‘Mentoring our students is key in our teaching approach’

Theophilus Oyeyemi Fadayomi, a professor of Economics and at presently the acting vice chancellor of Elizade University, Ilara Mokin, in this interview with IYABO LAWAL spoke on the challenges confronting private institutions, standard and quality of graduates being produced as well as why universities must embrace entrepreneurial studies.

Elizade University was established in 2012, how has the journey been so far?
We got the license in 2012 and started admitting students in 2013. This is a university that runs five faculties – Social and Management Sciences, Basic and Applied Sciences, Humanities, Engineering and the Faculty of Law. The university has got almost all its courses accredited. We started with 64 students but by this year, we have grown to 1,144 students and they are spread across the various faculties but the two major faculties where students are very much concentrated are engineering as well as social and management sciences.

What are the challenges and how are they tacked?
We have graduated our first set and glad to say that we have released the first set of our eagles to fly, we are confident that they are going to be good representatives because they have gone through a lot of training, both in their areas of study and in entrepreneurial studies.

Like any new university, one of the challenges we faced initially was that of enrolment; but now we have overcome that. We have just completed a 512-bedspace hostel and that is to say that we are beginning to face a lot of pressure on the facilities that we have.

The general belief is that the founder established the university to give back to his community and empower the youths, but fees being charged in private tertiary institutions are very high and out of reach of ordinary citizens. How affordable is Elizade University?
When compared with other private institutions, I think EU is very affordable and still within the reach of average Nigerians. It is the dream of the founder that this university should not be elitist to an extent that poor students are excluded; as a result, he established different types of scholarships. The founder, being very conscious of the limited opportunities in this community has also offered a lot of indigenes opportunity to attend this university for free.

There have been complaints and criticisms concerning standards of private universities, in fact, some refer to them as glorified secondary schools for lacking basic instructional and infrastructural facilities, what is your take on this?
Some of these notions are not well grounded because given the facilities in most of these private universities and the kind of experienced teachers that they have, and given the fact that these universities rarely go on strike, the opportunity is there for students to concentrate more on their studies than the public universities where they go on strike too often.

In most cases, students don’t get the full one semester’s lecture in public universities; this is different in private institutions where teachers are held responsible for really doing their duty in terms of teaching, and mentoring the students and trying to give them good standard.

In most of the private universities that I know, the standard is very high and the students are not as distracted as their counterparts in public institutions, where within the four-year period, you would find that the students in public universities may not be exposed enough to adequate pedagogy and instruction.

And again, in private universities, we introduce new technologies in the delivery of our courses. In this university for instance, you would barely see a lecturer who does not use the “high learning mode”, this is a system whereby when teaching, lectures are recorded and students have access to them after classes.

They can go online and listen to the lectures as many times as they want so that the thing can sink in. These young students need to be understood; they are different from the old generation. During our time, we just listen to lectures; we go to the library and read. We follow instructions. I can tell you that this new generation is impatient. This is because they have more potential than we had; you cannot keep their attention for too long. And you know they are used to the computers and smartphones, so you must give them the opportunity to learn at their own pace, and that is the importance of using new technologies to teach them.

Apart from new technologies, private universities also give a lot of do it assignments. We challenge them because they have more potentials than our generation. We must use what they know best, use the method that suits them best to teach and that is why a private university of this standard is much more equipped than a public university.

I think some universities in this country are not too understanding; it is true that students can use their smartphones for other things but if you encourage them to use it for what will benefit their studies, it is better than saying you cannot use it. We know that these are young people; that they can always go to some sites that are not healthy for them, we can encourage them to use it for their educational advancement, I think a lot of them will be able to benefit from it rather than say no smartphone. So I think that policy in some of the universities has to be revisited, it is not in the interest of the students, let us allow them to use what they are used to, to acquire the education we want them to have.

We need a new approach, a new educational system to harness the hidden talents in these children.

There is a growing anxiety concerning the attitude of the present crop of graduates being produced in our tertiary institutions, many of them are found to be lacking in character, what do you think is responsible for this and how can it be addressed?
It is an issue bothering everyone; these children are not from the moon, they are from the environment. If you look at the Nigerian environment, ask yourself what is the level of morality? That is what we must examine. What kind of homes are they coming from? Do they have enough care? Are we transmitting the culture, which we share to these kids?

These children are products of the society that has been crumbling for a long time, and if you want the university to churn out those calibre of students that will combine that with culture, it may be relatively different but the university today has realised that and a lot of efforts is being put into mentoring.

It has been observed that the curriculum in our tertiary institutions is not demand-driven, how do you think we can address this?
A lot of universities like ours are now thinking of how to innovate, by this, I mean there are some basic skills that university graduates must have. For example, they must be adept in the use of computer and some of the programmes, and the universities are beginning to say that all their students, even in history must not graduate without being able to operate the computer using the Microsoft application because that is the basic tool, either to work for yourself or in an organisation.

Funding is a major problem confronting tertiary education in the country, what is the situation at Elizade University?
We have been fortunate so far with one sole donor who is committed and ready to put in his last for this institution. However, we are not resting on our oars. The university is also thinking about Internally Generated Revenue (IGR); and our own concept of IGR, we believe if we are producing students that are going out there to create jobs, the department from where we are producing them must also be entrepreneurial.

Take for example, mass communication; we believe that the department should institute a training programme to train radio announcers and managers of radio stations. Then, we believe if we are teaching business administration, we must be able to write project appraisal; even history department, they can write biographies and make big income out of it. There is no limit to entrepreneurship. Our hospitality and hotel management can go into large-scale hospitality. We are not thinking from the box, rather we are thinking outside the box that is how you can run a university. It takes time but it gathers momentum.

What collaboration does the university have with older institutions in terms of mentoring?
The university has a lot of MoUs with some institutions in United States of America, Israel, South Africa now because we want to be sending our students to South Africa for practical training, especially those in automotive engineering. Toyota in SA is doing a lot of assemblage and manufacturing of spare parts and some of our students will be going there to learn firsthand from them.

Corruption is on the rise in the nation’s ivory tower, what is responsible for this and how can it be checkmated?
We should disabuse our minds that the ivory tower can be insulated from the environment. The culture of stealing is not part of us, we acquired it. I think our own corruption in Nigeria is an acquired one; it came with the nature of expansion of our economic opportunities. A lot of corruption came with oil boom, especially the government. They started discovering oil blocs, in the past, we never experienced corruption, the resources of our economy were cocoa; groundnut, cotton. Because people were involved in the production of these primary produce, the amount of corruption was limited.

The economy in the university is an extension of government’s corruption; government’s domination of resources.

What is your view about the general low ranking of Nigerian universities?
I think it is a wake up call, because these university teachers that are responsible for the low ranking, when they go abroad, they become top fliers.

Let us put more resources into our education, you would see the difference. If we invest in research, we will reap the result on research but our investment is never adequate for research, for one to excel in his profession, he must have the basic skills; let government also make the needed facilities available so that there would be no anxiety of any kind.

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