‘Underfunding remains major obstacle to sound university education’
Isaac Rotimi Ajayi, Professor of Radiation and Health Physics is the Vice Chancellor of Crawford University, examines challenges confronting university education in Nigeria while proferring solutions to tackcle them.
What is your assessment of higher education in Nigeria?
Honestly speaking education sector in Nigeria has been grossly underfunded because it is yet to be placed in the right perspective in terms of priority and integrity of purpose, that is, acquisition of state of the art facilities, provision of infrastructure, deepened the programmes in terms of qualitative staff or personnel that would deliver sound education.
What recipe do you prescribe for the myriad of problems facing education in Nigeria?
To be candid, education is a critical sector of any nation; it is the only way citizens can be of good services, add value, delivered from poverty and ignorance. It is the duty of government to ensure every citizen is educated as witnessed in developed countries at pre-primary, primary, junior and senior secondary school up to tertiary institution as the primary responsibility of the government. I would like to see education in Nigeria enjoying position of priority, attention, put at the front burner by building of more schools, and provision of adequate resources i.e. instructional materials, trained and qualified teachers, create conducive environment for students to learn; and sincere commitment of government on strict supervision in other to produce credible students in our higher institutions. Although, government alone cannot carry the load of education, but government should be in the lead to attract helping hands from stakeholders such as parents, institutions, NGOs, conglomerates’ Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to complement or support government’s efforts.
Nigerian graduates are said to be unemployable because universities do not train for industry. What is your take?
To some extent that is true. We should know that the kind of education we offer in the universities is not the type that would readily fix our students or graduates into the industries. On the other hand, the industries should also be ready to train the students/graduates, also prepare to partner with the universities in the process of training which is very essential. Currently, universities are concerned about employability that is why we established the department of entrepreneurship for our students to be trained at various skills; besides training of the head, that is, intellectual development, we also engage the hand which is psychomotor for practical skills. On entry to labour market, industries should be ready to give orientation to our graduates, retrain them for desired designations or duties. From my personal experiences, I have two students I trained in physics, one came up with 1st Class, fortunately, he secured employment in an audit firm, the company retrained him to become an auditor; the second took First Bank aptitude test, he came first and became a banker. It is the duty of the universities to ensure that we churn out highly intellectual, exposed and well-rounded graduates; at the moment, we encourage “Gown and Town” relationship in our education systems.
Observers say that problem facing universities could be solved by granting autonomy to the Ivory Towers. Is that correct?
Yes, very correct. I am a strong advocate of autonomy for the universities. A situation of central command or control cannot work. We have examples in other countries where autonomy is granted. What we need is setting up minimum standards for the universities to operate. Under normal circumstances, let university owners determine the salary structure their staff or workers, courses or programmes to be offered etc. That is what operates in the United States of America.
How do you rate private universities? Would do you call for more?
Honestly, private universities are blessing to the country. Imagine if there are no private universities in Nigeria today, what would have been the fate of many graduates that have come out of these universities. We are actually complementing the efforts of government. Private universities needed to be encouraged so that they could function optimally. I am not calling for more; but I am advising well-meaning people who have enormous resources and love for education may invest in areas or locations where such services are needed, but should strictly abide by the standards.
With the number of universities in the country many intending candidates still can’t secure admission. Does the solution lie in establishing more universities?
No, the solution does not lie in establishing more universities. At the moment, private universities are not filling their quota to the capacity in terms of students’ enrolment. These universities have a lot of spaces for students; candidates cannot gain admission into the institutions because of the costs. If government can support private universities through financial intervention or assistance such as grants, scholarships and fellowships more students would have access to these universities. Availability of financial incentives, for instance, bursaries from various governments, institutions or wealthy individuals also would help most of the qualified idle youths secure entry to the universities of their choice. Therefore, pressure could be reduced in states and federal universities which are already overcrowded in most cases.
What is the evolution of Crawford University?
Crawford University is an offshoot of the Apostolic Faith Church in Nigeria. The institution is a bold step by the church to diversify into third tier of education. The effort is geared at producing graduates with moral excellence, self-confidence, inventive dynamism, and innovativeness. We received the operating licence from the Federal Government on 9th June, 2005. By the help of God, the university was opened to the first batch of students on 30th September, 2005.
As the third Vice Chancellor of Crawford University, what could you count as your achievements?
To God be the glory, I will ascribe all our achievements to Him. We have tried to improve the integrity of our programmes in all the colleges by pursuing competence and excellence; our academic programmes are better delivered. For example, our courses are expanded; we have secured full accreditation for Mass Communication as a star programme; while all other programmes are accredited by Nigeria University Commission (NUC) and professional bodies. In addition, we have improved on the institution infrastructure with provision of additional classrooms, hostel; students enrolment is getting better, we are enjoying peace and stability on the campus by God‘s grace; management has been consistent on staff development by adding more professors into the system.
What are your challenges and how do you overcome them?
Challenges are always there as part of life, we have to face them squarely, we need more fund for further expansion of our infrastructure, students enrolment in terms of reaching our targets; the roads leading here, that is, from Atan to Agbara need urgent attention in terms of repair or reconstruction because they are in deplorable condition; and maintaining discipline among the youths is a major task, we need to be firm by putting our feet down for them to align with the college rules and regulations. Happily, to the Glory of God, most of our students are rendering good accounts of themselves both within and outside.
What stands out Crawford University from other universities?
Crawford University is very unique because it is driven by the motto “Knowledge with Godliness”. In the process of educating our students, we inculcate them with moral and fear of God. Secondly, the university has zero tolerance for any act of indiscipline or any form of social vices, immoral behavior is not allowed, we deal with our students on one on one basis with adequate attention toward their wellbeing. On graduation, our students are awarded 3 certificates, on academic studies, Information Communication Technology and Entrepreneurship i.e. vocational skill, making them fully equipped for the future.
What are the future plans of the university in short, medium and long terms?
In short term, the university will expand the programmes with some courses to include architecture, environmental studies, estate management, and quantity survey; for the medium and long terms we intend to add more colleges such as law, agricultural science, humanity etc., while we are eager to accelerate our programmes to attain world class status by God’s grace.