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‘Why private varsities churn out many first class products’



Mr. Afolabi Ajayi is the Registrar of Hallmark University, Itele, Ijebu Ode in Ogun State. In this interview with IYABO LAWAL, the astute university administrator and former Deputy Registrar, Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago Iwoye, speaks on his experience in both public and private universities as well as higher education administration in the country. He also faulted the view that mass award of first class degrees by private institutions is a fluke and mere ploy to shore up enrolment, arguing that they actually offer conducive atmosphere for the students to excel.

What are your thoughts and experience in higher education management in Nigeria?
There are a lot of things that affect managing higher education in Nigeria. One of such is finance. Most of the universities are not well funded by government, I must confess to you, both at the federal and state levels, as well as even the private ones. Many who ventured do not realise the enormity of what it entails to run education at the tertiary level.

Having experienced both sides, what are the differences between running private and public universities?
Universities are the same, be it private or public, the little difference we have is the mode of administration. For instance, in the public sector, we have the council, senate and what have you. But in the private sector, it is slightly different because oftentimes it is a one-man business.

Private universities have mushroomed over the years to complement the public-owned ones in giving greater access to university education. Yet, the quality of Nigerian graduates leaves much to be desired with many of them said to be unemployable. Would you say that their coming is a blessing or a curse?
If you look at our population in this country, you will agree that private universities have been a blessing to Nigeria. We are said to be
conservatively about 190 million people and majority of this huge population are youths who thirst for education. if you look at the number of private universities we have today, you will see that they are still not enough to cope with the demands of such a huge population.


While in a public university, I always wondered, with some airs of condescension what they do in private universities but when I came into a private university, I had to change my opinion and attitude, what with the quality of facilities, manpower, research and other exercises we have here. So, to answer your question, the private universities are more of a blessing to this country. This is because our public universities can only admit small number of candidates. For instance, in OOU this year, more than 30,000 candidates applied for various courses in that university out of which only 7,000 were admitted. So, the large number of them not admitted, where do they go?

Would they be roaming around for the next one year? The private universities give them the opportunity of achieving their educational goals.

But what do you say to the view that the private universities compromise standards?
That is definitely not correct because it is the same standard that applies to both the private and public-owned universities. It is the same regulatory agency that superintends over public and private universities. In fact, in private institutions, students are more studious than their counterparts in public universities. Because of their number, the facilities available are adequate. For instance in the public universities, in a class you can have 50, 80, 90 students, but in the private universities the staff-student ratio is minimal.

How about these universities lowering admission cut-off mark in order to attract students?
The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) has done that for us all- about the minimum mark for all universities. For instance, in this university, we do not admit anybody that scores less than 150. Even at that, I will tell you that there are instances where you cannot measure the ability of students through UTME examination.

But how do you explain the proliferate award of first class degrees in these institutions? First class graduates in some departments are oftentimes proportionately higher than those who made second and third classes, whereas the tradition has always been the other way round?
I will tell you it is easier to make first class and all those higher grades in private universities because they devote much more attention to students than the public university. It was when I came into private university that I realised that the attention given to students in private universities is better than the one we have in public institutions. So there is that possibility. And there is no student
that would make use of the facilities in an environment that we are in, coupled with the detailed attention from the lecturers, who will not make a first class if such a student is studious. But we do not have that anymore in our public universities. Those who lecture there are the ones who also lecture here, but they devote more attention to students here because of the manageable size.

The lecturers are able to do this through detailed lectures, attendance and assignments to these students. When the NUC team came in here, they interacted with some of our students and we are happy that they were able to confirm that one of our students is a first class student. That if that student made anything less than a first class, then we would have cheated him. Then our academic calendar is relatively stable.

Funding has been a critical challenge to university education, perhaps, more in private initiatives like yours. What is it like here?
What we are trying to do with respect to supporting the university is to drive up Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), because it appears that is the way to go. We are looking for ways of floating some beautiful professional certification or diploma programmes. Then, we are looking at members of staff developing and patenting works through coming together to do research that we can sell and use to bring in money for the university.


What is the idea behind this university?
The founder of this institution is no other than Chief Leila Fowler. She is an educationist to the core. She started the famous Yaba Tutorial College in those days; they had booklets that one had to study for external examinations and for admission into institutions- both local and abroad.

She actually gave us an history of why and how she started the tutorial college. She was in England and saw Nigerians coming there to do remedial studies to qualify for admission into tertiary institutions there. She believed this very thing they wanted could be achieved in Nigeria. From there she started the Vivian Fowler Memorial College for Girls, which gave birth to another school, Top Grade School for boys. Now, her deep passion helping to build a corps of highly skilled and educated Nigerians as well as the accumulation of her experience and labour in running secondary schools over the years are what transformed into Hallmark University. It is all her dream.

What is your take on suggestion that private universities are also entitled to TETFUND?
I believe they should not be left out because our products, when we train them are all raw materials from which the entire nation will benefit. So, we are even assisting the state government and the entire nation to train people that will replace those who are there already. So, there is no reason why we cannot benefit, if not 100 per cent give us at least between 30-40 per cent.


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