Ajayi Crowther University: church Iintervened because government has failed to provide social services


Having served in every aspect of the Nigerian university for over three decades, as lecturer and professor, member of governing council, director of academic centre, dean, deputy VC of Lagos State University, the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, recently appointed its Bishop Theologian, Rt. Rev. Prof. Dapo Folorunsho Asaju, as the third Vice Chancellor of Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo. In this interview with CHRIS IREKAMBA, Asaju spoke on several issues, including the uniqueness of the school, why schools owned by churches are expensive and what the school management has done to avoid students riots.

Why faith-based Universities are expensive

Do you agree that faith-based universities are expensive?
They are expensive not because the churches want them to be, but for the operational cost. For example, we pay salaries like federal universities, which receive grants and subventions from the government. The Anglican Church doesn’t have a regular subvention to support this university, same thing with the university in Awka. There are only two universities owned by the Anglican Church presently. More are in the pipeline. We have to survive on our own. Again, imagine a situation, where the wage bill in this university is N51million. Then there is the operational cost covering such things as diesel, electricity and tax among other running into N10million. I need about N65million monthly to run this university. Professors and Ph.D. holders have to be paid, including utility bills. We don’t have many students unlike the federal and state schools. With the few students we have and the money they pay, we can hardly break even. This is why some of these universities charge high. I know there are some Pentecostal universities whose owners are very rich. They can afford to lower their fees.

I think all universities should charge lower fees, and this can be possible, if the government allows for more student intake. There are other funds state universities have access to, especially the Tertiary Institutions Educational Trust Fund (TETFund). It is morally wrong for private universities to be exempted from receiving funds from TETFund. It was established at the initiative of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in those days and the idea was for government to levy companies, whereby certain percentage of their profit was to be ploughed into education. So, if these companies and owners of these universities are contributing to these funds, then why are their universities not benefitting from it?

The graduates we produce go into the society to serve; this is discriminatory and unfair. I feel very bitter because when this policy came into being, Professor Attahiru Jega was ASUU’s president and I was its chairman then at the Lagos State University. We fought for it and it is unfortunate that we cannot benefit from what we established.

Are fees in Ajayi Crowther University affordable?
We are the cheapest of all faith-based universities in the country. For the Faculty of Humanities, a student pays as low as N400, 000, including accommodation per annum. For instance, accommodation alone, including beddings and facilities/electricity is about 100,000 per year. If you take that away, the tuition alone will be about N300, 000 plus. However, the advantage we have here is that we allow parents/wards/students/sponsors to pay in three installments. If the tuition is N300, 000 minus the accommodation, it means with N100, 000 you can come into the university. In the middle of the programme, another N100, 000 can be paid towards the second semester. We are the only university that allows payment in three installments. So, we are cheap and affordable. Of course, it is not economically wise for us, but I believe if the missionaries brought education to us, then we must extend it to all. The poor also contributed to the growth of this university, so their children should not be excluded from attending.

At our Josephus, established by Chief Tunde Afolabi in the Lagos diocese, he gives scholarship to 25 students every year. With this, children of the poor and priests have the opportunity to go to school in a conducive learning environment. And our facilities are first class. Very soon, all lecture rooms will be air-conditioned. We have an uninterrupted power supply and wireless Internet.

In what way is your university unique?
This university was established as a way of building upon the Anglican Church’s heritage of pioneering education at all levels in Nigeria. We remember the era of missionaries, when churches and schools were built, as they preached the gospel. So, if they educated us at the primary and secondary levels, the church should also contribute at the tertiary level, especially in an era where government has failed to provide social services. So, the church should intervene and give what I call holistic education, which is a combination of educational knowledge, as well as moral and spiritual formation.

It is unique because it is built on Anglican Church tradition. In a way, we contributed to the introduction of Christianity in this country. Many people that became elite and professionals in the world today are products of the Anglican Church. We are unique because of our Anglican foundation, which is based on discipline, moral values and spiritual formation. Here, members of staff and students take worship very seriously. Aside Sundays, we also meet every Wednesday at 3pm, and in the morning hours in all offices and hostels. That way, we are able to mould the lives of our students so that by the time they graduate, they have not only excelled in learning, but also in character, discipline and spirituality.

