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Ojediran: Bells University Now Attractive to Researchers
Prof Jeremiah Ojediran is the vice-chancellor of the Bells University of Technology, Ota, Ogun. The professor of Agricultural Engineering explained to Funmi Ogundare how the management is making the institution attractive to researchers with more funding and why engineering graduates must be equipped with management skills for the benefit of mankind and to manage their businesses effectively, among other issues
Since you came on board, how has the university impacted students to stand out in the labour market?
When I took over in 2016, I noticed that all they were doing was a BSc degree. The global thing is about skills. You can have your degree and not have skills. I interviewed two students, one had a BSc and three IT certifications, and the other had none, so I had to pick the one with certifications. As a result, we had to introduce ICT and brought in New Horizon Nigeria, and ensured that all our students do IT programmes from 100 level to 500 level and pass it. So the students became interested in that. That was what helped us during the COVID era. We were teaching the students online at the time and also did exams. We are trying to develop an industrial hub such that when the students go out, they are not scared about what others do. We also invite people to speak to them about the world of work and how skills matter. Also, the library that students don’t usually go to has been made virtual so they can access it on their system. For the engineering students, we started with the ‘students work experience programme’, where they learnt how to make interlocking stones used to develop the institution. Already three of the students have established an interlocking stone industry for themselves. We also try to teach them house wiring so that when they go out, they will know what to do. Entrepreneurship was another thing we did and it has helped to open up the minds of the students towards developing business plans. The management service department is teaching students how to grow a business plan. That is a skill that most people lack. On the ICT, we get feedback from the students who have gone out and that makes us feel that we are making impacts.
How many of your programmes are accredited, and how have you been able to revitalise and re-engineer these academic programmes in your different colleges?
All our programmes are fully accredited, but the accreditation also matures after five years. The National Universities Commission (NUC) will be coming to re-accredit some programmes in this current session, and we are also introducing new programmes for resource verification.
How vibrant is your research, and what efforts has the institution made to aid research and add value to the students?
We are about 60 per cent good. In the Natural and Applied Sciences, a lot of research is going on and improving tremendously. Of recent, the Faculty of Engineering has been carrying out research. We have a professor who is research-oriented and has written about 300 papers. He is vibrant, and quite a number of staff are moving up. The automobile and Metallurgy Department has also improved. We got a CMC machine for application recently, and they are doing well with it. Civil engineering also picked up, and we bought a Universal Testing Machine (UTM) to conduct a lot of tests. So in the last three years, research has shot up now, unlike when I first came in. Our research is adding value to the students, and as a matter of fact, there is a rule that if you do your master’s programme here, you must publish at least one paper in Scopus, a high-impact journal. For PhD students, you must publish at least two or three before you graduate. If Scopus can accept three of your papers in PhD work, it means it is relevant. So we are setting standards.
Has this boosted the university’s ranking?
The university has become more attractive to researchers because of what we are injecting into the research. I was discussing with the chairman of the council and asked him if I could move N50 million into a research grant this session. When I came in, there was no research grant, and the university did not contribute anything to master’s and PhD.
How have you encouraged grant writing among lecturers to boost their capacity?
If you want to go for a research programme, the university will fund it 50 per cent. Before I came, if you are doing a master’s and PhD, there was no contribution. So I told them that I would give them N100,000 per year as a subsidy so they can run their programme. So they will just sign an undertaking that when they finish, they must stay. So if you are going to do your master’s or PhD within the university, we give you 50 per cent discount so that you can run your programme on your own. But if you go out, you will only get 25 per cent or N100,000. Again, we are trying to step up with that. If you want to go for a PhD programme, we pay your tuition. The only PhD student who graduated at the last convocation ceremony is a staff of the university. Two years ago, we had three members of staff who graduated. We try to encourage them to do that so we could give them financial support. We are trying to increase that into grant support. Only two or three of the members of staff got grants this year. A PhD student, Dr Paul Osamudiame, got a sitting lab grant and got equipment worth N13,000,000. We paid for the transport to bring it from the US to the university, and a whole lab has been established for it. We had a lot of equipment brought for him. That was a grant for him to do research, and the equipment will now become that of the university. Prof Sunday Fayomi also got a grant from South Africa and he runs the metalogical lab. Those two are the substantial ones we can talk about. The third one, Prof Joseph Oyebanji, got a grant of N150,000 but I don’t count that. I told them that they can start small, but they need grants like N5,000,000 or N10,000,000, because we are still going to assist him in running the programme.
You were once quoted to have said lowering the UTME cut-off mark will create a level playing ground considering the standard of education in the country. Can you throw more light on this?
What I said was that lowering the cut-off mark does not lower the standard of education. However, what I meant by level playing ground is that for admission in the private university, we admit everybody who meets the cut-off mark. In public universities, there are quotas, but we don’t have that here. Ab initio, we took 160 as the cut-off mark, which is just the minimum, and you are not bound to take that minimum. This year, we have not taken 180, we have been taking 200, 220 and 250 depending on the programmes, and there are programmes that we needed to step up their cut-off marks. For programmes like Architecture, Mechatronics, Biomedical, Electrical and Engineering, their cut-off marks are 230 and 240. You might get someone who scored 200 in UTME and is good academically. Two things happen: UTME score is not the ultimate (and) your WAEC result is the ultimate. There was a student we brought in here with 160. He had a very good WAEC result and ended up with a first class. The best graduating student during our convocation ceremony held recently said she was given a second chance meaning that she didn’t do well before getting admission here, and by the time she got here, she ended up with a first class. I taught her Engineering Management during her final year.
How do you think the country can boost engineering programmes?
One thing that engineers lack is management. COREN has started Outcome Based Education (OBE). In the past, it used to be a stereotype. How do you apply what you have been taught? How do you manage the facilities given to you? We were never taught. So when you go outside, you know all the theories, but how about the applications to real-life situations? This is what is missing. As an engineer, you need to know how to manage engineering principles for the benefit of mankind. When I teach Engineering management, the first thing I do is to split my class into seven units, and the students must be able to solve a problem. Problems there can be diverse ways of solving them. Afterwards, they will present a seminar, and while doing this, others are monitoring you. It is not about theory. Engineering graduates should have management skills so that if they must manage a company, they will know what to do.
What is your view about the standard of education in the country and what do you think should be the way forward?
I think that is a major issue. We are very intelligent and good, and our standard is very high. By the time the students we are graduating go out, they do very well. That is to tell you that they have the fundamentals. It’s just the application that they lack. When I went for my master’s programme in Cranfield, we were 35 in my class, six Nigerians, and four of us top the class. They called us and asked us where we studied. So instead of us spending two years on master’s, we only spent one year. We have the basics and the mental capability, but we lack the practical aspect of it. In terms of facilities, the government is not investing anything in that area. TETfund is doing a good job. If we can use the funds properly and get them good equipment, it will go a long way rather than cutting corners.