How peace in LASU stimulates multi-faceted development
The vice chancellor of Lagos State University (LASU), Prof. Olanrewaju Fagbohun is an astute administrator whose looks belie his ingenuity. His modesty shadows his many successful endeavours and the challenges he has to deal with. In this recent interview with select journalists to give account of his stewardship in the last two years, Fagbohun also talks about how he has been able to sustain peace in the once crisis-ridden institution. The Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL, was there. Excerpts:
It has been two years since you assumed the headship of this institution as the vice chancellor of Lagos State University. How has the journey been so far?
I will start by thanking the Lagos State government for the development projects that have been consistent with our institution. When this administration started, we had a situation where the government came in, tarred the entire road of the university, put in lightings and changed a lot of things. Government has continued to support us with our subvention to ensure that salaries are paid on time to members of staff. Again, we have continued to enjoy the very robust support of the state government in terms of funding to support our accreditation exercise, as accreditation is the life of any institution. The state government has continued to support us to measure up with global practices and other institutions in the world in terms of what is expected of us as an academic institution.
What has your administration done to bridge the town and gown?
We have continued to have strategic engagements with ministries and parastatals. One of the things that members of this group have continued to ask me all the time is that all of the things that we do, what is the nexus with the town? How is the town utilizing it? I am proud to tell you that one of the things we have been enjoying in the state is ministries’ use of our faculties in terms of research to deepen their activities.
For instance, there’s a security summit that has just been concluded, a number of faculty members that are part of the exercise were taken from the university. There is a socio-economic study that Lagos State government is doing now; our faculty of social sciences is also very much involved in this exercise. So you see a situation where the state government has confidence in us and they are able to leverage on us for some of their activities. Then the Ready-Set-Work (RSW) programme, which is aimed at deepening the entrepreneurship skills and employability set-up of our students, has continued with the state government. We are entering the third phase now and that will kick off very soon.
What is the update on the Open and Distance Learning programme of the university?
The National Universities Commission (NUC) has now approved our Open and Distance Learning (ODL) programme. They have asked us to start. But we want to take off in a way that we’ll be very effective. We had stated earlier that we want to give access to as many as possible. The way we can give that effectively is if the platform we are going to use is ready and will not be disrupted at anytime the activities start. We are doing things in-house for now and putting necessary machinery in motion so that by the time we want to roll out in September, it will be a continuous thing that would not be hindered.
What are you doing to address the accommodation problem confronting your students?
In terms of physical infrastructure, a whole lot of things have continued to happen. One of such is the 6,000 bed space model hostel. The Lagos State executive council has approved and PricewaterhouseCoppers (PwC), the transaction adviser which we picked to insulate ourselves from pressures of people who just want jobs for the boys have done a good job in terms of ensuring technical and financial competence of those to be involved and they have been able to select two different companies that will be involved in the construction of about 13 of the hostel blocks. We are looking at constructing about 16 actually and we already have two firms who would handle 13 of the projects. Very soon, a date is going to be announced for the groundbreaking ceremony. The good news is that the executive of this state has given a final nod for us to continue with that project and we have been able to have two of the construction companies that bid for it who would construct 13 of the structures. Recently because of the enabling peace that we have had in the university, we have been able to attract benefactors who are now willing to support us; Calverton has just given us a 500-seat capacity auditorium.
What other projects do you have in the pipeline?
We have approval for the construction of a Primary Health centre through the office of the Special Adviser to the President on Sustainable Development Goals. They gave us the PHC and a brand new ambulance. Construction has started and duration for the project is 20 weeks so in another four-five months, you should see the edifice up and running.
