Tuesday, August 28, 2018 9:23 pm
When the Oyo State Governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi in May 2017 appointed former Deputy Vice Chancellor, Academics, of the Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU, Ile-Ife, Professor Ayobami Salami, as pioneer Vice Chancellor of the First Technical University, Tech-U, Ibadan, his role was to prepare the ground for ensuring the vision of turning the institution into a world class university. One year on, in a parley with some journalists including Gbenro Adesina, Professor Salami bears his mind on the state of the university.
Q: What makes technical university different from polytechnics and universities of technology?
A: Let me first of all appreciate the media for the tremendous support we have received so far.bBefore we kick-started the programme last year, I had series of interactions with various media organisations and there were a lot of skepticism, questions and apprehension. We have been in the business for the past one year and so far we thank God that now, criticism is gradually giving way to commendation. We are beginning to see the fruit of our labour and our hope is brightened by the early result we are seeing. I must say that the media is part of our success story.
Now to your question. I have had to answer this question several times and we have to keep on explaining until the general public get to understand the main difference between us and other universities or polytechnics. Let me start with the polytechnics. Polytechnics are supposed to be centres where people who have skills are trained. It is a centre where you have technicians and technologists. Universities are supposed to be centres where managers are trained. So, the polytechnic graduates are expected to have the skills but not so much on the theoretical and the managerial ability. They are supposed to work under managers. The universities are supposed to have more of theoretical and managerial ability with less of the skills. But the technical university is a university where you combine the two, where the people who have the technical skill combine it with the theoretical and managerial skills. That will differentiate the product of the technical university from the product of the polytechnic. If I interrogate that further, there have been a lot of issues concerning the graduates of polytechnics. Are they really having the skills they are supposed to have? Also, there is a question of whether the graduates of conventional universities are living up to expectations based on the certificate they possess. I keep on saying that the issue in Nigeria is not about knowledge gap, it is about skill gap. We have skill gap in Nigeria today. Whether you go to the conventional university or you go to the polytechnic, at the end of the day, when the graduates come out, they cannot serve as plug and play whether in the industry or in any organisation. The technical university has come on board to ensure that we address the issue of knowledge gap and skill gap in this country
Q: What do you feel about the changing of the name of the institution?
A: Recently, the bill or the act establishing the university was amended by the Oyo State House of Assembly based on the proposal that was sent to the assembly. I don’t know whether it is a change of name or just a modification. We used to be called technical university. Now the government insert the word “first” before technical university. We are now First Technical University. Let me explain the reason behind that. By the grace of God, what we are starting in this place, in about 15 years, it is going to be a model that government and private sector will begin to replicate in several places. Therefore, from the world go, it is important to assert our position in history. Let me say that historically, we have many technical universities in other parts of Africa. We have in Ghana, East Africa and South Africa. None of these universities started ab initio as technical university. They started as polytechnics which eventually metamorphosed to technical universities, just like you have colleges of education that have been upgraded to degree awarding institutions. But in the whole of West Africa, we are the first university that was conceived, established and operated from the world go as technical university. Just as you hear of First Bank now, when you hear First Bank, you don’t need to argue that that is First Bank on the Nigerian territory. So the modification of the name is to assert our place in history. Apart from that, that amendment also allows the university to fully operate on the PPP Model so that we can be an hybrid of both the public and private sector, so that we can combine the advantages of the public university with that of the private university. It is eating our cake and having it at the same time. That allows us to enter into robust collaboration with the private sector in furtherance of the mission of this university to ensure that the laudable goals of this university are achieved. Let us face the fact. It is only when people want to play politics that they don’t want to really say the truth. The fact remains that we know that education is a social responsibility; but the reality on ground is that government has not been able to fully fund the university education or tertiary education to the expected level in Nigeria. And there is no free lunch anywhere. The last time I was in Freetown I had to pay for my lunch and that was long time ago. If government is not ready to really pay the full bill and we don’t want the parents to pay it, definitely there is going to be deficiency on the part of the products. Now we are in the university that is having the support of the government and public institution. We are also allowed to leverage on the opportunities available with the private sector so that at the end of the day, we will be able to have the capacity to do what is expected of us and there will not be problem with the expected products.
Q: Considering the high fees you are charging your students, which ranges from Nine Hundred Thousand Naira to over a Million Naira, what is the ownership structure?
