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Nigeria’s problem is skill gap, says TECH-U VC

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Nigeria’s problem is skill gap, says TECH-U VC

The pioneer Vice-Chancellor of the First Technical University, Ibadan (First Tech-U), Prof. Ayobami Salami, in this interview with KAYODE OLANREWAJU, speaks about the Public Private Partnership model of the institution and its unique selling points

 

What has made First Technical University Ibadan differ from other universities and polytechnics?

Well, let me start by saying that before we commenced academic programmes at the university last year, there were a lot of criticism, apprehension and skeptism, but since we took off, we thank God that the criticism and skeptism have gradually given way for commendation. We are beginning to see the fruits of our labour and our hope has begun to brighten based on the earlier results we are currently seeing.

 

However, I have to keep on explaining this question until the general public understands the differences between us and other universities or polytechnics. But, let me say that polytechnics are supposed to be centre where people, who have skills are trained as technicians and technologists, while universities are supposed to be centres where those to be managers are trained.

 

The polytechnic graduates are supposed to have skills and less of managerial and theoretical skills, but to work under the managers. Indeed, university graduates are supposed to have more of theoretical and managerial abilities, and less of technical skills. But technical university is where we combined the two together. We have the people who have the technical skills and who combined it with the managerial ability. That differentiates the products of technical university from the products of the polytechnics and other conventional universities.

 

Even at that, we can still interrogate this further that if we look at the products of polytechnics there have been issues whether they really possess the skills they supposed to have. If we look at the products from conventional universities, the question has also been raised whether do they really have the skills and whether they can really live to the expectations of the society based on the certificates they possess?

 

I keep on reiterating that the issue or problem with Nigeria today, is not about knowledge gap, but that of skill gap. We have the challenge of skill gap in Nigeria whether the graduates are products of conventional universities or the polytechnics. Could the graduates from the system come out and “serve as plug and play” either in the industry or any organisation? In fact, this is what the First Technical University, Ibadan has come to address is to ensure that we do not only tackle the issue of knowledge gap, but also that of skill gap in the country.

 

Recently, the name of the institution was changed to First Technical University, Ibadan from Technical University, Ibadan. Why and is the new name going to give the university a new brand and the desired results?

 

First, the Act establishing the university was amended by the Oyo State House of Assembly recently based on the proposal that was sent to the House by the state government. It was not really a change, but a modification of the identity and focus of the university. The government inserts ‘First’ to the name to now become First Technical University, Ibadan. What we started today by the next fifteen years, it is going to become a model that many governments and private sector will begin to replicate in several places. Therefore, it is important for us to assert our positions in history from the word go and of course, we have many technical universities in other part of Africa; we have in Ghana, East and South Africa.

 

But none of these universities started abinitio as technical university. They started as polytechnics that eventually metamorphosed to technical universities. But in the entire West Africa, we are the first to be conceived, established and operated at take off as technical university. Apart from that, the amendment now allows the university to fully operate on the Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) model or arrangement, so that we can now be a high-breed of both the public and private sector.

 

This will also allow us to combine the advantages of the public university with that of the private university. That is, eating our cake and having it at the same time. The amendment also allows us to enter into robust collaborations with the private sector in furtherance of the mission and vision of this university towards ensuring that its laudable goals are achieved.

 

There is public outcry concerning the fees charged by the university. But, at what stage did the university consider the PPP arrangement, and how about the ownership structure and prospective investors under this arrangement?

 

Of course, let me say this loud and clearly that the First Technical University is fully and hundred per cent owned by the Oyo State Government. But, what the state government is doing is to allow the private sector to complement is efforts so that the burden will not rest squarely on it due to limited resources and given the reality on ground within the Nigerian milieu so as to realistically be able to generate and assess the resources needed for full implementation and execution of this mission. The government realises that it alone will not be able to shoulder the responsibility, and so they are providing a window for the private sector to come and complement the efforts.

 

But many parents cannot afford the high tuition fees charged by the university Let us face the fact, education is a social responsibility, and it is only when people want to play politics that they don’t want to say the truth. The reality on ground is that the government has not really been able to fund tertiary education in the country to the level that is expected.

