Govt support key to dethroning high fee regime in private varsities
Vice Chancellor, Bells University of Technology, Ota, Ogun State, Prof Isaac Adebayo Adeyemi, started his academic career at the University of Ibadan as a research assistant at the then Food Science and Applied Nutrition Unit. He later joined the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) Ile–Ife in 1978 as lecturer II and rose to the position of reader in 1990. In 1991, he transferred his services to the Oyo State University of Technology, now Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, (LAUTECH), Ogbomoso, where he was appointed professor of Food Science at the inception of the university.
Adeyemi, a fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Science and Nigerian Institute of Food Science and Technology, has successfully supervised over 15 and 10 masters and Ph.D candidates respectively. The university administrator, who is currently supervising three Ph.D candidates, has over 90 publications to his credit and has held various administrative positions within the university system. In this interview with UJUNWA ATUEYI, he spoke extensively on major issues confronting private education in Nigeria and how government’s intervention through fund loaning policy could remedy the situation.
Bells University of Technology, Nigeria’s premier private university of technology is 10, how has the journey been like?
Bells University of Technology, Nigeria’s premier private university of technology is 10, how has the journey been like?
The journey has been quiet interesting and challenging. Interesting in the sense that one has had the opportunity of contributing to human development. Taking over from the likes of Prof. Julius Okojie, barely one year after the establishment of the university, was more or less a Herculean task.
At that point, the university was still at its formative stage. The first 10 years of existence of a university or an individual matters a lot in the sense that it is a formative stage. Nonetheless, it enables you to put your own vision and marry it with what the proprietor had in mind. So far, we are trying to make our own modest landmarks as the pioneer private university of technology in this country.
Also, over the last 10 years we have watched the university grow from an initial student population of 57 in 2005 to 2, 200 students as at the end of the last academic session. If one now computes the percentage, you could see that it is astronomical, even though we cant beat our chest yet. Going by our academic brief, it was projected that at 10, the university should have a student population of almost 4, 000. But we are just 50 per cent of the planned population.
What is responsible for your inability to meet the 4, 000 students target?
At the time the university took off in 2005, we had only three colleges: the College of Information and Communications Technology (ICT), College of Natural and Applied Sciences, and the College of Food Sciences.
So, we observed in the first two to three years that students were not subscribing to most of the programmes in the colleges. Although three other colleges- College of Engineering, College of Environmental Science and College of Management Sciences were in the original academic brief, their programmes would take off during the second phase of the development of the university.
So, at start off, it was mainly in ICT College that we had the highest number of the first 57 pioneer students. We had no students in Fisheries and Aquaculture. The only students we had, at her third year, had to be farmed out to go and complete her programme elsewhere.
Not starting with programmes like engineering, we discovered, actually kept us behind in terms of population growth. It was not until around 2007 that we decided to fast track in the College of Management Sciences that the students’ population started increasing.
Thereafter, we also decided to also fast track the College of Engineering and College of Environmental Science. No doubt the challenges are there for the capital-intensive engineering programmes, which requires huge human resource, but we did start. And since then, we started witnessing increasing students’ population.
How serious is Nigeria taking the study of science and technology?
We are not yet there in the sense that the facilities on ground in most Nigerian universities cannot be compared to that of science and technology institutions in developed countries. We cannot continue to be paying lip service to technological development. We must be prepared to invest in technology in the areas of facilities and human capital development. If not for Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) it would have been a different story for most of our public higher institutions.
You are chair of vice chancellors and registrars of private universities, and one of the biggest criticisms about these schools is their high fee regime. Can anything be done about it?
Yes something could be done. But we should first ask ourselves what it takes to train an average undergraduate whether in public or private university. Even parents and the society at large tend to get it wrong. From findings in the past, to educate an average Nigerian undergraduate would cost close to N800, 00 to N1m per academic year, in terms of facilities, salaries of the lecturers, the non-teaching staff and the rest. Here at Bells, we charge between 400, 000 to 600,000 depending on the course. But we know that to train an engineering students here, you need almost 800, 000 to N1m even though the proprietor is subsidising.
And so if a student is paying N10, 000 in a public university, it is costing the government almost N800, 000 per student. Who is paying the difference? It is the government.
Private universities are not supported by government, but by their proprietors, friends of the university and whatever we can make from tuition. So, we are clamouring to benefit from TETFund. If the Federal Government, through TETFund, supports us it would reduce the expenditure we incur. At times proprietors of private universities go to the capital market to source for funds for infrastructural development. In our recent submission, at one of the conferences we attended, I made an appeal that private universities should be allowed access to TETFund for human and infrastructural development, at single digit interest rate unlike what is obtainable in the capital market, where the interest rate is about 24 per cent.
