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‘We Will Make UAT A Model Public University Run Like A Private Institution’

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The Acting Vice Chancellor, University of Africa, Toru-Orua (UAT), Bayelsa State, Prof Valentine A. Aletor, speaks on the challenges of pioneering a public university run as effectively as a private institution that is almost financially self-sustaining, state of infrastructure, curtailing cultism and other social vices on campus and making UAT different from other state-owned tertiary institutions, among other issues.

What has been your experience so far and what are the challenges you are facing in nurturing a new university, like UAT?
My sojourn at University of Africa, Toru-Orua (UAT) began on September 6, last year, when I got appointed as Acting Vice Chancellor (VC). For this privilege, I give God the honour for His grace and the unique opportunity to serve, yet again, as a pioneer vice chancellor, having pioneered the commencement of Elizade University, Ilara-Mokin, Ondo State, as the first substantive vice chancellor.

In particular, I remain humbled and owe the Visitor, Governor Seriake Dickson, an individual I never met before September 6, last year, a debt of gratitude for his belief in, and settling for my candidature as pioneer VC.

I have learned from day one discussing or relating with Dickson the infectious nature of his passion for quality education for his people of Bayelsa State, the vibrancy and intellectual agility of his ideas for a paradigm shift in our nation’s education system, which is amazing, and the audacity of his resolve of making UAT a locally relevant and globally competitive university, a global brand.

I must admit that the paradigm shift being espoused by the governor remains our propelling force at UAT.

With regards to the challenges faced in nurturing a new a new university, like UAT, I will say gargantuan, but doable. Pioneering is an extremely difficult job that tasks you mentally, physically, psychologically, socially and financially.

For example, for every step you want to take or process you want engage or evolve, be it resource verification, staff recruitment, facility management, teaching arrangements, etc, you have to develop the templates that best suit your needs and circumstances.

The lot of a pioneer VC can be likened to that of a General doing battle from multiple warfronts. Indeed, a colleague former VC once described the job of pioneering as “administrative punishment.” That said, it has been so far so good at UAT.

How do you make UAT different from other state-owned universities? What makes or will make UAT unique?
The model we are adopting at UAT can best be described as a new experiment in university systems long-term sustainability. Our motive, ab initio, is to disrupt and challenge the status quo (in a positive sense) regarding the way things get done in first rate, 21st Century-compliant universities.

In this context, our vision at UAT is to be a first-rate university committed to teaching and research excellence and dedicated to generating knowledge for innovation and service, while the mission is to be a public-private higher educational institution for the production of outstanding quality graduates and renowned faculty members committed to building partnerships with people, government and industry.

To be different from the others, you have to identify and key into the fundamentals, traits or pillars of first-rate universities or higher institutions, such as Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Cornell, Georgia Tech, Princeton, etc, in the United States (US), Oxford, Cambridge, University of London and Bradford in the United Kingdom (UK), University of Bonn, University of Munich in Germany, etc.

These institutions have about five fundamentals, pillars or traits in common- high quality academic programmes and teaching/training; high quality research and innovation outcomes/outputs; high global employability of graduates; high global visibility (HI publications, web presence, quality international students/faculty, etc), and high capacity to fund-raise from non-statutory sources, such as businesses, capital campaigns, endowments, grants, patents, consultancies, etc, to drive the above.

As VC, and in UAT, we are determined to vigorously cultivate, nurture, domesticate and internalise the above time-tested ethos of world class/first-rate institutions.

Let me make it very clear that UAT is a public university that will be run more efficiently like a private institution, in terms of work ethics, discipline, teaching pedagogue, priority setting in research and innovation, impactful community engagement, aggressive and transparent revenue drive and revenue mobilisation, deployment of an efficient, result-oriented and ICT-enabled/compliant workforce, etc.

What would be your major selling points?
The major selling points of UAT are to provide our students with identical educational opportunities and exposures as they will find in places like US, UK, Canada, Singapore, South Africa, Egypt, etc but at a fraction of that cost.

They will be trained to use their brains and their hands, and above all, to be globally and self-employable within the ambits of UAT core values of integrity, knowledge, dignity, excellence and service. Our modus operandi will, therefore, be to interphase endogenous research and innovation with the development of need-driven educational programmes to produce highly skilled, globally- and self-employable graduates, who may transform into entrepreneurs and create their own enterprises and business opportunities.

UAT is focused on being an innovative brand and a platform for actualising university-government-industry partnerships (triple helix) and to link university research and innovation ecosystems with industry, particularly the micro, small and medium scale enterprises (MSMEs), which are the main drivers of global economic growth, jobs and wealth creation.

The establishment of UAT limited liability companies/businesses is designed to compliment the purposes of providing work-study and internship opportunities for our students to develop their entrepreneurial skills; create business start-ups opportunities for faculty and students (through venture capital, angel investors, etc, on PPP terms) and generate additional revenue for the university.

Within six months of the commencement of full-fledged academic activities, we have already established UAT Farms Limited, UAT Investments Limited and UAT Capacity Building Services Limited, which would be full-time, semi-autonomous university enterprises run purely and efficiently as profitable businesses.