 

If the government really don’t want to pay the full bill, and if we don’t want parent to pay it, then definitely there is going to be deficiency on the part of the products. Now, we are a public institution having the support of the government, while at the same time we are allowed to also leverage on the opportunities available within the private sector so that we will be able to have the capacity to do what is expected of us without having problem with the products.

 

We have made provisions for all the students so that those who cannot afford the fees will still be graduate based on our various intervention programmes for indigent students.

 

Who then are these investors in the university project?

Specifically, let me also mention the various investors we have in this university enterprise. First, we are looking for ‘Business Partners.’

 

But business part ners can only operate within the limited space in the university such as in the area that we want to build hostels, they can come in and we will arrange that. That is the limited space in which they can operate, especially in the area of building of hotels. Of course, beyond that we are also looking for ‘Angel Investors,’ these are people or organisations, who see this vision and objective as worthy, which they yearned for, but they don’t see the avenue or someone that really approximate that vision. They have the resources and mind for the society, but they didn’t see what they want. Now that have seen us doing it, they want to support us.

 

These Angel investors do not want to be known or seen; neither do they want to be given the credit nor want profit. That is why they are called AngelInvestors.

 

Theyneitherwantrecognition nor name, but what they are after is to contribute meaningfully to a worthy course. It will surprise you that withinthe first year of our operation we have had angel investors in this university, who do not want to be mentioned or looking for any returns on their investments. They see it as something that is good for the country and want to be part of the vision. Besides, the university is also looking for ‘Legacy Donors.’

 

The Legacy Donors are not also looking for profit, they want is to immortalise their name. They see a worthy course and they want to say I am part of it and not that they want any profit. Let me give an example of Legacy Donors we have – AMNI Petroleum International Company; is a legacy donor of the university. On their own, they have decided to build AMNI International Institute in this university that will cost over N1 billion.

 

The institute is going to be named after AMNI, but they are not expecting any profit, or looking for any reward or returns. This PPP venture is not for those looking for profit, and those looking for profit should look elsewhere and not First Technical University.

 

Let’s look at the academic programmes run by the university in terms of their relevance to the needs of the country and their accreditation status by the National Universities Commission (NUC)?

 

First and foremost, let me reaffirm that before we commenced full academic activities at the university, NUC decided to conduct resource verification to the university in July, last year, and the aim was to assess our resources both in human and material and to know whether we could actually deliver on what we promised based on what is available.

 

They came in July and by August 1, 2017 we were given clean bill of ‘F’ to run 15 programmes. Also, let me put it on record that when we applied to NUC, we applied for 14 academic programmes, but the commission came and saw what we have in terms of human and infrastructural resources, they said we are qualified to have 15 programmes and addition was made to our submission. On the relevance of these programmes, I want to look at it from two perspectives, especially in terms of programmes we are running that are not common in other conventional universities. I want to start with Biomedical Engineering.

 

In Nigeria today and perhaps the university system, only University of Lagos is running Biomedical Engineering and they started with us last year. So, in the country today we have only two universities running this course. In fact, the nation’s health institutions today use sophisticated equipment which are imported and whenever they break down we don’t have the people who can carry out actual maintenance, service and repair on the facilities. This university is filling the skill gaps by running Biomedical Engineering programme by training graduates in that area. On Cyber Security, there no university in Nigeria today that is running a B.Sc programme in cyber security, except this new university.

 

This is a digital age, in which we are moving to e-governance, e-security and ebanking. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), banks, security and private organisations are talking about it, but we don’t seem to be doing anything in that regard. Unfortunately, Nigeria in global ranking is the third in cyber-crime after United States and United Kingdom, but we don’t have people who are really trained or skilled to deal with that. This university is filling that gap to train graduates that can actual mitigate the issue of cyber-crime in Nigeria.

 

Thirdly, in the area of Software Engineering; accounting system, banks, security agencies and many other organisations are running on software. But, we don’t have a university, except FUTA that has just commenced programme on Software Engineering. So, these are the areas where there is glaring gaps to be filled.

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