the fees were determined based on the specific areas of research students intended to embark upon, adding that the average tuition was about between 4,000 to 6,000 dollars per year, which covers living expenses.
He noted that the University also had the plans to negotiate the fees of those under the TETFund sponsorship with the intervention agency as provided under the University law and agreement with such National agencies to reduce the cost and also make the payment structure a bit flexible for them as Masters and PhD students.
In another presentation on “African Platform for Ghent University,” Coordinator, Africa Platform, Ghent University Association,  Dr. Annelies Verdoolaege explained that the  Africa Platform of Ghent University Association (GAP) is a university platform aimed at building academic collaboration with African institutions and that also makes the Africa research available to the non-academic community as well as forge bilateral agreements among countries.
She highlighted that the key objectives of the GAP include: to unite all Africa-related expertise at Ghent University Association; distribute information on academic activities linked to Africa and the African diaspora; facilitate and empower collaboration with African institutes on the level of teaching and research; raise awareness on issues linked to African societies as well as function as a contact point for Africa expertise for non-academic stakeholders.
Dr Verdoolaege stated that part of its key action lines involves, screening funding channels and bringing academics together pro-actively, promoting the visibility of Africa research through social media and organizing the international symposium GAPSYM.
Others include publishing an international and peer-reviewed journal Afrika Focus, intensifying the link with non-academic stakeholders (socio-cultural, political, media) bridging the gap between the academic world, NGOs & the private sector, building stronger connections with embassies, institutions, NGOs and companies in Africa, actively recruiting students from Africa and operationalizing alumni networks in Africa
The university, according to her, had partnerships with some Nigerian Universities including the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, University of Lagos, among others.
She told the Executive Secretary that the University needed the partnership and support of the NUC and TETFund so that its Nigerian students would study with ease by benefiting from existing scholarship structures that required the support of their national government.  
There were also presentations by various University of Ghent Research Groups of MYTOX-SOUTH by Prof. Sarah De Saeger and Dr. Celine Meerpoel; those of Palnt B &B by Dr. Marc Heijde and CESSMIR by Dr. Sarah Adeyinka.
In the team were also Nigerian graduates of the University who presented testimonies as alumni members. They are Dr. Jibril Mohammed and Dr. Cynthia Adaku Chilaka. 
At the meeting were the Directors of: Open Distance and e-learning (DODE), Engr. Kayode Odedina as well as the Acting Directors of Research, Innovations, Information and Technology (DRIIT), Mal Farouk Lawan and Skills and Entrepreneurship Development (DSDE), Mal. Ashafa Ladan.