‘Vocational, technical learning, cure for our ailing economy’
Rector of Kwara State Polytechnic, Ilorin, Alhaji Mas’ud Elelu, says at times like this, it is imperative for the country to give priority attention to vocational and technical education so that its technological base can be fully developed. Elelu in this interview with ABIODUN FAGBEMI in Ilorin, also called for the expansion of facilities in tertiary institutions in order to address the problem of access. He also spoke on other issues.
Parity remains a niggling issue between university and polytechnic education. Is there need for this?
I think there is no basis for comparison as far as both forms of education are concerned because the two institutions are meant for different reasons, and are meant to serve different purposes. But for a developing economy like ours, which is also ailing, vocational and technical education should be more encouraged. This was the practice in the past, but it is now being regarded as entrepreneurial training. Federal and state governments should go back to the era of technical education. Polytechnic education should be encouraged so that the country’s technological base can be fully developed.
For instance, if the trains and tractors that we import into the country develop faults, those that would fabricate parts to repair them are technical experts, sourced from the non-formal sector. China adopted this method long time ago. Now, the country and her people are better for it. So, I will suggest that the potential in universities and polytechnics should be married to get the best output for our nation.
On this score, the need for parity does not arise because they are two different institutions. However, there is need for the establishment of more factories in the country because I don’t see the reason why an HND holder in mechanical engineering, should be applying for an administrative job in an office, and be ready to collect anything as salary.
Lack of access to tertiary education continues to haunt us as a nation, as our institutions can admit a negligible percentage of admission seekers. How can this be resolved?
The nation missed it when some states declared universal basic and compulsory education at the primary level. At that level, every Tom, Dick and Harry is going to school. Whether we have sufficient space for them at both the secondary and tertiary levels, remains an unanswered question. In other words, we failed to plan for infrastructural needs and for relevant equipment. The declaration ought to have been a holistic thing.
In the past, I meant in the golden era of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, there were many supportive institutions around to give students numerous options. We had schools of agriculture, teachers training colleges, craft and technical schools, among others, to readily absorb primary school leavers. But today, the only available option is the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examinations (UMTE), and so everybody is desperate to score high marks to be admitted into available tertiary institutions at the same time, even though the number of what they can all admit is highly limited.
So, is the establishment of more tertiary institutions the solution to this access challenge?
I don’t see that as the only solution because more candidates will keep on emerging every year. We need to also expand existing facilities in established institutions. In addition to this, a lot of emphasis should also be placed on the National Vocational Qualification Framework, by the National Board for Technical Education, (NBTE). Expanding access is a task that must be diligently handled. Here in our school, what is our carrying capacity? But 31, 206 candidates have already applied for admission this year, for both the Ordinary National Diploma (OND), and Higher National Diploma (HND)?
In the midst of recession, a number of new projects are sprouting up in your school, how are they funded?
Monies for these projects were partly sourced from Kwara State government-owners of the institution. The last time Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed, visited here, we were able to present 46 new on going projects. There is no magic behind this, than our ability to look beyond government’s patronage. We saw the global economic recession coming, so, we set a target of looking at three basic areas to enhance our growth, despite the lean purse. These areas are staff development, infrastructural growth and students’ welfare. We are happy today that the experiment has paid off. We also maximise our income, blocked leakages and looked for opportunities.
Four years ago, we introduced the idea of e-payment, and cancelled that of cash payment. So, the electronic transfer of cash helped in blocking leakages. Additionally, we gave approvals to all the units to open accounts in this respect, for the success of the system and today, we are better off for it. Even collection of certificates is through e-payment.
How beneficial has the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) been to your school?
TETFund has been a wonderful intervention to us in this polytechnic, as we are benefitting in two categories, that is, special and normal. Also, groups of academic staff have benefited from TETFund research grants. In the last two years, we have assessed our research grants fully. We used to be the only polytechnic doing this before now. But of late, many have joined us. Our proposals have been scaling through because we have our research and proposals committee on multi disciplinary basis. We have benefited from National Research Funds (NRF), usually based on what we have done from previous researches carried out by our staff. Most of our researches are useful to the society.
