‘Why TETFund shouldn’t be extended to private institutions’
While Nigeria’s education sector is bedevilled with myriads of problems, the Vice Chancellor of Babcock University, Prof Ademola Tayo, has some cheery news. In this interview with Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL, he talked about Babcock’s achievements and how it has beaten the odds in almost 20 years of its existence focusing on research and collaborations. The Babcock boss also underscores why private universities should be exempted from TETFund
In few months, Babcock University will clock 20, how has the journey been?
It has been a mixture of good and bad, but on the whole, it’s been wonderful. Good in the sense that over the years, we have had our graduating students making waves in the world of work. We have had our students getting awards as they go to higher institutions abroad. We have had many of them who are captains of industry right now and we are very glad about that.
There have been progress in the following areas, infrastructural development from just few blocks; we have had quite a lot of facility upgrade. Our teaching hospital is one of the best in terms of facilities right now; we have resident surgeons that are manning the place and just last year alone, we recorded over 100 successful heart surgeries and we are very happy about that. Our law school had been on top two in the country in the last three years and just last year alone, we had 56 of our accounting students becoming chartered accountants.
So also all our programmes are accredited now, we don’t run a programme that is not approved in Babcock University because as a faith-based institution, we believe that we cannot afford to deceive the public. Today, our enrolment is a little over 10,000 and we have won many awards for the past three years.
The ugly side is that the policy somersault of the government has sometimes hindered our operational activities.
Aside teaching, one other mandate of university education is research, how strong is Babcock in this area?
The lord has helped us, we believe so much that not only teachers must be into research; students must also be involved as well. Our students have been very active in research, we have a group called, ‘enactors’, and this group had come up with smart solution to check road accident mortality. They use alcohol detector car mobiliser. This same group also presented two smart solutions- “Project Gel and H-power” to empower target communities using organic bio-degradable materials such as leaves and egg shells to make cooking gel in place of kerosene for local stoves. In a nutshell, the research that we do here is such that we identify problems within our local community or within the country and we try to proffer solutions to them. We do not believe in just doing research, but that which will affect positively the life of people.
For example, our Department of Agriculture got a grant of about $153,000 which was co-funded by a non-governmental organisation as well as Babcock University in order to invent the integration of ‘Arbusular Mycorrhiza fungi and poultry manure as alternative to organic fertilizer in the production of vegetable in Ogun State. And that is a project that will better the lot of rural farmers.
Also, one of our staff at the teaching hospital got a research grant from European development countries clinical trials partnership in the area of malaria, which is worth about 85,000 Euros for a period of three months still in connection with how to combat malaria in pregnant women.
Essentially, all that we do is to identify target audience, their problem, go to the lab and try to proffer solutions.
We only welcome research proposals that would positively impact the life of the community because that is why we are here. What we do as a university is to do research that is functional and positively affect the life of people within our community. As a matter of fact, we have research grants and we encourage faculties to write proposals. There’s a committee that vets such proposals which is 100 percent funded by the university. This is a way to encourage our students to engage in beneficial research.
Does the university have collaborations with foreign institutions?
We have so many of them for both academic programmes and professional bodies. For example Savannah State University, Georgia in the area of social work; University of Computer Science and Skills in Poland in terms of exchange of staff and students, as well as the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom where our students in International Law and Diplomacy go to for two years after completing their studies here to top up.
In the area of professional organisations, we have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with ACCA London, which has granted our accounting students eight exemptions, and it provides them the opportunity of operating in about 180 countries after their certification. In connection to this, the organisation has awarded about N10, 000 for capacity building and has also offered to upgrade our accounting library facilities.
We also signed a mutual cooperation agreement with ICAN, which will grant 11 waivers representing full exemptions from foundational skills level to its qualifying examination for Babcock students.
We also have a relationship with Halogen Security Company and it has helped greatly. We believe there should be a relationship between town and gown so that we’ll be able to feel what is going on in the industry and integrate such into our curriculum so that when our students will be leaving for the world of work, they will have a feel of what they would meet.
There are concerns that our curriculum is not demand-driven. Already, there are claims by seasoned scholars that 95 percent of our graduates are not employable and not in tune with 21st century challenges. What is Babcock doing to address this trend?
It is something we cannot shy away from and Babcock University as an institution strongly believes in the interaction between the industry and academia. We work with our alumni so that we get feedback of what is expected in the world of work. We do a survey in the various fields and the feedback we get, we use that in periodic curriculum review without setting aside the benchmark minimum academic standard as stipulated by the National Universities Commission (NUC).
