Chief Bisi Ogunjobi is the Pro-Chancellor, Samuel Adegboyega University, Ogwa, Edo State, owned by the Apostolic Church. He explained to Funmi Ogundare why the act setting up the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) should be reviewed to allow private universities access to it, and efforts made by the institution to establish a Centre for Research and Development of Esan Land, in the language and culture of the community, among other issues. Excerpts:

Establishing a faith-based university will have its teething problems, what were they and how were you able to surmount them?

At the time of establishing the university, one of the most critical challenges was funding which we received from church members and contributions which we had regularly in the church, we also had the university support groups that were requested to give to the institution. For instance, the residence of the vice-chancellor was built entirely by Ibadan metropolitan area and you have other areas donating money and material, while some individuals donated generators. They levied each area to make the contribution. The second challenge was processing the application; so an academic committee was set up, made up of professors and members of the church, as well as engineers to build the university. Another group pursued the license and prepared the academic brief for the university which was processed with the National Universities Commission (NUC). I happened to be the Chairman of the Board of Trustees that worked on obtaining the license. After we obtained the license in 2011, then the university was inaugurated by former Governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole.

Since the establishment of the institution in 2011, how many of its programmes have been accredited and what efforts were made in equipping some of its faculties for NUC accreditation?

We have all our programmes fully accredited and with the funding, we had to equip the library, hostels, laboratories, sports field and tarred the road, which were inspected by the NUC before being granted a license. At the moment, we have the Health Sciences and Law Faculties and we have submitted to the NUC and waiting for approval. As part of our expansion programme, we have the College of Basic and Applied Sciences, Humanities, College of Basic and Social Sciences. In College of Basic and Applied Sciences, we have eight courses; Biochemistry, Chemistry, Computer Science, Industrial Chemistry, Mathematics, Microbiology, Physics and Statistics. In the College of Humanities, we have English Language, French, History and Diplomatic Studies, Religious Studies and Philosophy.

In the College of Management and Social Sciences, we have Accounting, Banking and Finance, Business Administration, Economics, Mass Communication and Public Administration. All these courses are fully accredited. Now we are trying to expand, the expansion will be in two directions; the first is to have new courses which are Law and Health Sciences. The second expansion direction is to have postgraduate studies. We have established a postgraduate department and appointed a director who is a professor from the University of Ibadan and we have 10 courses which have been approved by NUC and by next session, we should be able to start.

As the pro-chancellor, how do you promote good relations between the university management, staff and students?

We do have a retreat in the university for the council members, community and students. We had one two years ago and another last year. This year, we brought in the community to improve the community relations. We now had the formal forum with the representatives of the local community and the management of the university. I chaired the first meeting of the forum to improve and enhance the relationship between our host community. As part of the efforts being made by the university, we ensured that the issue of cultism and drug abuse is monitored very closely. In August last year, there was a seminar organised by the NDLEA in Abuja, some of our lecturers and students attended it and we decided to domesticate it in the campus. So we had a three-day seminar focusing on drug abuse by the students. My foundation, Bisi Ogunjobi Foundation was a co- sponsor of that seminar. We have worked very hard to ensure that students run away from the dangers of cultism and drug abuse which is very common among most Nigerian institutions.

With your wealth of experience in the banking sector, how did you assist in building the capacity of staff and students, and ensuring research and innovation?

We have gone beyond a classical university. We have integrated the ivory tower into the local community by setting up the Centre for Research and Development of Esan Land (CERDEL), which is the first of its kind in Nigeria by any university. We do research in the language and culture of the people and making the place a centre of knowledge in the community. We have close relations with the Association of Esan Professionals, we have signed a MoU with them and they are working with us, we have had colloquium on the dance, marriage culture, food and the centre was commissioned two years ago. It is something unique in the country.

