‘Technology varsities require good funding to impact society’
Vice Chancellor, Ondo State University of Science and Technology (OSUSTECH), Okitipupa, and former Vice Chancellor of University of Lagos (UNILAG), Prof. Tolu Odugbemi, is bowing out of office soon. The former two-term provost of College of Medicine, UNILAG, who is also an honourary degree awardee of the University of Sheffield, United Kingdom and a distinguished fellow, National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria (DFMC), is departing after successfully steering OSUSTECH in the last five years. In a chat with journalists, the university administrator spoke on some innovations he brought to bear in the school, as well as pertinent issues affecting science and technology education in the country. He also spoke on the challenges of administering a new university. UJUNWA ATUEYI was there. Excerpts
What are the challenges of running a new and growing university of science and technology in a developing nation?
The task of starting off, and running a new university, especially in a developing nation like Nigeria has been quite challenging and enormous. I must say, however, that the challenges have been quite surmountable.
At the inauguration of the governing council of the university on September, 27, 2010, by the Ondo State Governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, the first major task before the then council was how to retrieve the operating licence of the university, which was withdrawn by the National Universities Commission (NUC), apparently due to the failure of the university to commence academic activities three years after its initial establishment, and also for lack of infrastructural facilities to support the effective take-off of the new university.
At inception in September 2010, there were no students, no academic, technical and administrative staff. OSUSTECH then had only existed in name without any concrete and meaningful facilities on ground. Given this background, there was no way the NUC could have restored the operating licence it had earlier withdrawn.
As the vice chancellor, I decided to pursue with vigour, the retrieval of the licence from NUC. After interactions with them, they agreed to dispatch a four-man resource verification team to the university in November 2010 to assess the quantity and quality of available facilities on ground.
The attention of the governor was drawn to this request and he immediately set in motion the process of identifying and acquiring a take-off site for the university. The new site upon identification at Idepe, Okitipupa, was renovated and the governor approved a take-off grant to the new council for the procurement of vital equipment for a science and technology institution, and for the erection of new and additional buildings at the take-off site.
Following the successful visit and the positive recommendation of the team, the NUC formally restored the operating licence and approved that the university could commence academic activities with 10 approved programmes in the Faculty of Science.
Therefore, academic activities formally commenced at OSUSTECH in January 2011, with 98 pioneer students. The formal inauguration of the university was performed on Thursday, March 3, 2011 by Mimiko.
Accreditation of courses is another major challenge faced by new institutions. How has OSUSTECH fared in this regard?
All the academic programmes being run in OSUSTECH have been accredited by the NUC. The university played host to the NUC accreditation teams between Monday February 25 and Wednesday, March 6, 2013. The following programmes: Industrial Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Geophysics, Microbiology, Zoology, Botany, Fisheries and Computer Science had full accreditation, while one programme, Biochemistry, had interim accreditation status.
The various laboratories, equipment and facilities at the university libraries and farms were adjudged adequate during the accreditation exercise. Efforts are also underway to start off the faculties of agriculture and engineering. Academic briefs for the proposed facilities have been prepared and made ready for submission to the NUC for approval. The Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) too has started the furnishing and equipping of engineering workshops and laboratories in the university.
Despite a seemingly large amount of varsities, Nigeria’s technological growth is still stunted. Why so?
One of the major challenges of universities and research institutions in Nigeria has been poor, or lack of funding from governments at all levels. Most universities especially universities of technology require good funding to be able to make meaningful impact towards the technological advancement of the country.
Another one is the issue of unsteady electricity. A situation where universities and research institutes rely on generators to provide electricity and power vital research equipment does not augur well for industrial growth. Therefore, for any meaningful development to take place, especially, technological breakthrough in the area of motorcar production, there must be effort in the direction of steady electricity, coupled with the improvement and funding of the steel sector of the economy.
Apart from this, most research outputs from these institutions are hardly appropriated or utilised by governments and companies involved in the production of vital materials needed for industrial growth. The government for instance, requires a great deal of political will to be able to provide the needed environment for healthy technological and industrial growth.
How can Nigeria develop its science and technology base?
First, there must be proper funding of universities and research institutes to enable them focus on their primary assignments.
Secondly, government should provide a conducive environment for sustainable growth and development. In this regard, attention should be paid to the development of vital key sectors like energy and steel.
Thirdly, there should be workable synergy between the universities and the industrial sector. The research outputs from these institutions should serve as veritable tools for industrial development.
OSUSTECH recently witnessed students’ unrest over fee increament. How did that happen?
Let me start by correcting the wrong impression that there was a “hike” in school fees at OSUSTECH. That never happened. The governing council at its inaugural meeting on September 27, approved inter alia a fee of N100, 000.00 and N150, 000.00 per session for indigenes and non-indigenes respectively. This fee schedule has since been maintained in the last five sessions. Students only took advantage of the tensed situation on campus, brought about by agitations by staff members, over unpaid salaries, to clamour for a reduction in school fees, and for improved infrastructural facilities. They (students) never protested against fee hike.
Appointments and promotions in tertiary institutions have been subjected to several mundane considerations. What are your views on this?
Appointments and promotions into positions in the university system should be based on merit, or measured in terms of performance and output and not based on ethnicity or sentiments. There should be no “preferred community candidate” for positions in a modern university setting, where people from all walks of life should be free to work and contribute meaningfully to its development.
In the past, Nigerian universities used to have as faculty members, people from Britain, United States, Canada, Pakistan, India and from other African nations. We also used to have foreign students from these countries that came in large numbers to study in Nigeria. Today, the reverse is the case. This explains partly why many Nigerian universities fail to make the first top 500 in global ranking of universities.
OSUSTECH as a modern university should not be seen to encourage or promote sectionalism, division or sentiments. The notion that the university that is located in a particular environment is meant to serve the interest of the community alone should be discouraged.
Attempt should be made by government and people of goodwill to enlighten and re-orientate people from various host communities that universities are meant for the generality of Nigerians. They are not established to serve parochial interests.
The local politicians too should also be re-orientated not to interfere in the internal administration of institution(s) located in their domains. People tend to see tertiary institutions established in their localities as “personal institutions,” which should be exploited for personal gains and for the pursuit of personal agenda for political and economic gains. No modern university can thrive in a hostile environment.
What should be expected from OSUSTECH in the long term?
The dream of the governor is to make OSUSTECH a model and one of the best universities of technology in the world. This therefore, informed the decision of OSUSTECH management to establish the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Leadership Training (CELT). The ultimate aim of this centre is to inculcate practical training skills in our students in other to make them job creators and positive contributors to national growth.
The university management, as part of its effort to assist indigent students, has instituted the Work-Study Programme. The programme is designed to offer opportunities to brilliant, but indigent students to work on the university farms and factories during the weekends and holidays to support their education.
Therefore, I desire to see OSUSTECH after five years being ranked among the foremost universities of technology in Nigeria. I equally expect to see OSUSTECH in the next 10 years being among the best universities of technology in the world.