‘TETFund Bill must be Modified for Faith-based Varsities’

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In this interview with Funmi Ogundare, the Vice-Chancellor of Samuel Adegboyega University, Ogwa, Edo State, Professor Bernard Aigbokhan explained that the country needs to go back to the values that will ensure that the right leadership qualities are inculcated in students. He expressed optimism that the federal government will modify the TETFund bill to allow faith-based universities benefit from it

How would you describe the relationship between the institution and the National Universities Commission (NUC)?

It has been cordial and mutually beneficial to the university. We had our first accreditation with the NUC in December 2014 and they were quite clear and the result was very fair. Among the 10 programmes we presented then, four were given full accreditation and six were given interim. Two years later, all the programmes that were given interim accreditation were revisited plus four others. So this time, all the 10 programmes that we presented were given full accreditation which means that as at today all our 14 academic programmes have full accreditation status with the NUC. They have been inviting us for their programmes such as retreats and workshops meant for university vice-chancellors, academic planning officers, directors as well as admission officers from time to time.

What is your Benchmark for Academic Standard (BMAS)?

We stand on the minimum standard set by the NUC; the minimum number of lecturers and qualifications you have for each programme. So none of our staff that are assistance lecturers have qualifications below MSC. Then we go for people with PhD who would be employed as lecturer II. As a way of accessing them, no staff is employed in the university without going through an interview. We conduct interview for every appointee and we usually advertise. Once that is done and people respond, we shortlist and set up a panel consisting of the principal officers including the deans of colleges and at least one council member who must be at the interview. We also have very senior academics who retired from the University of Ibadan and who are members of our council.

What effort are you making to ensure that the right facilities that would enhance teaching and learning are put in place?

I doubt if all the universities in Nigeria can say they have all the faculties required for maintaining a desirable level of academic standard, but we as much as possible have the minimum facility required for accreditation. In terms of percentage, I will rank our facilities above 60 per cent. We intend to improve this through funding from the proprietor. At the moment, we are embarking on resource mobilisation where all the branches of the church nationwide are raising funds between now and end of September for the next phase of the development of the university such as constructing new buildings and providing more facilities. So we do that once in three to five years. In between we do get funds through the council and Board of Trustees (BoT) by making request to the church. For instance, we were given N15 million for our resource mobilisation and ensure that we are able to provide the minimum resources required.

One of the things that the NUC normally looks at is the internally generated revenue of an institution for accreditation, what are you doing in that regard?

We have, but it is not enough. Though the institution is not a university of agriculture, but we have a MoU with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture for oil palm nursery propagation. We had this in 2013 and as a matter of fact, that was my main achievement when I became the vice-chancellor. Only two universities were selected; the other one was the University of Agriculture in Abita State. Under it, we were given 100,000 seedlings as part of the agricultural chain of Adesina. We nursed them to maturity and sold them to farmers and through this we have been having IGR. Some of the farmers were sent from the Ministry of Agriculture in Benin and some from other places.

We also have a partnership with New Horizon International, an ICT training organisation. Through it, some of our students are trained. They pay specifically for that aside their tuition. The money collected from that channel is shared between us and the organisation on ratio 60 to 40. We intend to establish a water project; we have done the feasibility studies. We ought to have started by now, but the anchor staff who is the university bursar was indisposed which slowed down the pace of work, but as a matter of fact, we have been in the process of purchasing the building materials in Lagos since February this year to use.

The next project is cassava plantation; we have signed a MoU with IITA Ibadan and the agriculture unit team of the university visited IITA Ibadan in April to try and implement the MoU that we signed earlier in 2017. Their team was here recently. They brought five big bags of cassava cuttings which are to be planted on the five hectare plots of land for the cassava production. With that, we plan to sell cassava and produce flour from it. Part of the MoU is the value chain process involved such as how to go from planting, harvesting to producing some by-products not just cassava flour. Along this line, we have a giant cassava processing machine given to us at a subsidised price by the presidency. The university is also a registered member of Cassava Stakeholders Association (CSA), Edo State chapter. We relate very well with the president of the association who is based in Abuja.

How often do you review your curriculum to meet industry needs?

We did that once last year. We had the various committees, who have been reviewing it periodically every two years but specifically with the industry in mind that would make our students more employable. We have been reviewing our curriculum and introduced entrepreneurship component right from when I came in 2013. We actually said the whole curriculum should be reviewed.

With that how would you rate the quality of graduates the university has produced so far?

We have not heard much feedback from our students. Some of them have been contacting us on behalf of their employers either to introduce some equipment to us or they have something to sell to us. For instance our New Horizon partnership is paying off. Some of our students have gone into photography and they are really doing well. To a large extent, they are fairly employable.