What is happening is that the Esan Language is almost extinct, because of the university, we are reviving writing and reading of the language, which is the only university doing that. We held conferences in October on endangered cultures, languages and identity in the 21st century; the case of the Esan people and other minorities of Nigeria. It was fantastic, we had people come from all over the world who participated and we are publishing the outcome of the conference in two volumes. So this gives an opportunity to develop a start from them for us to write in their special areas, intermingled with writers of history, culture from other universities aside Nigeria. The students are being encouraged to learn their languages because most of them are not from Ishan, some are now getting interested especially those who want to study languages. Instead of doing French, they are considering Esan Language as one of the languages taught in the university as from next session.

Does the institution award scholarships to students from the community?

We have a lot of scholarships which is being provided. For instance, any member of the church that has a child in the university gets 10 per cent discount on the tuition fee. Then for performance, we have many scholarships being offered. For instance, the Oladele Olutola Foundation is sponsored by the president of Apostolic Church Nigeria, Pastor Olutola; it sponsors about five students every year. Bisi Ogunjobi Foundation also provides three scholarships every year. We have quite a number of other support from other foundations. This is different from the prizes you get as a performing student within the university.

How would you rate the quality of education in the country?

I think when we talk about the quality of education in Nigeria, it is relative in two senses; current level of education compared to what it was when we were students 50 years ago. Secondly it can also be compared across border, in terms of comparing Nigerian education with other African countries or European universities. It is a well- known fact that there had been a decline in the standard of education. There has been student explosion and therefore the facilities are overstretched because the pace of development of facilities in our universities in all aspects both academic and general facilitates is much slower than student population.

As a result, the quality of service provided to the students and the environment in which they live are much lower today compared to what obtains before. When I was in the university, we were only two to a room, but if you go there today, there are about eight or 10, not to talk of squatters. When you look at that, the facilities cannot cope with the number of students. The commitment of teachers today cannot be compared with what obtains in the past. If you also compare the facilities in Nigeria with those outside the country in the area of laboratories and libraries, we don’t have these facilities and internet and power supply are not available in the universities, then you can see that it is a little bit difficult for our students to compete with their counterparts globally.

You cannot continue to say you want to expand the universities and charging fees not related to the cost of training the students. If in a federal university they are paying N40,000 or N50,000, when it cost not less than N1.5 million to train a student and for you to have quality teachers, they must be well remunerated, facilitates in the library and IT must be there, the environment that the students live must be conducive. If the government is saying they want to provide quality education, the students must bear part of the cost which means they must increase the school fees. There must be reality in what the government says and what it pays.

Are you canvassing for a general increase in tuition fees?

We have some primary schools in this country that charge more than the universities. If you can put your child in a private primary school where you pay more than N100,000 or N200,000 and you don’t want to pay the same amount for a student in a federal university, does it make any logic? I don’t think it is logical for both the parents and the government. The parents who can afford to pay N300,000 for a child in the primary school and almost half a million for a child in secondary school, should then be able to afford that amount in a federal university. But not all parents can afford that, so to address the issue of parents who don’t have that capacity, that is why the issue of scholarships come in and ability to pay must be factored into it. In Europe, most of the students are either on scholarships or they take loans, but here nobody wants to take loans and pay back and also pay higher school fees. At the end of the day, scholarships cannot go round. The government is not providing that is why we have a situation where the quality of teachers and facilities and ultimately the quality of education has been falling.

So what is the way forward in that instance?

At the moment what is happening is that the private universities are asking the government to allow private universities have access to TETFund, particularly with respect to research and capacity building. The response of the government is extremely slow, there is justification for it. For the private universities, the TETFund is contributed by the private sector, so we are clamouring that we should be able to benefit from it. As at the time the act was set up, there were very few private universities if any. So I think the country has moved beyond that, therefore the act should be reviewed in a way that can allow the private universities to have access to it. The terms and conditions can be sorted out. As a member of association of pro-chancellors of private universities, we have been advocating for that and we are prepared to look at the appropriate conditions under which we could have access.