Varsities Must be Repositioned to Solve Nigeria’s Problems, Says OAU VC

The Vice Chancellor, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, Professor Eyitope Ogunbodede in this interview with Funmi Ogundare, explained why universities in the country must be repositioned, contribute meaningfully to governance and solve some of the challenges confronting it, saying the move will oblige government to assist them.

You graduated from OAU, how has it been transiting from being a student to becoming VC?

I was a student on this campus , had my Masters on Dental surgery, then I joined the university as a medical training fellow and became a professor in 2000. I was Dean of the faculty of Dentistry and also Provost of the health sciences from 2007 to 2009 and also served as a member of the council of OAU between 2007 and 2009. There is a little deference between a student and a professor in a university because you are reading all the time. As the students are reading, you must also read ahead of them .

In terms of your day-to- day routine, its almost the same, but you are giving some powers and authority as a staff which you will not be able to exercise as a student. You must know that some of these positions are very transient. Your status as a senior lecturer or professor is permanent. The university system is almost transient, you are dean or director, but as VC, I also realised that it is a transient position . It is a five- year term and already I have just completed one year and I am just starting the second one.

One year on, how has it been managing your authority as VC?

It has been quite interesting because each day has it own experience. What you see on day-to-day basis, is not something you expect most of the time. You find that on daily basis, there are changes. They are not things that you read in a text book , neither are they things that you have to find a source for you to be able to solve the problems. Its a gamut of experience to be able to attend to some of those issues. In terms of administration, I have gone through that, but in terms of management of human beings and the unions, you never can say you have all that is required, because each situation will dictate the way you approach it.

So over the last one year, I am happy that I have been able to lay a very solid foundation for the university. I came in at a time when the university was having quite a lot challenges. But for now, we have been able to let people know what we have come to do and the way we ought to approach it . People are beginning to understand the strategies for development in the university. We have now being able to engender an atmosphere of peace and progress, we have also been able to harness the resources that have been lying waste over the years.

With the African Centre of Excellence (ACE) project, how has OAU being to promote regional specialisation among participating universities and strengthening their capacities to deliver high quality training and applied research?

As far as the project is concerned, we are able to recruit postgraduate students from all West African countries, and for the first time, we are able to boost our international students enrollment. It is compulsory that we train people from French- speaking countries in English, so we have been able to work with our department of English to strengthen them in the use of the language in their first three months of been here. Already, we are opening up the West African environment to ICT.

Aside just bringing them to OAU, we also travel to their different countries to train them. We have exchange programmes with universities in Senegal , Ivory Coast and Ghana. Many of the universities come to OAU and our students are free to also go there, but the ones that have been so productive is their coming to audit our masters and PhD courses. There are over 50 of them here. So far, we are the only university in Nigeria now that can boast of some specialised areas of ICT like cyber security, information technology and we have also developed some programmes in software engineering. There is no other university in Nigeria that can boast of such. There are 15 programmes approved by the NUC for masters amd PhD only for OAU.

Would you say these programmes have helped to boost student’s competiveness globally?

I wouldn’t say globally because most of the student we have on the programme now are from West African countries, so OAU has already positioned itself as the regional hub for postgraduate training in the area of ICT.

What projects has your institution embarked on to position the students globally?

Part of the project is the development of an incubation centre which means when you have an idea, the project will assist and nurture you to bring that idea to the level of marketability . What is happening now is that we are producing directors who have already registered their companies to develop software, patent it amd work with the industries to put it in the market . Already we have the Intellectual Property Transfer Office (IPTTO) to patent their products. We also have a project that help people develop and refine ideas. They give you the space to work on it technologically . Once you are able to refine the idea, they help you to register it , and give you an incubation center where you will now grow your business. Once you are able to stabilise your business, you leave the centre so that others can come in.

With all the projects, where is OAU on the webometric ranking and what moves are you making towards moving up the ladder?

We have 106 programmes at OAU, so when you talk about a programme in ICT, its just one of them. Ranking can be in terms of programme or course, or university as a whole. But when it comes to ranking in ICT, OAU is number one in Nigeria. It is the only university that can talk of a centre of excellence in software engineering, even in Africa. So when you talk of ranking in Nigeria, presently, we are ranked number three. It depends on the attention you give to your website, the number of PhD students you have produced and how you input them on your website. What we have discovered is that most of the things we are doing are not really on our website and that is why we are number three, but we are working on it to ensure that everything comes on our website.

Funding seems to be a challenge in public institutions, how can they overcome these challenges?

I tend to disagree that funding is a challenge, I think a greater challenge in our public institutions is leadership. Take OAU for instance, we have over 100,000 alumni making waves all over the world who are actually ready to contribute to the development of the university. But what are we doing? Are we actually extending our requests to them? In terms of funding, we need leadership and vision , you need to be able to convince the resources out there to support your university that you are capable and able to utilise what they give you.

But what I see in Nigerian universities is that the resources are there, we cannot harness the resources, except with their dependence on government. So when government gives you the money, the capacity to utilise it, is not even there . We can do with more funding. In OAU, we have our funding to be doubled by the federal government, but it doesn’t mean that with able leadership, doubling your funding will translate to progress . Even with the funding coming into the universities , what is their contribution to development, governance and the general problems of the country on employment, herdsmen attack and terrorism? It is virtually nil .

So we need to reposition the universities. When they are positioned in such a way that they can contribute effectively to development in the country, the government will be obliged to make more contributions. Even individuals will come to the university to seek for solutions for their problem. But when the universities have not been able to solve their own problems internally , how then will they be able to solve external problems? That is what we are facing and that is why we are trying to reposition the university in such a way that we can blaze the trail and let people know that these things are possible and the universities can be useful , effective and efficient and we can also solve our own problems internally without necessary asking those who are looking up to us for leadership and governance, to help us.

Recently, OAU had problems accrediting some of its programmes with NUC, how were you able to sort it out?

Twice in a year, the NUC go round all Nigerian universities to accredit courses and once you are accredited, its for five years, if it is full accreditation, its for two years, it could also be an interim accreditation. So what happens is that the NUC came to the institution in December last year and accredited about 37 courses, so from our 106 programmes that we have, we had 101 with full accreditation. These five programmes had interim accreditation, that means they are not up to full accreditation, but they are deemed to be okay for you to go ahead. But then, because they were already on interim, before the last accreditation, it is interpreted as denied .

In terms of the standards of those programmes, they are not worse than what is going on in other Nigerian universities. But then, they are not qualified for full accreditation because they got interim. There are some universities that do not have 50 per cent of their programmes accredited. If you go to some first generation universities, most of them have courses that are not accredited. Here in OAU, for instance, we have done our beat. In Dentistry, we have more than N83 million released through the TETfund to augment the dental programme in the university. So we are sure that by November or December when the NUC come back for accreditation , all the issues raised will have been sorted out . For the law programme, it has to with the number of students in the class and lecturers that we have.

What is your Benchmark for Minimum Academic Standard?

When you talk about standard, it is a comparative thing. As far as OAU is concerned, our standard is to be the best in Africa. We may not be able to attain the best in the world for now , but in the next two or three years, we can become the best and that is the standard we are aiming for.

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