Again, we will soon do another groundbreaking ceremony for a privately- funded 2,000 capacity computer-based centre (CBT). This is a partnership we are doing with the private sector because we want a situation where LASU will be a major hub for JAMB examination and the rest of them to ease up the pressure for students who are coming in all the way from Badagry and Mile 2. If we have 2,000 seats for that purpose, which we believe that in the next six months, the construction would have been concluded because discussions are at a very advanced stage, we are at the point of signing important documents. These are aside from the TETFUND intervention programmes that we have, TETFUND-sponsored projects, which we have received our allocation and are just going through the due process of selecting and the rest of them, those who are going to be involved.
In terms of collaborations and partnerships, we have continued to deepen our efforts at internalisation of the university, which is a critical focus of the mission of this administration and we are also ensuring that we deepen collaboration activities.
London Southbank University is one of those we have signed a very effective MoU with; University of Georgia for the Faculty of Arts, Cornell University for the Business School. As a matter of fact, the Cornell team will be coming to LASU between May 7 and 12. The Technical University, Germany is also going to be partnering with our Faculty of Engineering. The Nigerian Airforce and Research Space Development Agency is working with our aerospace centre of the faculty of engineering and we are doing the result verification of the aerospace centre with the NUC shortly so it is going to go out shortly as a full-fledged department.
As stated earlier, TETFund has continued to give us support and this is in two critical areas, physical infrastructure and programme upgrade; as well as conference attendance, staff training and development and institution-based research. So you can look at it in terms of development of our infrastructure and capacity building development. We have closed the external system and we have also had a closer exit meeting with our partners who also has relationship with us and we have given directives so that all our banners in these campuses would be removed. There are clear directives that all of these should be removed.
In terms of students’ welfare, we have continued our monthly breakfast engagement with our students, we are now establishing a career development centre because we recognize that it is not sufficient for us as a university to just graduate our students and tell them to go. When you look at Ivy League institutions, they monitor their students and are able to say the employability ratio of their students is 60 percent or otherwise because they track their students. That is what we are doing with this career development centre such that from the time somebody comes in as a student of our university, you enroll online with this centre and it continues to monitor your progress in terms of getting you affiliated as a student member to professional organisations that you will be dealing with by the time you are through.
We have also signed MoUs with a number of companies and small-scale enterprises to deepen entrepreneurship activities of our students. We want a situation where these companies will serve as incubation centres to train our students on necessary fields. Our TETFund-sponsored entrepreneurship centre is ready. Entrepreneurship is critical to us as an institution and we are not relegating it to the background in any way. In terms of staff welfare, promotion processes are very much on course and from time to time; we bring in top-notch third parties to also assist in giving effective quality assurance to our processes. Training and development is a critical component and we are also doing that.
In the area of admission, the university has become very competitive, and we have so many students that are seeking to come in. we have limited spaces but as much as possible, we try to put in a process that is driven by technology to ensure that we give equal access to all those who might want to come in. That is why we have a large percentage of students with disability; and we interact with them regularly to give them the opportunity and also let them have effective student experience of being in our university. We have been able to maintain a very stable calendar, sustain the peace and maintain a conducive environment for academic excellence.
The university management recently dismissed some members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) over allegations of corruption and forgery heightening fears of another round of crisis in the institution. What is the university doing to resolve the issue?
I want to assure you that LASU management has a very solid relationship with ASUU members and I will urge that you interface with academic staff members so that you’ll be able to put opinions together. Already, some of these aggrieved ASUU members have gone to court so I will refrain from commenting further on the matter. In term of entrepreneurship centre, we have signed MoUs with SMEs and other companies, the idea is we don’t want to be guilty of just having theoretical sessions, when they have had theories in class, they will meet with industry partners and praticalise what they have been taught, that is the kind of thing we have done. One of the companies we have partnered with, they have expertise such that if you write, they would do a scientific analysis of that paragraph and tell you their findings, just by looking at your handwriting.
How would you react to the issue of sex-for-marks in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions?
All universities have the challenge of sex scandal but in LASU, we have encouraged whistle-blowing because we believe that it is one way that we can get information from students. When we get the information, we quietly go after it that is why you see that the disciplinary process in the institution has been very thorough.