Private varsities must invest in knowledge and character, says Anchor VC Afolayan
Professor Joseph Olasehinde Afolayan is the pioneer vice chancellor of Anchor University that was recently licensed by the Federal Government. The faith-based university being promoted by the Deeper Christian Life Ministries (DCLM) commenced academic activities on Monday, February 27, 2017. In this interview with News Editor, Marcel Mbamalu and Head, Education Desk, Iyabo Lawal, the professor of civil engineering spoke on his plans for the institution, challenges confronting education in Nigeria and the need to establish more private universities.
Anchor University was granted provisional licence to operate alongside seven others towards the end of last year; how would you describe the journey so far?
As a university that is faith-based, the time of take off was divine. We have not less than 90 students on our record, which is a good start for a new university, especially as this is the second week of our academic activities. The students are actively engaged in lectures now; they have been having a very good time and lectures have commenced.
Are you sourcing student applications mainly from the DCLM since, according to you Anchor is a faith-based institution?
There was a spread to cover all the six geo-political zones. At those zones, we had centres where students were screened regardless of faith or religion: This is a university education; so, whatever is your religious belief or background, you are welcome. And the students we have now show that we are really universal. We have people from different religious backgrounds as students. So, it is open to everybody.
What would you say were the major challenges in starting up the university?
The fortunate thing for us, as faith-based university, is that it has been in the making for quite sometime. The proprietor has the principle that whatever you want to do, you must sit down to plan. The proprietor did a lot of serious planning to ensure that Anchor University comes on board.
Normally, as a new university, the challenges are there but because adequate preparations were made, the challenges were basically issues relating to recruitment of qualified staff.
For infrastructure, we are, by the grace of God, taking off on a very good and solid foundation. Infrastructure is not our problem but we need people that would use what is available on ground. Like every other institution, we had to place advertisements to recruit staff — academic and non academic. The challenge of getting academic staff to stay with you has always been there, even in public universities.
The Anchor University, by the approval of the Federal Government, has a mentor. And through that mentorship arrangement, we have a link with the University of Lagos (UNILAG). So, where there are deficiencies in terms of staffing, we link up with our mentor to fill in the gap for us until we are able to fully recruit the staff we need and they could really see that Anchor University has come up to pursue a goal.
As vice chancellor, what experience are you bringing to bear on Anchor, especially as you had worked as Dean and VC in public and private universities?
The university system is the same everywhere; the only difference is the goal or vision of each of the institutions. With the exposure at the federal and private institutions, one has grown over the years to have interactions with the world. You know people around and when you talk of improvement on the basis of knowledge of the system and interaction you have, you talk to colleagues.
You know what you need and you know where those who can meet those needs are, possibly to win them over to your side and work with you. These are common things done in the university system so the experiences and the exposure that I have had have contributed in no mean measure to give me a kind of focus to know where needs are and where those who can meet the needs are. The only thing is that you cannot force them; you still have to allow them to take their decisions, to study the situation and see whether they would key into what you invite them to come and do.
The argument really is that Nigeria does not need new universities; rather government should strengthen existing ones through adequate funding.
What is your take on this?
Yearly, when you consider the number of applicants to institutions, you see that whatever the Federal Government spends on public universities cannot be adequate. Government funding alone cannot match the yearly turnout for those who sit for JAMB and are qualified. Federal universities that we have today cannot cope with the demand for university admission, and from experience, the question is whether the Federal Government is willing to pay the price for university education.
In other climes, particularly where we talk of world-class university education, the institutions are mostly private universities. University education is very expensive and our own government does not appear to key into that. I have worked in private university before and as a professional, a civil engineer I know what it takes to train an engineer. If government wants to be sincere, every engineer properly trained would not graduate and be looking around for job; he should be able to stand on his own. Does government have enough funds to do that — to get equipment and allow students to be trained to the point where they are competent enough to fend for themselves and their employers?
That belief is not there, the government runs the system but does not believe in her own system; it does not believe that universities can offer what is expected of them. That is why it is almost like a recurring decimal —industrial strike by unions, and other crisis here and there. The plans are there but we do not seem to be ready to execute them?
As an individual, I am really worried about the programme we run in Nigeria. Look at the 6-3-3-4 for instance: It is not a Nigerian system; it is a borrowed idea, which we do not run well. We copy good ideas but we do not follow through to implement them. This is a major problem. That is why it is needful for private individuals with the means and vision for building capacity through education to float an institution.
Anchor University for example is not just an institution but a university with holistic focus. In many universities, what is emphasised is to give knowledge to people. But at the end of the programme, students are awarded certificates with this remark: “On the basis of character and learning, this degree is awarded to you.” But we know the country as it is today. Do you really see the character there?
At Anchor University, the proprietor has seen all these challenges and he has the belief that there is nothing too hard for God to do. It is a question of understanding the needs of the people; get to know their problems and then, through divine guidance, find a way of ministering to meet those needs.
This is why Anchor University has come out with a difference to address character of people and engender academic competence. When you combine the two, you would be very courageous, anywhere and anytime. That is why it is very different here; it’s not all about looking for money. Running a university is a long-term project, it takes years before it starts yielding returns but if you are looking for money, you can run any kind of programme to just build the people, whether fully or half-baked.
But here, our system is such that any graduating student would be a leader with a difference. Many leaders of today say but they don’t do and that is the problem facing the country. We do not want to turn out people that would not be responsible for their actions.
Most of our leaders are people of honesty without integrity, Anchor University does not want to train leaders of tomorrow who would have honesty but no integrity; the two must go together. Public universities would not go to such extent: They’ll simply pump in the money for research and go ahead — whether there is character or not.