In addition to this, the National Communication Commission (NBC), and NBTE, also rendered one form of support, or the other to us. We are very proud of our projects, as many of them will be commissioned in December during our convocation.
We have the ICT centre, e-library, a centre for research and information technology, ultra modern stadium, with indoor facilities because we know the importance of sports to youths, just as we believe the development will also usher in money for the polytechnic.
Since 2012, we have been planning to host the Nigeria Polytechnic Games Association (NIPOGA), and if need be, the West Africa Polytechnic Games Association (WAPOGA). We are putting in place right now, all the required facilities and we hope we will be granted the hosting right by the year 2018. We are going to host this year convocation ceremony inside our new stadium.
Your school used to be notorious for vices like cultism and violence among students. How has it been of late?
One of the major problems hindering the security of this polytechnic is ironically its vast landmass, which is without perimetre fencing. This, no doubt, had at one time or the other gave rise to great security challenges on campus. But few years ago, we came up with a good security plan, which stemmed cases of violence and cultism. Even few months ago, the state’s House of Assembly commended us on that score. Security issues, however, go beyond the issue of perimetre fencing to a lot more factors. In this direction, we had to streamline whatever we had to make the issue of salary, security and academic activities the centerpiece of our focus because if security challenges are not curtailed, nothing good would be achieved.
What specific steps were taken to bring back peace on campus?
Soldiers, men of the National Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), men of the Department of State Services, special anti cult forces, and even some of our students are now on 24 hours surveillance of the campus. We have engaged the services of a retired military officer as the head of our security unit. We are deliberately doing this despite the enormous financial implication, since we are of the view that there is no amount of money that is too much for security. Besides, in our academic modules, we have introduced courses on cultism and its effects on the campus and the society. One other thing we have done to serve as an effective check on cultism, is the constitution of an enlarged security committee, which is made up of community leaders. We did this because most of our students stay off campus.
Other groups including, Man O’ War, special cadet, and even men of the Red Cross Society, are all involved in waging a war against any remnants of cultists activities. One of the greatest benefits of peace on the campus is the successful completion of our academic sessions without any disruption whatsoever. Everybody is ready to embrace peace and we all pray it continues like this.
Owed salaries and allowances are always sore points in relationships between the workforce and school managements. What is the situation in your school?
We do not owe any category of staff salaries. Before the end of every month, bank alerts would have been sent to all the staff on the pay roll. Therefore, no staff would have any reason to sabotage our efforts. Besides, we have overhauled our water system and the result we are getting is free flow of water. Also, all our students were three years put under the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS). If they are sick anywhere in the country, all they need to do is to visit the nearest hospital to them, and forward to us, the incurred medical bills. Our hospital has been refurbished, upgraded and now well-stocked. We invest heavily in training and capacity building of our staff as they attend unhindered, training in and outside the country.At our polytechnic assembly, which we hold quarterly, staff and students are allowed to freely express their minds on any issue considered germane.
How do you engineer a good relationship with your host community?
We give them quota in our admission policy. By that, I mean those of them who meet all the laid down admission criteria. Besides, the gate of our hospital is opened to them 24 hours. Recently, we fumigated their environment against pests, fungal and bacterial infections. We did this when the Lassa fever outbreak was reported in some states.
They depend on our electricity, water and we engage many of the unskilled workers among them in our block making industry, weaving, bread baking, soap making, paint production, dyeing, water packaging and so on. We are planning the installation of fire services here and it will be extended to them as well. Let it be on record that all our products have passed NAFDAC tests and are hygienic. We now power our generating set from gas received from a cauldron, which is about 10 times cheaper than fuel. Very soon, our host will benefit from it.
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