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Why Nigerian varsities are poorly rated, by Fountain VC

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Prof Amidu Sanni


Vice Chancellor, Fountain University, Osogbo, Osun State, Prof Amidu Sanni who was recently appointed on the board of Times Higher Education ( THE), the world universities ranking organisation in this interview with IYABO LAWAL spoke on the admission crisis in our universities, what government can do to address the challenges and why private universities should be supported in the task of providing qualitative education to our teeming admission seekers.

Most Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) candidates are denied admission into universities even when they perform excellently, what do you think is the real issue behind this challenge? 
Space is a major constraint. If we’re to go by statistics, we have far lesser number of universities than we are supposed to have in Nigeria today. People say we have many universities but that is not correct. We need more philanthropists to invest in university education to create more spaces than we currently have, so that our children can be catered for. If not, the capital flight to our neighbouring countries with poorer standard of education will only continue.

But what is the significance of these new universities being established almost on daily basis by government and individuals when their enrolment figure is very poor, sometimes not more than 1,000? 
There are many reasons why many of the universities being established cannot significantly help in reducing the number of applicants roaming the streets. Funding is a basic challenge, even for public institutions. The funding challenge has led to poor facilities and human resources. Many institutions cannot engage quality hands because they are not attractive in terms of facilities. There is something referred to as the carrying capacity of every institution. If your facilities can only cater for 40 students in a particular programme, you cannot admit 80.

So if we have about 200 people qualified, scoring above the minimum, it means about 160 would be denied admission due to space. And the major reason for this is because we politicise everything in this country. Rather than expanding existing facilities across major higher institutions, we would always want to allocate universities to every community as if they are drainage construction projects that must reach every village. There is a state in Nigeria that has about four universities but cannot effectively run a single one. But by the time a new government wanted to harmonise the universities, it became a serious political issue. 

What is the way out?
Government must liberalise investment in education, they must assist the universities to run properly, including privately owned ones. Lecturers must be assisted academically through research grants, endowment funds and different packages of interests on loans. The truth is that if a lecturer of a private university wins Nobel Prize, he or she would first be addressed as a Nigerian lecturer and not a private university don. We must realise that it is the inability of the public institutions to accommodate all the applicants that led to the establishment of private ones. So they must be accorded the respect of providing complementary roles and should be supported except it is discovered they are only profit-driven.

Are these part of the reasons our universities are not rated well on the global map? 
Yes, we cannot dissociate all these issues of dearth of facilities, poor infrastructure, terrible learning environment, lack of adequate human resources and poor visibility on the global scene from the poor ranking records our universities keep at both the continental and global levels. The most disastrous of them all is the industrial disharmony on our various campuses.

Each time our university workers go on strike, then, we have demarketed the institutions. We can neither attract foreign students nor foreign lecturers. We have restricted ourselves to local champions. So we need to demilitarise the workers’ unions on our university campuses. Too much unionisation leads to arrogance of power, and as we have seen in our own cases across public institutions in Nigeria, the issues leading to industrial actions are usually selfish and not about what will lift the institutions.

So what is your take on this controversial issue of Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) introduced by the Federal  Government  but rejected by the Academic Staff Union of a Universities ( ASUU)?
The simple truth is that employees cannot dictate how he or she would be paid by the employer. What is sacrosanct is that your labour must be adequately remunerated and you receive it as and when due. But for university lecturers to dictate how they will be paid by the government is something unheard of. In a sane clime, if you are not satisfied with my own accountable means of ensuring your payment, then you leave my system.

So having identified all these issues, what are the things your institution is attempting to do differently?
By March this year, I would be two years in office as the vice chancellor of this institution.  Many people call us faith-based but we are not. Instead, we are simply faith-inspired and when we get to the areas of partnerships we have created, you would realise that Fountain University is like any other university globally. 

As an individual, I had my first degree from the University of Ibadan in 1979 and my PhD in Comparative Literature at the University of London. I’ve served as visiting professor at Oxford University, New York University, and as a scholar in Cambridge, and across other universities in Israel, Netherlands, Middle East, UK and America. But primarily, I had been with the Lagos State University (LASU) from inception in 1984 until my appointment here. I have given this background to let you know how much of the experiences I have garnered over the years are currently being put into use at this institution. Within the last two years, we have redrafted a new master plan for the university, which has just been submitted to the NUC. Our investment is in the area of technology. The new master plan is projecting nine colleges within the next 10 years with an enrolment population of 10,000 students and 714 academic and non-academic staff.

How are you working towards achieving this?
The first thing is that we are reviewing our curricula because the truth is that the reigning academic programmes of today will be largely irrelevant in the next 10 years. So our focus is on rebuilding our programmes and making them more practical-oriented.Even our students in Political Science classes must experience internship before graduation. Let them be posted to political institutions like electoral commissions, houses of assembly, political institutions but not political parties. 

Currently we have two colleges of Management Sciences, and Natural and Applied Sciences. We started with 11 programmes but about five others were added few years later. I can tell you that recently, the University Senate has approved 38 new programmes, cutting across Law, Education, Basic Medical and Health Sciences, Arts and, of course, Engineering.

We’re going to do this in phases because we need to put the materials, equipment and structures in place first. Before the end of 2020, we would have the College of Basic Medical and Health Sciences in place for our Nursing programme and other paramedical courses. 

Funding is a major challenge as you said earlier, how do you intend to raise enough funding for this?
We understand this challenge and we are being creative about fund raising. We currently rely on fees paid by students which is the cheapest charged by private universities in Nigeria. But we have introduced Education Trust Fund, and we are working on a model tagged “SSDN credit plan’ which will allow interested people to credit the university’s account by dialing codes or each time they recharge their mobile lines, certain percentage is credited to the university.

Also, many philanthropists have taken up one project or the other and many of these will be inaugurated as part of our activities to mark the university’s weeklong convocation ceremony which is scheduled to hold next week. The government of UAE is also supporting and we are partnering other universities for exchange programmes.

One of the institutions you are partnering is Catholic University of Belgium, would issues of differences in faith arise?
Let me shock you further, we are not just partnering the Catholic University of Belgium, we are also in partnership with other faith-inspired institutions in Nigeria including Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State. At least, we all know the university is an offshoot of a popular church in Nigeria. We just sent our team there to understudy some areas of administration. We have consistently said it that this university is only faith-inspired and not established to teach about Islam alone. For the Catholic University, we are partnering in the area of arts and is purely academic.

There are Christian professors working here and our chief security officer is a Christian. The truth is that the best contributors to knowledge of Islam and Arabic Language are non-Muslims. So, we partner individuals and institutions based on their knowledge and what they can offer our university in the area of academics. For instance, we have had the world renowned professor of History, Toyin Falola to deliver lecture here, and this year, a Professor of African Religious Traditions at Harvard, Jacob Olupona, will deliver the convocation lecture.


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