The Vice Chancellor of the Federal University, Oye Ekiti, Professor Isaac Asuzu, spoke in an interview with some journalists on the issues confronting the new university established by the Federal Government few years ago. Excerpts:
By Dotun Ibiwoye
The university system in Nigeria is in dire need of a new approach, a new vision, and a new assurance of its essence in national development. What step is FUOYE taking to respond to this demand?
Thank you. First, I will start with staffing. You cannot do better than the quality of staff you have on ground. Since I came, I have tried to recruit capable people that are qualified to work, particularly lecturers. Lecturers are people who train the students and the quality of lecturers determines the quality of students you have. Secondly, as you have noted, we have discovered a gap between our graduates and the requirements of industries.
This gap, we have found, is because of our curriculum. Our curriculum has not exposed students to the ability to think because when you think, then you can be innovative.
We have incorporated entrepreneurial studies to the curriculum so that every student will have an opportunity to learn one skill or two so that they can contribute, upon graduation, to national economic development, either through self-employment or by contributing their quota as employees. These are some of the efforts we are making in this school to ensure that we contribute to national development.
Your administration is laying much emphasis on capacity building. Do you have grants or other form of assistance to support and sustain your efforts?
Yes, recently we were fortunate to receive ¦ 140 million from Tertiary Education Trust Fund, TETFUND, for staff development.
Since we got that money, we have formed a committee of eminent professors to study, screen and select applicants from our school who would benefit from the fund. Now we are preparing to send a number of our staff abroad for further studies. We do not know the number yet, we are still computing.
What are the criteria for selecting beneficiaries?
The first thing we look at is qualification. People with first class honours will first be considered. Then those with second class, upper division will be considered.
Second, we look at the university to which they have applied for further studies. Such university must possess high level academic discipline. Beside these, such staff must have spent at least two years in this university. Graduate assistants are not eligible to benefit from the grant because they are not lecturers yet.
Nigerians are agitating for upward review of funding for higher education to match the country’s ambition to be among the global academic giants. What is your take on it?
Before I came into administration, I used to be a researcher and teacher. I have travelled to different parts of the world and seen how academics is handled. Education takes a lot of money; it is capital intensive. It is not commercial business.
It is a place where you train man-power. It is from the universities that the nation gets its workforce. Something that I realized is that in the developed world, the government does not fund education alone. The private sector and the companies come into it.
The University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, for example, is an entrepreneurial university. It provides a lot of funding for education.
When I was there in 1990/91 for my post-doctoral work as a Commonwealth Fellow, companies funded most of the facilities we had in the Chemistry research laboratories. Each time the companies had a project, they would come to us to produce certain drugs for them. We would tell them what we needed, which they would supply, so that we would be able to produce the drugs for them.
After that, the equipment remained in the lab. Most of the facilities we had then, we got that way. It is not that government must supply all we have to work with, but the problem we have in Nigeria is that there is a gap between the industries and the universities. Our so-called industries do not support the universities in this country.
What they spend their time doing is to import ready-made things, rather than encourage research to produce these things by ourselves, and the only way they can do that is to liaise with the universities.
I came from University of Nigeria, Nsukka, UNN. If you go to their Agricultural Engineering Department, you will see machines; machines that extract the bitter properties from bitter leaf, melon shelling machines, etc and the companies are not coming for the mass production of these machines. The researcher produces for mass sales. Government cannot mass-produce. There is this gap between the industries and universities. Government cannot do everything and in fact, I can say that it is trying.
Why is it difficult for tertiary institutions to access intervention funds as alleged by the Supervising Minister for Education, Mr. Nyesom Wike, who said recently that the two intervention agencies for education have over N80b that had not been accessed, given the myriads of challenges confronting the educational sector in the country?
It is true there are some funds that have not been accessed. Nevertheless, one of the problems that hinder access is the conditions that government has put up. One such condition is that you must exhaust what you have before you are given another tranche, even if you have done the project to up to 80%.
By the original agreement, these buildings here should have been handed over to us by February. Right now, they have over shot the time-frame for completion. Therefore, if these buildings are not completed, government will not release further funds to us.
That is one of the bottlenecks. We have been trying to persuade the government to reconsider and release more money when the project has reached about 75%. You see, the contractors take their time.
A project that was billed for completion in few months might take one year; some of the contractors handling some of our projects are nowhere to be found. These circumstances that are beyond our control add up to elongate the delivery period.
You can go there and see things for yourself. That’s why I opened the connecting road so that people can see for themselves. The projects are about 70% completed. The ICT building is now at the stage of painting while the Faculty of Science building is at roofing stage. The Administration Block and the Library are where we are experiencing challenges with the contractors but all will be assuredly delivered this year.
What have been your major constraints since you came to FUOYE?
The first big challenge that I had was organising this place. What I saw was that the place was not well organised. People were doing what they wanted; travelling at will and nobody knew what the other was doing.
However, I know that once the place is organised, the system will run on its own whether the leader is there is not. We have tried to set up appraisal systems so that people who are wrongly placed are placed in their rightful positions. I am teaching people to obtain permission when travelling, forming committees, and ensuring discipline in the system.
The way we are now, we are about to achieve that stability and then we can take off from there. Very soon, we will begin to do appraisal; those who are supposed to be regularized will be regularized. The second challenge is finance. This is because without money, we can not do anything. We need money to provide the facilities.
There is the question of space or accommodation. This is a big challenge because many of our staff do not have offices and many people share one room. Thank God for the phase II project blocks. We look forward to moving over there as soon as they are completed, so that this place can be used for other things.
We have tried to rent some buildings or convert some into hostels; some at Oye-Ekiti and some at Ikole campus. Fortunately also, the Federal Government through TETFUND is building two new hostels for us. Each of them will take about 250 students. The contractors have started work and hopefully, by the time the hostels are ready, they will have all modern facilities such as swimming pools, washing machines etc. We also encourage people to collaborate with us on Build, Operate, and Transfer, BOT, basis.
Another challenge is that we do not have enough lecturers to teach our students. Sometime last year, we advertised and a number of people applied and we interviewed and appointed over 100 lecturers and we are still employing because there are still some gaps in the areas where people did not show up then. We also tried to poach good hands from several institutions to make sure we have adequate number of lecturers. I think we have a full complement of other staff we need now.
The multiplicity of culture is believed by many to be a major challenge facing Nigeria as a nation. FUOYE can be viewed in this regard as a microcosm of the larger society. How are you dealing with this challenge?
I do not agree with you that multiplicity of culture is a problem. Rather it is an advantage because when different cultures come together, they learn from one another. That makes Nigeria tick today. (Vanguard)
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