These business models are a part of UAT’s strategic moves to respond to the widespread funding challenge of Nigerian tertiary institutions and to strive towards financial sustainability and independence, if it must emerge as a first-rate university.

Within six months of UAT existence as a full-fledged university, we run 26 academic programmes domiciled in 21 Departments in four Faculties of Agriculture, Basic and Applied Sciences, Social and Management Sciences and Arts and Education.

Right now, we are firing on all cylinders to bring on board the Faculties of Law, Engineering and College of Health Sciences by the next academic session.

The motive for founding UAT, as stated by the governor, is to give Bayelsans, and indeed all Africans qualitative tertiary education that is locally relevant and globally competitive. As part of UAT drive towards funding sustainability and internationalisation, apart from the three limited liability companies, we are working on MoUs with universities/institutions nationally and internationally.

Only last month, UAT, in collaboration with University of Bradford, became the first Nigerian university to sign onto World Technology Universities Network.

What is the state of infrastructure in the university and how are you addressing the issue of inadequate infrastructure in the young university?
University infrastructural deficit is a global challenge and it is usually even more so in new institutions. We took off on full-fledged university activities at a temporary campus located in the premises of our School of Foundation Studies, Bolou-Orua. Following a successful NUC Resource Verification exercise, the facilities at Bolou-Orua campus were adjudged of sufficient merit to get started with.

The main UAT campus at Toru-Orua, which is only about five to seven-minute drive from Bolou-Orua along the same axis, is a beauty to behold, with well-finished, state-of-the-art facilities, modern lecture halls, students’ halls of residence, amphitheatre-auditorium, administrative building, etc, all at varying levels of furnishing and completion. In a matter of weeks, the degree programme should be moving to the permanent campus.

Because facilities need and upgrade are a dynamic process, we shall evolve proactive means to make this happen by deploying robust IGR platforms (from UAT businesses), research grants sourcing, endowments, capital campaigns, venture capital, capacity building/training workshops, etc.

How feasible is it for a state-owned university, like UAT, to be self-sustaining and rely less on government funding and subvention?
For much too long, the various governments of the federation have perennially grossly underfunded education, when benchmarked with the 26 per cent of annual budget recommended by UNESCO for developing countries.

The average proportional budgetary allocation to education in Nigeria has been less than 50 per cent of this prescribed UNESCO figure, while some African countries, including Ghana, have surpassed the UNESCO minimum.

But from available records, the current Bayelsa State administration is unarguably one of the very few governments in the federation matching the level of education funding, as prescribed by UNESCO.

That said, I have always had, and remain of the opinion that, Nigerian universities must do more to fundraise (from non-statutory sources) to meet a substantial part of their needs for teaching, research and innovation.

This need has become even more compelling, given the volatility of oil prices in the international market and Nigeria’s unfortunate over dependence on oil for revenue earnings.

This is one area where UAT is poised to make a huge difference and challenge the status quo in ways earlier highlighted with regards to revenue drive, revenue mobilisation and utilisation.

What kind of institution do you hope to bequeath to the people of the state?
Like I promised during the maiden matriculation ceremony and 1st Distinguished Public Lectures Series on April 21, our goal is to make UAT a model public university that will be run more efficiently like a private institution.

As VC, it is my vision to catalyse the emergence of UAT as one of Africa’s universities of first choice when in search for locally relevant and globally competitive research and innovation outcomes by galvanising a critical mass of dedicated staff to leverage high quality Endogenous Research and Innovation (ER&I) for mitigating the core challenges of sustainable national development and interfacing research and innovation with the delivery of dynamic, need-driven academic programmes for the production of highly skilled, globally- and self-employable graduates.

We will bequeath a system that works seamlessly by adopting an effective, proactive leadership and an inclusive university governance style, deepening dialogue,
esprit de corps among staff and management by preventive diplomacy and cultivation, nurturing and domestication of mentorship ethos across board.

How do you hope to tackle cultism, drug abuse and other anti-social vices (in UAT) rampant in many campus across the country?
The menace of cultism, use of hard drugs, gangsterism and sundry anti-social acts confronting our educational ecosystem today, from primary, secondary and up to tertiary institutions are No GO areas for staff and students, and they know so.

We have had to organise a series of lectures and seminars for staff and students, drawing attention to the dangers and consequences of being destitute of such offences. At every fora, we make it very clear that at UAT of our collective dream, we will have ZERO tolerance for cultism, gangsterism, use of hard drugs, indecent dressing, bullying, insubordination to constituted authorities and all other anti-social conducts.

On this score, the UAT management is under strict directive of the governor to deal decisively with any students or group of students who violate the established university rules and regulations, as contained in the Students’ Hand Book and Students’ Charter.

On this, the university management, parents and the security agencies must synergise to curtail the menace, just as we are also seeking to strengthen the guidance and counselling apparatus to educate students on the need to shun these vices.

The UAT Directorate of Security Services is headed by a retired Brigadier General, who is currently carrying out a comprehensive security audit of our Bolou-Orua and Toru-Orua campuses, with a view to putting in place a watertight security apparatus for the protection of lives and properties at UAT.


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