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Diligence and discipline, necessary ingredients for sector’s development, says Kola Daisi

By Iyabo Lawal
02 December 2021   |   4:10 am
My parents never had the privilege of going to school; my father was from a family of farmers and he migrated to Ibadan, as a complete illiterate, he decided to send me to school, out of about 120 families, he was the only single voice that insisted on sending his children to school.

Founder and Chancellor, Kola Daisi University (KDU) Ibadan, Chief Kola Daisi, in this interview with IYABO LAWAL, speaks on the challenges of running a university, why teachers should be adequately motivated for improved performance and the need to prepare undergraduates for the world of work.

After a successful life in business, what informed your investment in university education?
My parents never had the privilege of going to school; my father was from a family of farmers and he migrated to Ibadan, as a complete illiterate, he decided to send me to school, out of about 120 families, he was the only single voice that insisted on sending his children to school.  Today, I look back and I’m amazed at his commitment and decision to send us to school and sustain us there.
So, having had that opportunity, I launched a foundation, Kola Daisi Foundation (KDF) and the purpose was to provide opportunities for other people in the areas of health, education and poverty alleviation. The foundation has concerned itself with three main areas of human life and activity. 
Before going into university education, I went back to my elementary school, Christ Apostolic Church School, where we did an overhauling of the facilities. We renovated and built new classrooms, provided boreholes and we have always gone back there to ensure that the facilities are in order.

Incidentally, I was amazed to find that the contemporary schools in that vicinity when we were in school in the 1930s were almost gone, including the government school in the premises. Practically, all the schools in that neighbourhood that were contemporaries with my school had disappeared. That was how I delved into the educational part of my foundation.
I didn’t invest in secondary education because it is commercial; I went straight into university education. Hundreds of thousands of young boys and girls leave secondary school, only a handful are able to get opportunities in government established universities, especially federal universities, then states started taking interest in university education, but even then, it was not sufficient to accommodate the large number of pupils  coming out of secondary schools.
Up till now, the percentage of opportunities for children is very low, I think that was the motivation for government to license private universities. People who are interested in education like myself, try to key into it. For us at KDU, we put emphasis on subjects and areas that can sustain you if you want to be self-employed.

Looking at education then and now, how would you compare the two and what will you say is the missing link?
Generally speaking, you would say that there had been a decline in the quality of education, in standard six, at the time, we were able to write compositions that are sometimes even better than what we have in the universities today. 
But then, what we had but you may have lacked, you get from your exposure to a much- more enhanced, informed and technical society. Today, for example, you have access to Information and Communication Technology (ICT), which we didn’t have access to. So, I’ve always hesitated in being emphatic saying yes or no.

Maybe in teaching as a profession or conscientiousness in teaching, there may have been a decline in that over the years,  but your generation has been lucky to have these other developments that we did not have in our time. Certainly, you are more educated than I am in information technology and the subjects in which we exceled at that time, Latin, who talks about it today? 

How would you rate the deployment of ICT in the nation’s university education system?
Information technology has made a universal and paradigm change, people can even teach themselves once they are exposed through the Internet. You don’t have to go to the classroom today to learn anything because you can get almost everything on the Internet. ICT has made a fundamental paradigm change in the information and technical development of the world and individuals.

What are those things that should be added to the nation’s education system to upgrade it and make it globally competitive? 
Diligence, especially on the part of teachers and discipline on the part of parents. We will go a long way if those two elements are inculcated in the system of education. If you are going to talk about improvement of the sector, you have to take the society as priority because the general opinion is that the percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP)  dedicated to education in Africa, as a whole, is far too low for the United Nations average. Where Japan for instance, is dedicating between 15 and 20 per cent to education, all the countries of Africa individually ought to be devoting more than 50 per cent to education. But, if inspite of the pedestal they have reached, they still devote about 15 per cent of their budget to education and we are only dedicating between seven and eight per cent, it means while those developed countries are going up, developing countries like Nigeria prefer going down and backwards. This is the starting point, when are we going to be able to invent the inspiration of Bill Gates for example? It’s almost impossible.  I tried some 30/ 40 years ago to assist one of my grand children with his mathematics homework and found that I was totally illiterate, even the person I was trying to help is far ahead of me.

While we can complain that our educational system is receding, it is impossible to sustain that mental attitude in the world that is progressing as a whole. Whether you like it or not, there is a minimum starting point that you either accept and cope or you cannot accept and drop out, sometimes, it makes you want to cry when you found that inspite of it all, teachers are not being paid, and when you pay them, the kind of wages that will make them interested in what they are doing, is not feasible.  Classes in Africa generally, maybe up to 100 in worst cases per teacher, out there, you will be penalised officially if you have more than 20-25 students per class. The general average is taken to be 30 students per teacher.

