TECH-U: Achieving a Tall Order

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Barely two years after its establishment, the First Technical University, Ibadan (Tech-U) has proved skeptics wrong as the institution is at the verge of becoming the first self-sustaining public university in Nigeria. The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ayobami Salami highlights the institution’s effort at fulfilling its dreams of producing market-ready graduates that will provide solutions to societal needs, among others. Uchechukwu Nnaike reports

Nigerian universities have over the years been accused of producing half-baked graduates that are not employable, just as their curricula are said to be opposed to the needs of the industry.
To step away from the norm, the First Technical University (TECH-U) was established by the Oyo State Government in 2017 to equip its students with the relevant skill-sets they require to stand-out among their peers.

According to the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ayobami Salami, to ensure that none of its student will ever become a liability to the society, it is mandatory for all students to acquire an additional foreign language; get certified (through NABTEB and London City and Guild) in at least two relevant vocations of their choice; and meet all conditions for the award of a diploma in entrepreneurship programme after series of interface with top-class industry experts that will get them ready for the world of work.

As part of efforts to actualise this dream, he said the University has an existing partnership with the Texas Tech University, US, which allows an exchange of staff and students.

“A major highlight of that partnership that should interest you is that henceforth, interested students of this University will be eligible to spend a full academic session at Texas Tech during their third or fourth session and may subsequently return there for postgraduate studies.”
The VC stated that the institution is also in partnership with the organised private sector, which culminated into a curriculum review session that had in attendance notable organisations like the Nigeria Employers Consultative Council (NECA), Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN), Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), among other reputable industry leaders.

He described the benefit of the programme as invaluable, as it enabled the university to benefit in no small measure from the critical input of these players in shaping its curriculum and preparing the students for the world of work.
“We are glad and excited that we already have on-board a number of these topflight professionals signed-up as our facilitators; with many more joining the growing list soon. Of course, it needs to be underscored once again, that at Tech-U the balance of instruction is shared 60 to 40 per cent between our experienced academics and industry hands, respectively”, Salami said.

He added that the University had finalised a Memorandum of Understanding with the Nigeria Machine Tools Limited, Osogbo within the framework of which its engineering students will have unhindered access to their standard facility for learning.
“We have had a productive engagement with the German International Aid Agency (GIZ) for partnership in their ‘Skills Development for Youth Employment in Nigeria (SKYE)’ for the benefits of all our students.”

Taking cognizance of the fact that not all students desiring the quality of education offered by the university can afford it, the institution had launched a students’ financing scheme now worth over N1 billion.
“Since Tech-U debuted two sessions ago, not less than three hundred beneficiaries have emerged through the scheme. In choosing the beneficiaries, the University relies absolutely on a merit-driven process that involves series of aptitude tests preceded by an open call widely advertised.”

On the rationale for establishing the fund, the VC said: “We are committed to empowering youths from all classes of the society. Our creed is to never subsidise the rich or deprive the poor. We are therefore pleased to raise the bar in students funding. I am happy that the scheme has brought to fruition the dreams of many underprivileged and deprived students.”

He said the endowment fund is generated from the public and private sectors. “Notable public sector contributors for instance are Oyo State local governments. Through their magnanimity and foresight, at five students from each LGA in the state enjoy full scholarship throughout their study on campus.

“Leading the way from the private sector is the Josephus Foundation Scholarship, graciously endowed by Chief Tunde Afolabi, a renowned oil magnate and Chancellor of the University. This is a partial annual scholarship to the tune of N650,000 per beneficiary, and covers tuition, accommodation and some other fees. To enjoy the privilege till graduation, beneficiaries are expected to maintain a minimum Cumulative Grade point Average (CGPA) of 3.5,” he said.

Some of the beneficiaries of the scholarship scheme, who shared their experiences, thanked the university and donors for giving them such opportunity.
A parent, Mrs. Olufunke Adepoju said: “I can say without any equivocation that the best thing that has happened to my daughter since graduation from secondary school is her admission to Tech-U. She was almost giving up after a long time of seeking admission to various Nigerian universities, but Tech-U came as a big reward for all her waiting years. The best part of it for me is the scholarship she was offered for her entire undergraduate programme. We are glad to see her happy and improving in all spheres of life. We cannot but pray for the continuous uplifting of the university that has come to stay as the trail blazer in quality technical education in Africa.”

A student, Adedamola Adegoke of the Department of Industrial Chemistry said: “When I received the news about my admission into Tech-U as a beneficiary of the Josephus Foundation scholarship, I was very excited and felt proud of myself. It came as a relief to my parents and me as we felt the fee was too high, though I admired the quality of education Tech-U gives. I am utterly grateful and I hope to make the most of it.”

Another beneficiary, Caleb Kowhoegba of the Department of Mechanical Engineering said: “It was a great honour and privilege to sit for the Josephus Foundation scholarship and also to be selected as one of the pioneer recipients of the N650,000 scholarship per annum. I was thrilled to learn of my selection for this honour and I am deeply appreciative of the support. A big thank you again to the donor for the generosity and support. I promise to work hard to retain it and eventually give something back to others, possibly a scholarship to future students like myself.”

Though the University was set up by the Oyo State Government, Salami said the institution was able to survive because it does not depend solely on the government, adding that it was established from the onset to be self-sustaining; a public university with private sector orientation.
“What government gave us is the take-off grant; apart from the take-off grant, we are supposed to generate resources to actually forge ahead while the government takes care of infrastructural development and that is what we have been doing in the last two years. We have been partnering with so many agencies and we have been running the University smoothly.”

On the quality of lecturers the university employs, the VC said the management has consistently ensured that it recruits the brightest hands in the various fields of study to teach its students.
“I am proud to say our growing faculty consists of some of the best from the available pool of experts. Additionally, we have engaged scholars in the diaspora as visiting lecturers to strengthen the pool. As a way of enriching the experience of our students, we are putting finishing touches to a policy of attracting exceptional and highly experienced industry players for appointment as Professors of Practice which hitherto does not exist in any Nigerian university. When fully implemented, the university will set the pace as the first institution in Nigeria to introduce this innovation.”

Salami also reiterated the institution’s commitment to staff motivation, saying, “on our part, we will not leave any stone unturned in ensuring that we motivate our staff, who already are about the best paid in the public tertiary education system in Nigeria, to be able to nurture our students to become intellectual giants who dictate trends in their fields.”

He added that the university pays salaries as and when due and that salaries are paid latest on the 25th of every month. “For the past two years, we have never failed.
“Also, we are implementing the new pension law, which means the staff will pay eight per cent, the employer will pay 10 per cent. So every of our permanent staff has 18 per cent every month as pension scheme (contribution) instead of 15 per cent that you’d find in most public institutions in Nigeria and these deductions are remitted to the Pension Fund Administrator (PFA) selected by every staff on or before 10thday of every month.”

In the areas of research and community development, he said the research conducted at the university would be need-driven and development-oriented.
“We only do basic research to the extent that it fits into our mandates and facilitates a good outcome for need-driven innovative research. For example, we are conducting research on the problems of power, waste management and curtailing road traffic accidents. We have structured our research efforts in such a way that they solve problems and meet the needs of the society.

“Gradually, we are building a presence; we are creating a new hub of activities in this environment. We are still at the initial stage; in the next two to three years, you’d see our footprints boldly on ground.”
To affirmation of the university’s achievements, it was adjudged one of the leading universities in Nigeria in the latest Webometric ranking. Tech-U was ranked 43rdout of a total of 252 higher institutions ranked in the country. The parameters deployed were impact rank, web presence, openness rank and excellence rank.