Private universities cannot afford to go that way; nobody would invest his personal money in any venture that does not have reasonable, tangible and admirable future.
One of the major challenges facing university education in Nigeria is the fact that some of the programmes are not demand-driven. In what ways would Anchor deal with its programmes in such a way that students are truly prepared for the skills lacking in the job market?
Generally, in the educational system, there is no programme or course that do not have prospects; it is a question of commitment. Our students will be so motivated that, in any of the programmes they register for, they will become so innovative that they will be able to positively touch the community even before they graduate. In our own programmes, there’s opportunity for industrial attachment and service to community.
Whatever we exhibit here — our output, our contribution — will always impact the world. There’s no programme we run that will not have prospects. We do not just exist; we live for a purpose. And that’s how we want to run our programmes.
Some faith-based institutions are being criticized for charging exorbitant fees such that church members who contribute towards funding of such universities cannot afford to send their children to the schools. How affordable will the tuition for Anchor University going to be?
School fees for Anchor will be very affordable, if not the cheapest among the universities. When you want to build a tower, you have to sit down to plan it first. In the plan for Anchor, you have to rake information, you have to go to places, you have to understudy the environment. Even though I said the immediate idea is not to make money, but because it is an investment in one way or the other, there should be a turnover that would be very encouraging. Right from the beginning, the plan was there, we understudied other private institutions because public institutions don’t charge fees; except for some minor fees, there is no tuition.We went round and from the information gathered, what is charged in Anchor University is very moderate and affordable, cheaper than other institutions.
How sustainable is this going to be, given that, according to you, promoters of Anchor are bent on running the best university in terms of quality?
It is a question of planning. When you plan, you have strategies. If the fundamental idea the proprietor has is to make money, by establishing a university, the focus would be how the money would be made. But because of our belief and focus, and the kind of training we want to have, there are other plans by which we generate funds to run the university — not necessarily from charges from students otherwise the essence of establishing the institution would be defeated. So, there are other means of generating funds; there is internally generated revenue that would sustain the university, such plans are in practice.
Like I said, private universities in developed countries have means and in Nigeria too, there are so many areas where a university can sustain herself, without necessarily overburdening parents and guardian. There are means, through some other business ventures, that sustain the university.
Do we say it’s more of a charity project then?
Not really. I would rather see it as a project to contribute to the educational policy, as we are out to imbue the lives of the people. As it were, there are people who exist but are not living. That is the kind of training we give people here.
Somebody who lives for a course does not just exist; he knows where he is going and looks for ways to get to its destination. You live when you have a focus you want to fulfil, that is the difference we want to exhibit in this place.
Where do you want to take Anchor University to in the next 10 years?
We have just started enrolment. By the grace of God, our intake will increase yearly. With regards to our programmes, we have just started with 15 programmes in three faculties — Humanities, Management and Social Sciences and Natural and Applied Sciences. So with time, we would increase students intake, by students intake we started for now with only students in Nigeria, this is a university that has the focus of working at par with world -class universities so we want to enlarge our tentacles to have international students enrolled on our campus here.
Also as part of a universal education, we would reach out to industries and other universities, by establishing linkages and collaborations with other institutions within and without.
Because of the development in ICT in the world now, through interactions with other universities, we can bring some of our experienced colleagues from outside the country to lecture our students without necessarily coming here to teach. We can do it through Skype or any other means. Our staff and students here, will be aggressively involved in research, because it is through research universities can project what they can do or sell to their immediate environment and the larger community.
In a way, we have ICT units for the university, and coincidentally, recently we had a company that came around to give a lecture on what we can offer on ICT. We believe if we really want to excel and project the university, we need partnerships. There is no single university that can do everything; you have to partner with somebody or some organisations, and we have started that already. We have to partner with those who have come on board with serious footing so that we can expand what we have.
What is the nature of the mentorship Anchor is presently getting from UNILAG?
It’s good to be mentored but there’s time for everything. Anchor University would not remain a baby for too long; there would come a stage of weaning and feeding ourselves to eventually compete with our mentor. It’s a task; but it’s possible.
By the grace of God, within the next 10 years, when universities are being counted in Nigeria, Anchor would be among the top five. It’s a matter of principle, knowing where you are going. To be within the first five institutions in Nigeria, we are ready to take up the challenge. We stand on the foundation of faith and we believe within the next 10 years of the existence of Anchor, it would be among the top five in Nigeria.
Our vision is very clear, currently in our lecture rooms, you get connected to the Internet; we don’t use chalk here. Since the university wants to build a tower in our classrooms, there must be a plan for that. Anchor University has been on for some years, when the planning started; I never knew I would be occupying this position today.
What is going to be the relationship between Anchor University and the church?
I can tell you authoritatively that the church, Deeper Christian Life Ministries, has its own administration different from the school.Our Chancellor is the leader of church and will remain a Visitor to the school, just as federal institutions have the President as visitor and state universities have the governors as visitors.
Are you worried that no Nigeria University is ranked among the first 1000 in the world; how do you think that the country’s education system can redress this?
To get it reversed, all universities in Nigeria must study the criteria for ranking for measuring universities, and begin to work on them. While at Landmark University as acting vice chancellor, I delivered a paper on what it takes to have a university. It’s not just by word of mouth; we need to look into the criteria and work towards them. Any university that wants to come up in the ranking must have the-required facilities in place. It is one thing to have equipment, but it is another to know how to use it. If you have an idea but don’t have what it takes to express it, then you are still lagging behind. Aggressiveness in pursuing those criteria as a goal is what we lack as a country.