The Vice-Chancellor of the Federal University Oye Ekiti (FUOYE), Prof. Kayode Soremekun, speaks with ADEWUMI ADEMIJU about university education, and the establishment of private universities, among other issues
Do you subscribe to the claim in some quarters that proliferation of private universities has reduced the quality of university education in the country?
Let me begin by saying that it is not always good enough to generalise issues. The fact that you have an expansion in the number of private universities does not mean that the quality has declined necessarily. I, for one can speak from personal experience. In the course of my career, I have worked in one of the private universities and it is possible for me to say that private universities have added value to the Nigerian university system. Then, it will be unfair to say that the establishment has led to decline in the quality of graduates and scholarship. Some of these universities have continued to hold their heads.
For instance, in Covenant University, the facilities there are top rated and the living condition of the staff and students is of great quality.
Having said that, there is a downside in the sense that some of the private universities seem to be in the doldrums by not pulling their weight. I think in the course of time, market forces will sort out such universities.
Again, another point to note is that with the establishment of private universities, some fundamental issues have been thrown up which policy makers have to contend with and appreciate. There is great demand for university education, but in contrast effective demand is not yet there. Many people desire university education, but many still lack the capacity to fund it. Nigeria is still a poor country and few parents could afford to pay N500,000 as tuition. They are willing to have their children educated, but effective demand is not being met. In the process, many entrepreneurs have started universities only to realise that the number of students are not there.
There are few universities that have that number, while others are merely struggling probably for demographic space.
How has this university being able to cope with two campuses, when some of its contemporaries are still grappling with the challenges of dearth of infrastructure and facilities?
Well, we owe everything to God for the vision, and our commitment and strength such that the running of the two campuses has become fairly normal for us. This is what I inherited and to that extent, I have to take on the complexities. What we have been able to do to expand the resource base is to introduce a number of new academic programmes, which at the same time, are not only relevant, but also beneficial to the academic world.
Such courses include the pre-degree and superb programmes. We have been able to raise some funds from these two programmes to be able to deal with the onerous responsibilities of running the two campuses. There are also other projects we introduced to boost our internally generated revenue apart from the fact that the Federal Government gives us subventions for overhead cost. Though, the money could not be inadequate, because on piecemeal basis we receive N8 million. Also, don’t forget that we run two campuses and we need to buy diesel to run our generators throughout the day. We all realise that N8 million for two campuses is like a drop in the ocean.
What is the status of accreditation of the university’s academic programmes?
Getting courses accredited by the National Universities Commission (NUC) and other professional bodies has been a tough one in the sense that it comes with heavy financial cost in terms of providing necessary infrastructure and equipment. At some times, we were indebted to various contractors to the tune of about N300 million because we have to put in place structures and equipment, as well as equip the classrooms, libraries and the laboratories. But, at end of the day, all our courses have been accredited. The money spent, one can say has been justified.
You spoke about regulatory agencies; yes as a university and in spite of our age, we run engineering courses. We are answerable to two regulatory bodies, the COREN on one hand, and the National Universities Commission on the other. However, the good thing is that as the adage says that there are thorns, but there are still roses among the thorns such that we can say conveniently that if anybody subscribes to this university, he or she is subscribing to accredited courses.
Despite our age, this university has continued to be a preferred university of choice. From the latest Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) figure, this university in terms of preference by applicants is in the fifth position. Since I came on board, we have expanded to 60 academic programmes. But, as we expand, we also need to expand in the areas of infrastructure, lecture theatres, facilities and classrooms, among other necessities. We are building rapidly.
How would you describe the institution’s research profile, given the low research activities in Nigerian universities?
I want to slightly modify your perception about research. Research is still going on in Nigerian universities, but the more dangerous dimension is that a lot of these research activities are being funded by external agencies. That is dangerous for us and I am not too sure that the government is aware of the danger. When you throw your universities open to free flowing funds from the donor community, then of course, it is like selling the soul of the country. However, at FUOYE what we are trying to do is to encourage university-based journals.
There is an element of bias in the production of knowledge. If you don’t have your own platform of producing knowledge, you will simply be subscribing to other people’s platforms which have their own agenda. And, the best way to minimise that is to have your own platform for the production and dissemination of knowledge. That is why almost all our faculties have journals and we are trying to encourage them to do more. What we are also driving at is that when we are stabilised in the area of funding and in terms of a robust IGR, we will set aside some funds yearly which our scholars can access to fund their research.
In a shortest possible time, we will set aside a minimum of N100 million for our scholars for research. Let me say that we are not beating our chest about this because a hundred million is really a small amount, but we need to start from somewhere. If only we can increase the fund every year by N25 million, overtime we will have a robust research funds. For too long, our universities have ceded knowledge to global forces and this has inclement implications, and this university in this corner of the country will reverse the trend.
Given the claim that government alone cannot adequately fund universities and that the institutions should look inwards to generate revenue internally, what are you doing in this regard?
Like I said earlier, one of the major ways of generating income is through expansion of academic programmes and courses run by the universities. The more programmes you introduced, the more money will be generated through students’ fees. Though, such fees should be minimal but that will be a honey pot through which we can run the university.
For instance, we have embarked on auxiliary programmes like pre-degrees to prepare students for admission. Our next step is to leverage on the advantage of our environment by engaging those, who can be responsible solely in giving the university an edge in the area of developing agriculture. By this, we are talking about cutting-edge research in agriculture and commercial farms. We have a group of people that call themselves the face of the nation that are into agriculture.
Besides, we have also engaged in entrepreneur activities. We are bringing in people that will turn the university into a place that can be showcased in the area of agriculture, research and commercialisation of our products.
Poor budgeting to education by successive administrations since 1999 has been the bane of the sector. What is your take on this?
I will try as much as possible to be comprehensive on this matter. It is possible for me to sit here and say that universities needed more funding and specifically the Federal University, Oye-Ekiti, and that will mean that I am looking at issue purely from my own little corner. We have to appreciate the fact that the state itself has other commitments and demands to contend with. To that extent, one has to balance that larger government’s commitment with the specific commitment to the education sector.
In fact, once we are able to do that, then we will have a better grasp of the quantum of funding that a university like FUOYE requires. So, I strongly believe that since government is able to pay workers’ salaries, provide facilities through TETFund, as well as provide funding for capital expenditure and overheads, the universities too should devise creative programmes by which they can complement government’s efforts in that direction.
Of course, I am not saying that government should not increase funding to the institutions, but there should be a synergy between the government and other stakeholders. Part of the problems in this part of the world is that we have not learnt how to think outside the box. Once we are able do that, we will discover that the responsibility of funding education should also be complemented by other stakeholders.
Look at the University of Lagos; you will discover that over time, it has a resource base that is very robust. Although, one can argue further that UNILAG is able to do that in view of its peculiar location, it is also possible for other Nigerian universities to leverage on their environment to generate more income to run the universities.
One of the challenges facing the university in recent times is industrial disharmony by the workers’ unions, which has impacted negatively on the system, how do you think we could address this?
I think the way out is for government to pay more attention to the funding of education.
But, I want to also reiterate that the government alone cannot fund education. The private sector should be involved. This should be coupled with the minimal school fees from the students, commercial activities by the universities as well as grants from international donor agencies. These are platforms for which universities can generate funds for their operations.
For instance, as young as this university is, we have collaboration with the African Peace Building Network, a social component of the Research Council of New York. They brought funds, which we used to conduct workshops and seminars. Right now, we are involved in a major project; the herdsmen and farmers conflict, which is being funded by African Building Network. The Network has a Director in the country, who has been helping the university. I believe that the older universities are better positioned to access fund from international donor community.
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