A: This University named, The First Technical University, is 100 per cent owned by the Oyo State Government. However, the government allows the private sector to come and complement its efforts. Government realises the fact that giving the competing demands and the available resources, the government alone will not be able to shoulder the responsibility. They are now giving a window for the private sector to come and complement the efforts of government. But it is not a profit making venture for any private sector coming in. Let me tell you the type of investors we have. One, we are looking at business partners that can operate within a limited space within the technical university like those who want to build hostels. They can come and we will partner on that. Another type of investor is called Angel investors. Angel investors are people who see this mission and objective to be worthy, something they have been yearning and crying for and they don’t see the avenue or they don’t see anybody that actually approximate that vision. They have the resources, they have the mind for the society but they don’t see anybody doing things they want. Now they see us doing it, they want to support us. They don’t want to be known, they don’t want to be given credit, they don’t want profit, they are not looking for name, they are not looking for return, they are not looking for recognition. That is why we called them Angel investors. Within the first year of operation we have had Angel investors in this university, those who are giving us things up till today. They are not mentioned. They are not looking for it and they are not getting any return. We also have legacy investors or donors. They are not also looking for profit but they want to immortalise their names. They see a worthy cause. They want to say that I am part of it without expecting anything. Let me give you an example of the legacy donor. AMNI International Petroleum Company. The chief executive is Chief Dr Tunde Afolabi. They on their own have decided to build AMNI international Institute in this university. That will cost over N1b. The building will be named after AMNI. They are not looking for any reward or returns. These are the kind of investors we are looking for. So when we talk of PPP, we are not talking of partners that we will be sharing profit with. This venture is not for those that are looking for profit. Anybody looking for profit should look elsewhere, not technical university.
Q: What are the courses you run and what are their relevancies to the country?
A: Before we commenced full academic activities, the National Universities Commission, NUC, which is one of the regulatory agencies in the educational sector in Nigeria decided to conduct what is called result verification to this university on July 12 to 14 2017. The aim was to assess our facilities; human and material resources and know whether we can actually drive what we promised to deliver based on what is available. By August 4 2017, we were given clean bill of health to run 15 programmes. When we applied to NUC, we actually applied for 14 programmes but when NUC came here and they saw what we have, both the facilities and human resources, they said we were qualified to have 15 programmes. These programmes are: Agricultural and Environmental Engineering, Biomedical Engineering and Food Science and Technology domiciled in the Department of Biomedical and Environmental Engineering, Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Mechatronic Engineering, domiciled in the Department of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, Petroleum Engineering domiciled in the Department of Mining and Geological Engineering, Microbiology domiciled in the Department of Biological Sciences, Industrial Chemistry and Physics with Electronics domiciled in the Department of Physical Science, Computer Science, Cyber security and Software Engineering domiciled in the Department of Computational Science and Mathematics and Statistics domiciled in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.
These programmes are relevant to our society. First our programmes are not common in other conventional universities. I want to start with Biomedical Engineering. In Nigeria today, perhaps, there are only two universities running this course and the universities are University of Lagos and our university. We both started together last year. When you look at our health facilities in our country today, they used a lot of sophisticated equipment that have to be imported because they are not manufactured in Nigeria. When they break down, we don’t have people that can repair or maintain them. When they break down, you have to fly in experts from outside Nigeria to come and either repair or maintain or you have to look for money to buy another one. So you buy lot of equipment because of lack of maintenance. So, we are filling this skill gap by running biomedical engineering. So that these sophisticated equipment can be repaired and maintained by the people that are trained in Nigeria. Again, Cyber Security. I don’t know any university in Nigeria today that is running B.Sc. in Cyber Security. This is a digital age. We want to move to e-governance, e-security, e-banking. One of the major problems that go with the digital age is the issue of cyber crime. Everybody and all institutions including security, banks etc. are talking about it. By global ranking, Nigeria is number three in the world with respect to cyber crime after the United State of America and United Kingdom. But we don’t have people who are trained and skilled to deal with that. This university is filling that gap to train people that can actually mitigate the issue of cyber crime in Nigeria.