But at universities, you cannot cut corners because the condition there is harder, can anybody even set up a private university knowing that he has put his name and integrity on the line, and infrastructures are not in place? Or teachers are not good enough?
In our time, only five or six people were professors involved in private tutorials, and the popular teachers and subjects could hardly have more than 30/40 people coming to lectures. We were literally taught like primary school children, and if you were not good enough, they wont promote you. You either drop out or repeat and pay. In 1959, in our final examination class, a young boy said he wanted to go and smoke, he came back after 15 minutes and eventually had a first class. That’s the difference between our education here and abroad, our teachers have to work extra hard to be able to get the kind of results society expects, and the society is right to expect the best because these young people are those who’ll carry the future of the society and country. That is where the contradictions come in, where good education is a priority, that’s where it is not obtainable.

Between 2016 when Kola Daisi University was established and now, what has been the challenges?
It is enormous, it is not just the academic side, in providing the infrastructure is a huge challenge. To start with, you re expected to have a minimum of 100 hectares of land before you get the license, and getting a land easily accessible to the society is another challenge. Developing the infrastructure, houses, roads and others are not cheap.

Presently, we are developing a hostel that will accommodate between 600 to 700 students, its almost nearing completion and has gulped about N1billion. That’s the way we had had almost all the facilities we have, including laboratories and lecture halls, it has to be not just acceptable but acceptable plus because things are changing very fast, particularly in the area of science and technology.

We are just processing the application for medicine; the medical laboratories are different from what we have for the regular sciences. That’s the kind of passion I believe I have but ultimately, that’s what we are aiming at. 44: 14

Talking about infrastructure and the huge cost involved, there have been calls on the Federal Government to extend TETFund to private institutions, what do you think about this?
Well, the law itself is solely on government institutions and will require an amendment to cover private universities. I’ve told those involved that in the Nigerian context, it will take a lot of efforts and time before we can get the government to do that, because it is when they exhausted their own capacities that they started licensing private universities, unfortunately, till now, most of the government functionaries believe we are making profit just like secondary schools, forgetting their own stipulations for infrastructure.

It will be a big bonus if the government ever decided to extend TETFund largesse to private universities. Because come o think of it, it’s the same Nigerian citizens, so government should not be partial to institutions founded by government alone, at the end of the day, they should be part of benefit of every kobo that is spent from public resources.

One of the complaints against private universities is that the fees are beyond the reach of average Nigerians. How affordable is KDU? 
Very affordable. Our average fee is N500,000 per annum but we spend about N1.2m on every student.
Institutions charging a million seems a little closer to the cost. We subsidise.  If you have only 20 students, there’s a vast difference to where you have 100 or 200 students to one teacher, so, even when you insist on very high standard, the bigger the number of students, the better and easier sustaining it. But in the first six years of starting, you don’t come near that at all because you’ve got to build up your reputation, have exposure and good relationship. 
or as long as I have the grace of God and have and I’m able to subsidise to achieve quality, I’m very satisfied. I announced an endowment of N1billion at our recent convocation; I hope some of my friends will buy into it as time goes on.

Harvard University is reputed to have the biggest endowment fund in the world today with $450,000; again, it’s a function of reputation and past performance. But universities without such an exposure cannot continue. 

What is unique about KDU?
We try and admit students with the best results and we try to encourage them. We concentrate on areas of study that will assist them to be self-employed when they graduate. We are in a competitive environment, everybody wants to carve a niche for himself, but it takes time and a lot of sacrifice. We try to encourage our teachers and staff to put in their best, which invariably will reflect on the performances of students. If you admit the best and ensure that teachers are working at their best, you only have to sit back and watch what the products will turn out to be.

What is the plan to make the university sustainable?
I fund the institution with the instruction that they should not compromise quality. I sustain them by encouraging them.

Where do you see the institution in the next 10 years?
By the grace of God, it should be a microcosm of the Harvard, Yale, Cambridge or Oxford. That’s my prayer and as long as I have to, I’ll contribute to it with funds.

What is your position on the creation of education bank? 
I’m in full support of the proposal. The truth is that in most civilized countries of the world, practically every government has a loan facility for students, sometimes it is abused, but it is in existence in practically other countries of the world. Come to think of it, many parents are getting wealthier but the truth is that education is costly, and if you want to distribute the cost of imparting education on students, you’ll make their institutions do that. It’s thriving well in France, Britain, Germany and America where they have very effective administration.

For instance, if you come out of the university in England and America, they know when you are starting a job and your employers are under obligation to make deductions, like when you are making deductions from income to pay income tax. The initial capital, with which they started it, is as if it does not diminish at all and it has become a basic fund from year to year, generations of students can access loans. In three, four, five years’ time when they graduate, they begin to pay back. And in most cases they don’t default, I think the incidence of default is not more than four or five per cent. So, it is one of the greatest supports that the student can have everywhere.

The danger of introducing that kind of thing into African countries, especially in Nigeria, is that either people are not efficient, particularly in the management and administration of the fund, or people are getting poorer and poorer, sometimes unemployed and are not able to pay back. How many of our fresh graduates actually do get employed? And if you don’t get employment, from where will they deduct the loans that you have taken that you have to repay? That is the disadvantage in our environment but in other environments, especially where they are honest, and they are not too much inclined to fraud and things like that, it works well and it is very desirable. Sooner or later we must get it right here too.

What’s your advise to your students
Work hard and be focused. Be in good spirit at all times. Don’t think of what the country can do for you but what you can do for others.