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‘Gregory varsity on a mission to bridge Nigeria’s skills gap’

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National Universities CommissionWhen Gregory University Uturu, Abia State, received the National Universities Commission’s (NUC) nod in February 2012 to commence academic activities for undergraduate programmes, its chancellor, Dr. Gregory Ibe, had assured that teaching and learning would be revolutionised in the institution.
 
In October of same year, the institution flung open its doors for its pioneer students, as 85 of them were matriculated for the 2012/2013 academic session in three colleges, that is College of Social and Management Sciences; College of Humanities, and College of Natural and Applied Sciences. More colleges including College of Engineering, College of Medicine, College of Environmental Sciences and College of Agriculture have since become operational in the school.
 
Among other things, the dream of the chief promoter of the institution remains that of training a skilled and innovative workforce that would transform the country’s natural resources into goods and services, driven by entrepreneurship and Information and Communications Technology (ICT).
 
All these, the institution promises to achieve by providing up-to-date practical training, and exposing students internationally in order to close the obvious skills gap among contemporary Nigerian graduates.
 
But in doing this, Ibe maintained that there would be adequate provision of all learning facilities and equipment that certifies an institution as a citadel of learning, in addition to recruiting quality faculties to man the equipment.

The recent facility tour of the school leaves no one in doubt that the institution means business, when it comes to putting in place a well-equipped and serene environment suitable for 21st century teaching and learning.
 
Ibe in a chat with journalists after the tour, implored providers and managers of tertiary institutions to strive to reposition teaching and learning in order to achieve the purpose of higher education.

The former United Nations consultant submitted that the desire to correct obvious anomalies in the way students were trained in some tertiary institutions in the country propelled him to set up the institution.

Ibe, who is of the opinion that earning a university degree remains a worthwhile achievement, however pointed out that earning the degree without virtuosity in the contemporary world of work remains a very disastrous development.

He expressed worries that the situation could worsen if tertiary institutions continue churning out graduates without skills, who are also incapable of acquitting themselves creditably.

He said, “In my business world, experiences and growth, the first and obvious fact about me is that I am a skilled person. While I was in primary and secondary schools, I learnt various skills. We need to refocus and reposition learning to shape the future of our young ones.

“Secondly, I am also guided by the fact that my businesses have to do with promotion and study of science and technology subjects. I realise that many Nigerian students are not skilled. And even where there are equipment to train them, some universities lack adequate manpower to man the equipment. This leads to the production of ill-prepared graduates that are unfit for the world of work.

“But here at GUU, we are committed to repositioning learning and producing individuals capable of transforming the ways things are done in Nigeria through a well-defined approach that would ensure that graduates are indeed change agents,” said the astute businessman and scholar.

Still highlighting the importance of skills acquisition, he pointed out that students need to be equipped with the right tools that would guarantee self-sustenance and national growth. The reason, he (Ibe) personally lectures his scholars on entrepreneurship.

He said, “I teach entrepreneurship to my scholars on weekends and we expose them to the workplace culture in our factories and other affiliated factories and also through international exchange programmes. These are models through which we prepare our scholars. My experience in entrepreneurship has made me to understand that more people are involved in enterprise in every economy than the blue and white-collar jobs, and without those people that contribute to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of a nation; there would be a problem.

“Having gone round this country, (almost 600 local government areas) designing the Needs Assessment document, and also in the process setting up 547 skills acquisition centres for the United Nations, I got to a point that I started feeling very bad about the Nigerian situation. That was why my company- ‘Skill G Nigeria Ltd’ came on board to be a one-stop-shop, where you can get equipment delivered, training offered and technical backstopping and sustainability of those equipment,” he said.

International exchange programme for scholars

He said the international exchange programme allows GUU scholars to visit their affiliate universities in the United States for their six-credit course using ‘J1 visa.’ The J1 visa allows the scholars to travel to America within a span of four years for their six-credit courses.

“Nobody has ever travelled in Nigerian tertiary institutions with what we call the ‘J1 visa.’ We are the first university in Nigeria that the American government granted the J1 visa for our scholars to go to for exchange programmes. For four years, they will be going there and if they perform creditably, they can move further for their master’s programme.

“Once a faculty/lecturer identifies and certifies any of the scholars, the latter would have their bills written off through their (partner institutions in America) grants and the scholars can go ahead and do their masters’ and Ph.D programmes. Any person that leaves GUU as a graduate does not need to be retrained, because they are produced for direct engagement to the world of work, and with the right attitude to work.”

For Vice Chancellor, GUU, Prof Charles Okoroafor, everyone is working assiduously to achieve the vision and mission of the school, which includes the production of the critical mass of skilled individuals that would drastically close the skills gap in the Nigerian workplace.

Okoroafor, who noted that it was difficult to see lecturers teaching with new learning techniques in some Nigerian universities stressed, “But here, we use new learning aids and projectors in teaching our scholars. This reduces the stress level that a lecturer is subjected to because what he is teaching is already on display. Also, our work is enhanced with our ‘edu portal.’ Through which we send assignments to our scholars and ensure results are posted on our website for easy access to scholars and parents. We are introducing all these to enhance our operations in this university.
 
“As the vice chancellor, I lecture and even the chancellor lectures too. The vice chancellor’s responsibilities includes, overseeing and teaching when required. My schedule for lectures is between 8 and 10 after which I take up my administrative work. I move in for inspection from time to time and interact with workers to find out if there are challenges. If other tertiary institutions operate this way, learning would be transformed in this country.”
Students as scholars
Most Nigerian undergraduates are simply addressed as students, but GUU elects to address its students as “scholars.” Okoroafor in explaining this said that the concept of addressing GUU students as scholars was premised on the fact that a scholar is someone who learns or has an aptitude for study.

“…We have the nomenclature ‘students’ all over the place. We want to make a difference, and making a difference is about preparing scholars and giving them the best. Also during our first exchange programme, the group that went to Langston University, United States, proved that they were scholars through their excellent results.
Accreditation

Just about three week ago, the institution had its first accreditation from NUC. “They verified for accreditation, a total of 13 programmes. And we are very confident that we are going to have full accreditation in all the 13 programmes.

“They were impressed with what they saw during their visit. Our staffing is on the increase according to needs. So far we have 13 professors for each of the programmes. As we accredit these programmes, the number of staff will increase. And the staff mix, according to NUC we will continue to maintain it.

“We pride ourselves with the quality of our faculty, training facilities and equipment on ground. A few months ago, the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) sponsored the training of 292 university lecturers, engineers and technologists drawn from 73 federal and state universities in our College of Engineering. The training was at the instance of the Federal Government in collaboration with Skill G Nigeria Limited. If we don’t have equipment and what it takes, we wouldn’t have done that. Our engineering laboratories are well equipped with modern tools.”
Challenges

The institution presently spends millions of naira on diesel to be able to power its equipment. “We are hooked on the grid from Enugu and the voltage is not full to power our equipment because of that the chancellor brought a heavy duty electricity generator to be able to power our equipment and function optimally. It takes off a lot of resources from the university at the end of the month.

Staff and scholars’ union
The vice chancellor said the school has no staff and scholars’ union, as the best student with the highest CGPA is the scholars’ president. “These two areas could be problematic. The channels of communication here are open for dialogue and bargaining unlike in public institutions where the people at the helm of affairs neglect some of these things. When a report or a demand is made, we attend to it immediately.”
On discipline, registrar of the school, Dr. Austin Orisakwe, said “we suspend when there is exam malpractices, fighting, gross disobedience and we expel when we noticed that first, second warning did not sank in.”


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