Thirdly, Software Engineering. When you are a good software engineer, you don’t need to look for job. You don’t need to look for office to rent in Victoria Island; all you need is your laptop and internet connectivity and your room. What NTA is doing today is about programme. You can just write programme and make your money from it. Any good software engineer does not go around knocking on the doors. You look at the problems that people are having, write software for it and everything on your software now. I think it is only our university and FUTA that run software engineering. These are the areas where there is gap that need to be filled.
The way we also train our students here is different from the way the conventional universities train their students. What will be the justification for parents to come to technical university and train their children in Mechanical Engineering if he can take him to the University of Ibadan and Obafemi Awolowo University? What is our unique advantage and selling point? We train to fit the purpose. We have divided our programme into two components. 60 per cent of the courses are taking by our lecturers and the remaining forty per cent is taken by the professionals in the field. You are trained by both the lecturers and industry professionals. Our products are not just our products but products of both the university and the industry. We have signed MoU with the Nigeria Society of Engineers and the private sector to reserve spaces for our students for industrial exposure where facilities for their training are available. I worked in conventional university for 30 years before coming here as a pioneer vice chancellor. There is what is called SIWES in conventional universities. SIWES is run this day to fulfil all righteousness because they don’t have places. The students are thrown to the field to go and look for where they can do it and they just come and submit the report. But we are not going that way. Based on our agreement with the private sector, we have secured spaces for them where facilities are available for their training. We don’t send a mechanical engineering student to a pure water factory and just spend six month so that you can write your report, no. Also, our students just don’t write project in their final year because their project is their products. Every student before you graduate must solve one societal problem. You must do something in your final year thesis that brings practical solution to a problem in your field of study. That is why we are collaborating with the industry. The industry will tell us their challenges and this is what the students will turn to their project. Again our students will not be just certificate wielding graduates. From the world go, they attend the school of entrepreneurship and vocational studies. In that school, you enrolled in at least two major vocations of your choice related to your field. And you will go through that training for three years and you will be certificated. In your third year, you are asked to write business proposal based on those vocations.
Bank of Industry has signified intention to partner with us to sponsor some of those projects so that while the students are still in the university, they can begin to have this projects executed and we monitor them. We plan it to take place in the third year. I am happy to tell you it has started to happen right from the first year. The World Bank on their own after looking at what we have been doing, and seeing that we fit into their expectation, approached us that they wanted to work with us. Currently, there is a boot camp that is going on in this university organised by the World Bank and they are taking our students through vocational training based on what we have taught them. The World Bank has decided that at the end of it, three of the best ideas would be supported by the bank. They will award prizes for the first, second and third and that money is not going to the pocket of the student, it is going to finance that ideas.
Q: Don’t you think that ASUU strike will affect all of these lofty ideas should there be a reason for them to agitate?
A: The First Technical University will not be plagued by the strike epidemic that is common in the public universities in Nigeria. Once you bring your children to our school, if a student does not fail, you can predict when the student will graduate. We are going to run a stable calendar. Remember I told you that this is not just a public university. It is a public university with private university orientation. So, the issue of industrial crisis doesn’t arise. Let us really interrogate that. What is the reason for industrial crisis? The major reason is welfare of staff. It is when the employer of labour fails to live up to the expectation and they renege on their agreement they made with the workers that the workers now begin to disrupt the system. At the technical university, we are very proactive. No one will agitate if his/her welfare is adequately taken care of. Remember, nobody was born as a militant. You become a militant when you discover that nobody is ready to listen to you and nobody thinks about your welfare and well being.
In public universities today, one of the things that people are fighting for is earned allowances which they are expecting universities to pay. Some public universities will tell you they owe 27 months, 38 months. From the world go, technical university started paying these allowances without anybody putting a rope around our neck. We are paying the hazard allowances without anybody agitating for it right from the world go. We pay the senior workers, we pay the junior workers. Another issue is retirement. No worker in any public university in Nigeria has a better retirement package than what we offer in the technical university today. By the pension law, government pays seven and half per cent. The employer of labour pays seven and half per cent making 15 per cent. At the end of the day, there is a problem of government remitting its part. In technical university, as I am talking to you today, we have discussed with our workers that for them to have peace when they retire, they should agree with the new law that they should pay eight per cent and the university is paying 10 per cent. So, every worker that is working here has 18 per cent of his salary every month. They are invested for him or her by his own preferred pension administrator. We remit this fund on or before 10th of every month and till date, we have not defaulted. We don’t wait for crisis. When you have what you don’t have in other places, what will be the reason for you to agitate? Even the salary we offer in technical university is more than what any public university offers today. No worker in public university today earns what we pay in technical university Ibadan and yet we are new.
