I will improve revenue base of FUTMINNA, says new VC
Prof. Abdullahi Bala is the new vice chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Minna. He is a renowned professor of Soil Science and Land Management with over 27 years of scholarship experience. In this interview with UJUNWA ATUEYI, he shares his vision for the university, and how he intends to improve the revenue inflows of the institution.
How did you feel when you got the heartening news of your appointment as the Vice Chancellor of Federal University of Technology, Minna?
My initial reaction to the news of the appointment was that of elation and gratitude to Allah for honouring me with this responsibility. With the passage of time and the flurry of visits, phone calls, e-mails and text messages of congratulations, goodwill and prayers. I felt humbled and, at some point, was overwhelmed with emotions, considering that there would be only 20 people that would have the honour of being appointed VC of this university within the next 100 years.
Being a vice chancellor of a university comes with numerous challenges; how prepared are you for the challenges?
I have been a staff of the university for 27 years and have occupied many positions of responsibility within and outside the university including being the Deputy Vice-Chancellor in charge of administration and later academics. Therefore I have sufficient administrative experience and knowledge of the university that have prepared me for the job.
What plans do you have for the university in terms of creating academic discipline, enhancing management-union relations and expanding the existing infrastructure?
In terms of plans for the university, my goal is to ensure that FUT Minna continues to be a leading university both in Nigeria and Africa. To achieve this, we have to ensure that we vigorously pursue the university’s core mandate of teaching, research and community service. Effective learning is often hampered by massive students’ enrolment and inadequate classroom and laboratory space. We intend to address this by the provision of additional lecture theatres equipped with state-of-the-art multimedia facilities. Part of the measures we need to take in order to enhance our research capacity and accomplishments will include the provision of requisite equipment and supporting both staff and students to publish their research findings in internationally reputable journals and conferences.
A “Technology Transfer Office” will also be established to promote the patenting and commercialisation of research results. Additionally, we need to challenge every department to identify and form a functional partnership with a player in industry that will lead to staff and students exchange. An effective use of technology requires adequate supply of electricity. Hence, we shall work towards the diversification of our energy source by the infusion of renewal sources.
The university is about 35 years old and there is the need for us to improve the visibility of our service to the community. To this effect, we intend to challenge all departments in the university to establish one programme or activity that directly impacts positively on the host community.
We are cognisant of the fact that no meaningful progress can be made with industrial harmony on the campus. Therefore we consider all staff and student unions as partners in progress and shall be in regular consultation and constructive engagement with them. My administration shall embrace all and sundry with no distinction to ethnicity, religion, gender or political affiliation.
As a testament to our plans for the university, there are currently five committees working, which I set up as part of this transition, to produce action plans for five priority areas. These are Revenue Generation and Entrepreneurship, Infrastructure, Technology, Student Support Services and Campus Community Relations. Members of the various committees are senior members of staff with varied experiences who are highly regarded in the University community.
The current economic situation in the country calls for prudent management of resources, how do you intend to broaden the internally generated revenue base of the institution?
We intend to improve the revenue base of the university through three approaches, which is to take measures to enhance the existing revenue inflows; create new sources of revenue; and put effective expenditure control measures to minimise financial leakages.
We plan to restructure the FUTMIN Ventures, which has of recent become a sinkhole, to once again be profit-oriented such that substantial cash inflows can be generated. Loss making enterprises will need to be evaluated and where necessary closed down. We shall take advantage of the vast landmass of the Gidan Kwano Campus by ramping up the activities of the university’s commercial farm and working with other value chain players on public-private partnership arrangement.
We shall be introducing innovative ICT solutions for crowd funding sources targeting friends and other stakeholders of the university especially the alumni. Our open distance and e-learning programme will also start operation very soon and we shall also introduce additional affiliation and consultancy programmes targeted at certain clientele, which will allow us to improve our revenue inflows from alternative sources of funds. The recently introduced Procurement Unit will be strengthened through capacity building and supported to mainstream its operations in all the departments and units in order to ensure cost effective procurement activities in the university.
Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) has brought a lot of laudable interventions to the country’s tertiary institutions, including FUTMINNA; what is your impression about TETFUND?
TETFund has no doubt transformed the physical landscape of most higher institutions in this country and it is my considered opinion that most institutions would have been bereft of any meaningful capital projects had TETFund not existed. So we have every reason to appreciate and give kudos to the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) for conceptualising the idea for such a Fund and the Federal Government for providing the structures and support for its operations.
FUTMinna has had its own share of projects funded by TETFund; nonetheless, we are often at the receiving end when it comes to special interventions by the agency. There is what is called ‘High Impact Intervention’ which is a special fund allocated to one university per each geo-political zone annually. Based on the criteria for accessing that fund, FUTMinna should have been a beneficiary since 2012. As I am speaking to you now, all the second and third generation universities in the North Central Zone have benefited from the fund except us.
We shall work with council of the university to see how we can draw from the Fund as soon as it is practically possible. In terms of the normal intervention, we also have some fund still unaccessed as a result of some delays in the procurement process and breaches by some contractors to complete projects in time. We shall also do the needful to ensure this is also effectively addressed.
We have a number of infrastructures that need to be put in place as quickly as possible in order to promote effective learning environment. Chief among these is the provision of office and classroom complexes in order to allow for the relocation of some schools from the Bosso Campus to the main site at Gidan Kwano. We also intend to establish a 4000 capacity auditorium, a central research laboratory and a central teaching laboratory among others.
Technology is not just all about saying it is also about doing, what efforts would you put in place to ensure that there is a blend between what is taught in the classroom and what is obtainable in the field?
It is indeed in cognisance of this that we want to deploy and mainstream the use of technology in every aspect of the university as well as task the various departments to form partnerships with industry players. The “One Programme One Product” initiative is also consistent with our desire to not only generate technology but to also promote its practical applications in our day to lives.
As an agriculturist, I am often concerned at the low level adoption of technology among farmers in our immediate host community in spite of the array of technology developed by our staff and students that are gathering dusts on shelves. The Central Teaching Laboratory we are planning to establish is to enable us provide adequate laboratory space and equipment for students to be effectively exposed to the practical aspects of their curricular.
We also intend to restructure our Entrepreneurship Centre and the Industrial Liaison Office (ILO) to synergise towards ensuring that students before, during and after SIWES are exposed to real practical experience.
What word do you have for the university alumni on this occasion?
The alumni are the third leg of a tripod that also includes staff and students. They are, therefore, critical stakeholders in the university. I want to call on them to see the university as their own and should partner with the management to work towards making it greater. They have every reason to be proud of their alma mater. FUTMinna is not just another university. It is the university that has Webometric rankings of fifth among Nigerian universities, first among the specialised universities and 45th in Africa. Their contribution will go a long way in making a difference.
Many people have described the process of your appointment as the most credible, transparent in the history of the university; how does that make you feel?
I feel gratified that people are happy with the process because it not only confers legitimacy and general acceptance of the candidate that emerges winner of the process, it also engenders a peaceful atmosphere devoid of rancour and enhances the esteem of the university and its governing council as well as reinforces people’s confidence in the ability of council to manage the affairs of the university without undue interference from outside quarters.
It also shows the person and character of the members of the Selection Team and Council that, in spite of the intense lobbying from various quarters, they did not allow themselves to be stampeded into selecting a candidate that is unsuitable for the job.
At the end of your tenure, God’s willing, how would you want to be remembered?
I will leave that for posterity to judge but I hope to leave the university better than I met it at the inception of my tenure.
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