If TETFund could place a condition and give us loan at single digit interest rate, it would go along way in helping our course. They may even assign a commercial bank to administer the loan on their behalf and also monitor income from benefitting institutions. As soon as the students pay the school fees, the bank will be deducting what is due at that point in time.
So if we have such a large lending policy for private universities, the tendency is for them to reduce their fees. When our lecturers have access to research grants from TETFund, attend conferences and travel abroad on TETFund’s grant they would be comfortable to stay back in the private universities.
But private universities lecturers are currently benefitting from some grant from TETFund
Yes, they are. But there is a clause to it. The lecturers from private varsities must have joint research proposals with public universities. That in a way is also good because we need to interact. However, if government can give us subvention to train our lecturers and for infrastructural development through very low interest loans of about two or three percent, then private universities can decide to lower their fees.
As undergraduates in the University of Ibadan between 1969 and 1972, we were paying almost £200 pounds, including accommodation and feeding. However, at the end of my first year, I was recommended for Cocoa Marketing Board Scholarship Award. At that time, the old western region was giving the board a sort of bursary award. The Federal Government would also give bursary; the regional government would give bursary and some industries would give scholarships. So we had several opportunities. It was only those that did not have scholarships or grants that paid.
At the time I was finishing for my undergraduate programme and was going for my postgraduate diploma, I got a fellowship from UNICEF. By the time I was ready for my PhD programme, during General Yakubu Gowon’s era as Head of State, there was massive scholarships for masters and PhD programmes.
Based on this scenario, I would say that there is a difference between what we have now and what we had then. At that time, if Gowon had not done what he did, there would have been a dearth of lecturers in our institutions of higher learning. Most people in my age group that formed the bedrock of most academic frameworks in Nigerian universities in the last 30 or more years had that opportunity.
What exactly did General Gowon do?
He discovered that Nigeria needed more universities at that time. So he had to train more lecturers. At that time very few universities in this country where running Ph.D programmes, and even some that were running the programmes, were not running them in all the fields. So what he did was like opening a window of opportunities. Once you made a first class or second-class upper division, you applied to the Federal Ministry of Education. You did not have to know anybody.
As the Federal Government was doing that, the state and regional governments were equally sponsoring their people either within or outside the country. The training was done on a massive scale. While some of us came back, some didn’t. Now, I don’t think we have such massive opportunities for most of our students today.
So what is your suggestion to government along this line?
Government should first and foremost, quantify how much it takes to train undergraduate in diverse fields. Based on that, discover the carrying capacity of each university according to programmes being offered, allow students to pay school fees, and offer massive scholarships based on performance, and then give bursary to those that do not qualify for scholarship.
Local government areas on their part, could also give out certain percentage of the total school fees to students from their zones and religious organisations can also come in and give bursary to select students as agreed by the entire body, while parents would also contribute. If this is well implemented, all parties would be responsible and accountable, and students would be serious with their studies.
The other aspect which we have not actually cultivated in this country, and which we have to create a medium for, is work and study. It is obtainable in developed countries, but we haven’t made provision for it in this country. There is also need for institutions to put their houses in order and optimise the resources they have.
As a science and technology university, you appear to also be encouraging entrepreneurial skills, what informed this development?
It is not only in Bells. I think most other universities are encouraging their graduates to be employers of labour not job seekers. It is like what was obtainable years back when we were undergraduates in UI. On graduation day, a lot of graduates would receive letters of employment at the venue because employers would be around. But nowadays, you rarely see that except for highly select first class degrees.
So, because of the challenges in the societies today and the fact that most of these students have new innovative ideas, we need to encourage and inculcate entrepreneurial skills in them, to be able to know the likely opportunities in their field and be able to go private and create jobs.
During your 7th convocation ceremony, your first set of postgraduates students were handed their certificates, what is next along this line?
Yes, we graduated our first set of postgraduate students in postgraduate diploma and masters. We are yet to commence the doctorate programme. Maybe now that we have graduated the first set and looking forward to graduating the second set next year, We can now go back to the National Universities Commission (NUC) to apply for resource verification for Ph.D programmes. Once we have the green light from the NUC, we should be able to commence our PhD programmes, though not in all programmes. So that should be the next line of action along our postgraduate programmes.
The NUC praised your school for having all courses accredited, how was this achieved?
We thank God for the outcome. The NUC has its minimum benchmark and you have your own curricula. All you have to do is to evaluate what you have with the templates, and also in terms of space requirements, lecturers, and library facilities. In fact what we normally do is that we carry out what we call mock accreditation before the real accreditation. Not that it has been that smooth, there are some that we had interim accreditation at first, but eventually we were able to get over it and then had our full accreditation including accreditation from professional bodies.