Q: Are your staff members of trade union like ASUU, NASU and the rest
A: By law, the workers are not expected to be part of any trade union for the first five years. Apart from that, because we are not just public university, we are running on PPP model, unionism in our campus will not be a kind of combative one that you have anywhere. I can assure you once again that any parent that comes here with his/her ward can be sure of the date of their graduation.
Q: What are the challenges you are facing? Besides, what is the source of the salaries that you pay your staff since Oyo State Government is not paying your salaries? What iarr your students and staff strength?
A: Since our establishment as a public university with private sector orientation, we are not expected to depend on the government hand out on the monthly basis to pay our salary. We are clear from the beginning that this is not a university that would be depending on subvention from the government to pay salary. So, what we do is that we have these four sources of fund. One, we have the government grant, not subvention. The government gave us take-off grant and they made it clear that they will not pay salary. That is why have decided to leverage and look outward for these three types of partners I have talked about. We have business partner who invest with us within the university. For instance, we are going to have a four star hotel in this university. The University will not be the one to pay a dime for that. The Private sector will be encouraged to establish it and get into a kind of an arrangement with them whereby we share the profit. The land we have is the equity. The environment we have is what we are providing. We are not giving a dime. The accommodation that is springing up now is being sponsored by a private sector 100 per cent. At the end of every month, we are providing the students, we have provided the model. You are not to come and build what you like. We don’t want you to come and build ramshackle facility. We have our master plan. We will give you the model. This is it. Can you build to this specification? If the answer is yes, we will get our own experts to monitor the project, to make sure that you build to our expectation. When that is done, we are the one who will collect rent. The students will come in and pay to us. We will take 25 per cent of the gross. We now remit the remaining 75 per cent to you. Out of that you pay the salary of the staff, you pay your electricity, you take care of water, maintain the structure and do other things. So we are not bothered about the porters going on strike or that the clerks are not paid. And once you don’t perform, we terminate it.
When people talk about our fees being high, it is either you have what is quality or you don’t have it. Though, we charge the fees that is higher than what is paid in conventional universities, we have also created a basket of fund for the indigents students to access so that nobody who is qualified would be denied on the account of inability to pay. One thing we will not do is to subsidise the rich but we will not deny the poor the access. There is no reason to subsidise those that can afford it and those who cannot afford it I don’t know the reason why we should not assist them. I said it during a press conference last year that the university has raised scholarship fund of about N500m. Between that time and now, I can also announce to you that the amount of fund that we have raised for scholarship fund is at least N700m for the indigent students. That is how things work. So the fees are higher than that of conventional universities but we have created avenue for people who are qualified but who may not have the means to come. But we want to set a standard that we don’t want to compromise. We don’t want to run a university where you only run alternative to practical because there is no funding. We don’t run a university where five students will be sharing one microscope and the model of that microscope is 1973. We don’t run a university where we need to take you on field trip and we will say go and bring money from your parents and if you can’t pay, you can’t go on field trip. Once students come in here, everything is taken care of. Field trips, chemical, facility, equipment, including IT is made available. We have set a standard which we don’t want to go below. We need to understand that this standard comes at a cost. The cost must be shared by the parents and the government. That is what we are preaching in this university. It is a university where government and parents collaborate to secure the future of their wards.
Q: What about the staff strength?
A: Let me say that the staff strength is growing every time. It is a continuous process. The last set that we matriculated was 183 students. I want to assure you that this university is not for mass production. The maximum students our classroom can accommodate is 24 so that there can be proper interaction between the students and the lecturers. Every classroom is fully air-conditioned. We want conducive environment for learning and we replicate what people go to look for abroad. Why should people send their children to Ghana where some universities operate in shopping mall? I have been there. Why do we have to earn money in naira and change to pound sterling to send children to UK? Even now at this university, we say there must be internationalisation of our students, of our faculty and of our programmes so that you can come in here and have international exposure.
