‘TECH-U Will Address Knowledge, Skills Gap Affecting Nigerian Students’

Prof. Ayobami Salami

Barely a year after its establishment, the First Technical University, Ibadan is accelerating plans to register its presence on global map within the shortest possible time. The pioneer Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ayobami Salami told Kemi Olaitan that in 10 or 15 years, the institution will be a model that many government and private sectors will begin to replicate in several places. Excerpts:

What is the difference between the Technical University and other conventional universities?

I have been asked to answer this question several times and we have to keep explaining until the public understands the main difference between us and other universities or polytechnics.

Polytechnics are supposed to be centres where people who have skills are trained and where there are technicians and technologists. Universities are supposed to be centres where managers are trained. Polytechnic graduates are expected to have the skills but no much theoretical and managerial ability. They are supposed to work under managers while the university graduates are supposed to have less skills but theoretical and managerial abilities. But the technical university is the place where you combine the two. Here we have the people who have both skills and managerial abilities.

Even we can interrogate that further, there are a lot of issues raised on products’ deficiency from polytechnics and even products from conventional universities as there are questions raised on whether they can live up to expectations of the society based on certificates they possess. I used to say that the problem of the country’s education is not about knowledge gap but skills gap. But in this technical university, we address the issues of knowledge and skills gap.

Why was the university renamed the First Technical University?

The law establishing the university was amended by the Oyo State House of Assembly based on proposal that was sent to the assembly. We used to be called the Technical University, but we are now First Technical University. Let me explain reason behind that. By the grace of God come 10 or 15 years, the university is going to be a model that many governments and private sectors will begin to replicate in several places. And therefore, from the word go, we need to reassert our position in history.

Let me say historically that, many technical universities are in many parts of Africa like Ghana, East Africa, South Africa, but you can go and crosscheck it, none of these started as technical university. They started as polytechnics that virtually metamorphosed into technical universities, just like colleges of education that were upgraded to degree awarding institutions.

But in the whole of West Africa, we are the first university that was conceived, established and operated from the word go as a technical university. Just like First Bank, you don’t need to argue that it is the first established bank in Nigeria. That is one aspect of the amendment to really assert our place in history. But apart from that, the amendment allows the university to fully operate on the Public Private Partnership (PPP) model, that is, we can now be the hybrid of the public and private sectors. This allows us to enter into robust collaboration with private sector in furtherance of our mission to ensure the long aimed goal of this university.

It is only when people want to play politics that they don’t say the truth. We all understand that education is a social responsibility, but the reality on ground is that government has not been able to fully fund the university or tertiary education to the expected level. And there is no free lunch in Freetown, the last time I visited Freetown, I paid for my lunch (general laughter). And that was very much of recent. If government is not ready to really pay the full bill and we don’t want the parents to pay it, then there is going to be deficiency on the part of the products. This is the reason we need to leverage on the opportunities available with the private sector so that we will have capacity to do what is expected of us.

From your explanation, the institution is run on private orientation, who really owns the university?

Let me say now and clearly that the university is owned by the Oyo State government. But what the government is doing is to allow the private sector to complement its effort so that the burden will not rest squarely on it due to limited resources. Due to the reality on ground and the Nigerian milieu to realistically be able to generate and access resources needed for the full implementation and execution of these missions, the government is now giving a window to the private sector to complement its effort but it is not a profit making means for them, though we have partners that can assist in areas like building hostels and this is one of the areas business partners can operate. But beyond that, we are looking forward to angel investors and these are people who give philanthropic gesture without profit and even don’t want their names to be mentioned.

We also have legacy donors; they don’t also look for profit but want to immortalise their names to show the world that they are part of the success of the university. Example is Dr. Tunde Afolabi who wants to have his institute in the university and that will cost over N1billion and the institute will be named after his company but is not expecting any profit.

What are the courses you run and their relevance?

Let me first say that before we commenced full academic activities, the National Universities Commission (NUC) decided to conduct resource verification to this university in July 14 to 17, 2017. And the aim was to assess our facilities, human and material resources and know if we can actually deliver on what we promised. And by August 1, 2017, we were allowed to run 15 programmes. Let me put on record, when we applied to NUC, we actually applied for 14 programmes. When NUC came here and saw what we have both the human and other resources, they said we were supposed to have 15 programmes.

The programmes are: Biomedical Engineering; Food Science and Technology; Electrical and Electronic Engineering; Mechatronics Engineering; Mechanical Engineering; Microbiology; Industrial Chemistry; Physics with Electronics; Computer Science; Cyber Security; Software Engineering and Mathematics and Statistics.

The relevance of the programmes is as follows starting with the ones that are not common in other conventional universities.

Number one is Biomedical Engineering. In Nigeria today, University of Lagos perhaps is only the university with us that run the programme and we started the same time. Sophisticated medical equipment are used in our health industry today. The equipment are not manufactured in Nigeria but are imported. And when the equipment breakdown, we don’t have people that can maintain or repair them. So, when they breakdown, we need to fly in experts from outside the country to either help to maintain or repair them or look for money to buy another equipment. But this programme in our university will fill the skills gap in the country.

Also Cyber Security, I don’t know of any university in Nigeria today that is running the programme though I stand to be corrected. We keep on saying that this is a digital age where we are moving to e-governance, e-security, e-banking and so on. And one of the issues that go with these is the issue of cyber-crime. By global ranking, Nigeria is number three in the world with cybercrime.

But we don’t have people who are trained and skilled in fighting cybercrime. So, this university is filling the skills gap to train set of people that can make sure that they mitigate this issue of cybercrime in Nigeria.

Also, Software Engineering, if you are a software engineer, you don’t need to look for job or big building to operate. All you need is your laptop and internet connectivity. You can write programmes and make huge money from it. A good software engineer looks at problems people are having, writes a programme on it and makes money. And the only universities running this course are FUTA and this university.

And the common programmes, the way we train our students here is different from ways conventional universities train them. The graduates from this university are products of both the university and the industry which combine the skills and theoretical knowledge.

On this note, we have signed MoU with the National Society of Engineers and private sectors to reserve spaces for our students for industrial exposure where facilities for their trainings are available. I have worked in the conventional university for 30 years before coming here as a pioneer vice-chancellor. There is what is called SIWES in conventional universities. It is more or less now to fulfil all righteousness because the students don’t have appropriate place to do their industrial training. We are not doing ours that way. We secure places for them where facilities are available for their training.

Also, all students must be able to submit a final year project before graduation and the project must be able to practically solve a societal problem because their projects are their products. And that is why we collaborate with industries. The industries will tell us their challenges and it is these challenges that the students will write projects on. The students that graduate from this university are not just certificate- wielding graduates. From here, they go to school of entrepreneurship and vocational studies.

In that school, you enrol for at least two major vocations of your choice related to your training. You will go through that training for three years and will be certified in those two vocations and in the third year, you will be asked to write business proposals on those vocations and the Bank of Industry is partnering with us to sponsor some of those projects so that when the students are in the university, they can begin to have these projects executed and we monitor them.