Good enough, the present NUC boss is working very hard to review our curriculum to meet with this century’s demand because knowledge is dynamic and therefore the curriculum should also be very dynamic. Just recently, we had the committee of vice chancellors’ meeting and it was vividly emphasised the need to review the curriculum so as to meet the need of the world of work.
In this institution, our curriculum is tailored to reflect the demand of the industry; as a matter of fact, our philosophy as an institution is the harmonious development of the mental, physical, social and the spiritual. Of what use will it be to train a student mentally without him being able to use his hand? So, we look at the cognitive, psychomotor and the affective domains.
That is the bane in many of our institutions today. Most of our graduates are very good when it comes to the cognitive but come to think about an engineer who does not have knowledge of the practical aspect of his studies. That is why we have the laboratory component of all our programmes so that apart from the theoretical knowledge, there would be practical application.
These days, employers are looking for people with soft skills, because no matter how intelligent you are, if you are not able to relate with your colleagues at the world of work, you will not be able to succeed because we are now in a global environment and these are some of the things we teach our students.
Funding is a major challenge confronting the sector, how do you think this can be effectively addressed?
I strongly believe that funding is key for quality education, when there is no sufficient fund injected into the system; there is no magic about improving its quality. As a matter of fact if you look at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) benchmark, we are far below the percentage that should be allocated and that is why we have disgruntled teachers, who will be busy with buying and selling when they are supposed to study and research in order for them to be able to give sufficiently, so funding is very basic.
Our laboratories in our institutions are in tatters now because of the fact that there are no sufficient funds to be able to buy those things. We have universities that have light almost four hours in a day, when on earth can there be a good practical exposure in the laboratories when there is no electricity to drive the engine and other equipment needed to make the practical happen?
Fundamentally, there’s need for funds but I also believe that we cannot leave this alone in the hands of the government. In developed countries like the United States, we have private initiatives and that’s why we have taken the bull by the horn; we have internally generated sources besides the tuition that we charge our students. I wish to say that this university is not for profit; everything we do is to up the quality of education.
We need to come to a decision where the management of every university will not sit down and wait for subvention to drop on their laps; we have to look at creative ways of generating alternative source of income. For example, in Babcock University, we don’t go full blown commercial, but we provide all the drinking water for our students, bread and we run farms where we provide foods used in the cafeteria to feed almost 90 percent of our students living on campus.
How will you react to criticisms that tuition in private universities, especially faith-based institutions is too high?
Well, anything that is of good quality cannot be cheap. Education is not cheap. You need to go and check how much the government used to subsidise every student in the public university, you will know that it is not cheap. To have a very good laboratory costs much.
What is your take on calls for the extension of TETFund grant to private institutions?
I believe that the taxes are gotten from everybody and therefore since private universities are not producing graduates for themselves, I feel that it should be for all the institutions.
But we are being careful about that because he who pays the piper dictates the tune. If such funds would be given, it could be for something that would not bring unnecessary control on the private institutions, because they should be allowed to use their initiatives. They should be innovative, think out of the box and be able to make their programmes be at par with any institutions abroad.
It could be given for research or sponsorship of our scholars that want to go for postgraduate programmes but I personally will not want a situation where money is put in the hands of the universities.
They could allow our faculties to compete with others in the private universities for capacity building and research grants rather than handing money into the hands of private institutions, which could lead to overbearing situations as well as stifle initiatives and innovations.
There has been public outcry on the increased number of first class graduates being churned out by private universities, including Babcock. Do you just help your students to pass to create the impression that they are better than their public university counterparts?
I will say absolutely no. I think garbage in, garbage out. Secondly, when teachers see themselves as ‘locus parenthis’, and they give all their time, energy to ensure that students succeed, it will be foolhardy of anybody to say those who passed should be failed because we don’t want to be in first class.
I believe that the true test of the worth and credibility of grace given to us as well as the performance of the graduates at externally moderated board exams have proven us right as an institution. Take for example, our students’ performance with their colleagues at the law school; in the last three years, Babcock University came first among about 50 universities running law in the whole country.
It is not good to make an allegation without empirically validating it, and the best way to do this is the performance of these graduates when they meet with their counterparts in other institutions or in the world of work.
A total of 52 of our students just last year alone became chartered accountants; those are indices that could judge the performance of our students.
What do you think is the missing link in our education system?
The missing link in the sector starts from basic education, today many of our students at the basic level do not have all those rudiments and when the foundation is weak, you cannot perform a magic to build on a very shaky foundation. I want to believe that if we will have a strong educational system, we need to start from the elementary education, starting with having trained and qualified teachers manning our elementary education. Having not disgruntled or rather motivated teachers in our elementary education that see teaching as a calling and are passionate about it.
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