We have signed a partnership agreement with Tech University, Texas, the United States of America. It belongs to the top three per cent of the best university in the world. That tells you that we are bench marking with the best. We have signed what is called 4 +1 X agreement meaning if you bring your child to this university to run a five year programme, out of the five years, a year will be in USA. We don’t want it to be at the final year so that we will not give room for anyone to run away. You spend the first two years here. The third year you spend in Tech University, Texas and the remaining two years you will spend here. Once you finished, you have automatic admission for Master Degree programme in Tech University in Texas. When you know that your place is already reserved, you don’t have any reason to run away. In that case, it is for Nigerians of means, you don’t need to ship your children prematurely to USA because you want them to have international exposure. Right from here, they become part of American system because part of their undergraduate programme will be done in USA and once they finished here, they are taken away from us by Tech University Texas for their masters’ programmes. After the masters programme, they can now decide what they want to do with their lives. Whether they want to go for PhD, whether they want to go and look for job. That is what we mean by 4+ 1 X. That X is undefined.
Q: Our education in Nigeria seems to be falling? What do you think is missing in our educational sector that you think that this university can do justice to
A: I want to say that it is a relative term. For instance, when university of Ibadan started, how many students were in the class? How many lecturers did they have? What were the facilities available? So, if you can match the number of students with the staff and the ratio and the products you have at that time, compare it now. When you have a situation where you have maybe ratio one to three students, everything is taken. But now you have ratio one to fifty. If the lecturers are achieving the standard they are achieving now, you find out that they are putting in more than then. It is easy to begin to blame the lecturers, or blame the students that the standard is falling but we are comparing apple with onion. So we have to compare apple with apple. That is what we want to get right and we are getting right in this university to make sure that the facilities are there. We want to make sure that the students and staff ratio is there, that the enabling environment is guaranteed, that we replicate what people look for outside Nigeria within the Nigerian space.
Q: How have you been able to source for the lecturers that are taking the new courses that you have introduced in your school?
A: Like I said earlier on, the concept of technical university is not only to depend on what is available in Nigeria but to look for appropriate personnel anywhere to complement what we have here. But what we have here we will not go outside to look for it. But what we don’t have here, we will look for wherever we can get it until we can be able to capacitate ourselves. What we are trying to do is capacity for capacity building. We are not just involved in capacity building. To this effect, any area we don’t have people within Nigeria, we will source for them elsewhere. For instance, we have appointed some visiting professors from USA. They don’t need to be here 12 months of the year. They only come here to take the aspect to which we don’t have the capacity. It might be for three months. It might be for two months. So, they come for that purpose, they finish and go back. They only come when we need them.
Q: These days, government is just licensing new universities leading to proliferation of universities in Nigeria. Do we really need some of these new universities?
A: According to JAMB, only 30 per cent of qualified students can be admitted into all the universities we have in Nigeria today. When people talk about many universities, I think we are not really putting it in context. What is our population? Look at London for instance. How many universities do we have in London alone? What is the population of London? In terms of population, I believe we don’t have enough universities in Nigeria if we are going to create access for all those who are qualified. The issue of more universities is not a problem. We actually need more. But I believe we need to go beyond expanding the access. We need to talk about improving the quality so that we don’t only over emphasise the expanding access without actually considering the quality and what will become of those students when they graduate? Will they become half baked? Will they become useful to themselves and the society? Will they be angry when they finish that they have certificates which are not useful to them or to the society? So they are angry with themselves and they are also angry with the society. That is what fuel increase in crime rate. You have youth who believe they have wasted a lot of their years going through training which at the end of the day are not useful to them as they are not beneficial to the society. So they take it on the society.
Q: Do you have a dress code? Can students carry pregnancy here?
A: On the issue of dress code, let me say, this is not a faith based university. However, we have code of conduct. For students to graduate in any school, he or she must be found worthy in learning and character. But the tragedy is that many universities only concentrate on learning and neglect character. The issue of character is really not taken care of properly. I want to assure you that in this university, we will ensure that our students qualify on these two parametres. We want to train responsible citizens who can be change agents, who can be moulded and be reference point among their colleagues. On the issue of sharp practices, I want to guarantee you that sharp practices cannot be justified by anybody and for whatever reason and will not be condoned. I want to assure you at the technical university, it is something we will not engage in otherwise we will lose our place as a role model, as a game changer.