Since you became the VC, what effort have you made to boost research and innovations, and produce graduates that are industry ready, locally relevant and globally competitive?

We have been producing students that are globally competitive and our first class graduates are usually validated by external examiners and by the time they go out, they perform. For instance, we had a student of Economics that graduated from here; he went through training in Shell during his youth service and as a result of his performance he was retained. We had another graduate of Industrial Chemistry, who was posted to the University of Uyo where they wanted to make him graduate assistance, but we wanted him here and then a pharmaceutical industry in Lagos also wanted him. So the boy was caught between three offers. I think that is an indication of being nationally competitive.

In terms of research and innovations, that is one area where I cannot really beat my chest, but the area we are focusing on is on the herbal science and we are collaborating with Pax Herbal, an international organisation located in a Catholic monastery in this state. We are collaborating with the company to produce herbal drugs but the leaves and the herbs for producing those things are what we are working on at our own end. We are growing the plant and flowers. We intend to send some of our staff there for training so that they can do the preparations.

What challenges have you faced in steering the wheels of the institution?

Our main challenge is student enrolment. If you don’t have enough students, you can’t have enough income and if you don’t have enough income, you can’t provide more services and facilities. Some of the facilities required for research breakthrough are very capital intensive. The church is trying and ensuring that salary is paid regularly. When you have a N25 million salary bill every month, it is not an easy thing. To get the kind of equipment for science based breakthroughs, we have not been able to do that yet. We are still trying to attract the calibre of staff that would make it possible to achieve that. Two years ago, we employed someone who had worked in a research and pharmaceutical laboratory in the US for almost 25 to 30 years. We were hoping to use him to get ourselves into this market. Unfortunately half way, he took ill and we had to disengage him towards the end of last year. It was in the area of Industrial Chemistry that we were making some progress, unfortunately we didn’t really concretise that arrangement before he took ill. So we are trying to concentrate on the herbal production through our Microbiology and Biochemistry Departments to boost it. Because of our location and issue of security, we have not been able to attract high calibre staff. That also explains why student enrolment is low. The bulk of our members are in the south-west who can easily send their children here. Though we have not been able to make the kind of breakthrough expected but we are still working on it. We hope that by the time we start our postgraduate programmes, we will be able to attract high calibre students.

Do you share the view that universities have failed to produce graduates that meet the needs of the industries?

We cannot put the whole blame on the universities. Many of our students are not prepared to work hard at it to make themselves really employable. Even though I am the VC, I still lecture four courses in a session; two in first semester and two in second semester. They believe that because they have come to the university, they must rely on their notes or that since their parents are paying high fees, they are supposed to pass. That happened during the tenure of the late VC but when I came on board, I did not allow that to happen. Students were pampered, you had to beg them to leave the hostels to come for lectures. So how can lecturers really impart that knowledge in them? So it is not the university alone, the students are part of the problem. There are bad lecturers nowadays, there are equally a good number that want to impact the students. There are complains that lecturers are not teaching well, if you have a thousand students, would you be begging each one of them to come to class?

What are you doing to curb the anomaly?

We have a policy of locking the hostels in the mornings and open them after school hours so that students would be forced to stay in the library in between. You won’t believe it that some students will still lock themselves in. So part of the problem is the students and we are working on it.

The country seems to be having a problem of leadership, how do you think institutions can come in to tackle such problem?

Institutions can start by teaching Civic Education or value that will bring us back to when it was impactful because some of us really benefitted from it. The value system seems to have collapsed. Schools and institutions can start doing their bit by re-inculcating in students the correct leadership qualities. The Nigerian value system of old is what we really need to move the country from where it has been in the past 30 years. Students have to work hard to get a degree; when a student has confidence in the system, he would work towards attaining success. We can give the Buhari administration a little credit for its campaign against corruption. Some lecturers can point to that as well that it is very bad. So when you have such system on value on ground, I believe that way, the message will sink.

What is the way forward for the sector?

The federal government does not allow us to access TETFund for now, thinking that we are profit-making institutions. Some individually owned institutions may be, but not faith-based universities. Faith-based universities have their members in mind to benefit from the university but they cannot charge with the hope of making profit. That is why our fee is usually among the lowest. We still have discount and scholarship. Students who have first class grades are given N100,000 per year and we have been doing that for three years. We have about 20 of them on our list. All our members have N100,000 discount as well for their children in the university. That shows we are not for profit. That is one of the reasons we said the government should assist us by granting us access to TETFund. As you can see, we have not been able to erect new structures because we don’t have access to funds that other universities are having. We are hoping that the bill will be modified to allow us have access to it.