Our salary structure is the same with the federal universities and so our lecturers are sound scholars. We can say that those who pass through this university will really have the best. One other thing is that we are sitting on a solid ground, because it used to be the St. Andrew’s College, which is the first Teachers’ College in Nigeria and so it is very legendary, in the sense that it has produced a number of dignitaries we have in the country today.

St. Andrew’s College later became a College of Education and is now a university and so we have history here. We have buildings here that are over a 100 years. This also is the place, where lies the remains of the late Rt. Rev. Melvin Jones, the very old white Bishop of Lagos. He was the first principal of the school. His wife founded the Girls’ Guild and Women’s Guild. Their remains are interred here. And so, it is a place of pilgrimage and Anglican heritage.

Is admission solely for Christians or people are admitted irrespective of their religions?
We admit people of all faith and denominations because that is what the law of Nigeria that granted us licence stipulates. There are Muslims, Roman Catholics and Pentecostal worshippers here, but everyone will have to align with our corporate mode of worship. We don’t compel people, but we instruct them as a matter of uniformity to join in worship to serve God. We have a central auditorium, which serves as chapel, where the community worships God together and that avails us the opportunity to address issues of dress, moral and academic. So, it is more of a community gathering.

What kind of dress code is a student expected to abide by?
The ladies must not wear revealing or tight-fitting dresses, while the young men have to be corporately dressed with their shirts tucked in neatly, with socks and tie when they go to class and chapel. Those who flout our rules are dismissed and sent back to their parents.

What are the criteria for admitting students?
We comply with the National Universities Commission and JAMB prescriptions. They must have five credits, including Maths and English. However, like other universities, we have certain preliminary, foundational and remedial courses for students who do not pass JAMB and school cert. Here, we don’t admit students cheaply.

Do you also screen students for HIV and other diseases?
All students who come here, as part of the orientation programme, must be screened. We have a reputable laboratory firm that does that, and their results are put in their files. If any of them has peculiar disease(s) that is not life threatening, we watch him/her closely and ensure that others are not contaminated. For instance, if it is tuberculosis, we know that medically the person has to be quarantined and taken care of. We have not recorded cases of HIV/AIDS. If we have, we know how to deal with them. But we have never expelled students based on medical conditions. This is a faith-based university and so we rely on spiritual healing. We’ve just concluded a programme for students with behavioural problems or addictions, and they were subjected to rehabilitation.

Rt. Rev. Prof Dapo Asaju

Rt. Rev. Prof Dapo Asaju

In corroboration with the Scripture Union, we put them through reformation and then they are reintegrated into the system. Our logic is that when a student with behavioural challenge is sent out of the school, he/she becomes worse than before. And so we have continued with behavioural reforms to help such students. If people can’t be reformed in Christ-owned institution, where else can they go? Here, we believe that even those who have sicknesses and problems can receive miracles. If we don’t do that, what then do we preach as Christians?

There was a riot here in the past, which unfortunately resulted in the death of a student. What steps have been taken to prevent such?
It was an unfortunate incident and we have since moved on. There are issues in every university. What happened then was that students over reacted to the loss of one of their colleagues. However, the damages caused have been repaired, lessons have been learnt and everyone has moved on. There is no issue now that will make students over react. We have a conducive environment, we teach them well, and where there are difficulties we address them. So, I don’t envisage we will have riot any more in this university. The Spirit of Christ is in charge.

The healthcare centre is well equipped now. The chief medical director is a former head of University of Ibadan’s medical centre. He is a veteran and retired consultant. Also, we have qualified doctors and nurses, an ambulance, drugs and in-patient facilities. We also collaborate with other hospitals, when there is need for referrals.

Which faculties do you have in the school?
We have the postgraduate’s school, faculty of Humanities (arts), faculty of Management sciences (business admin., accounting, communication and media studies), faculty of social sciences, faculty of law and faculty of natural sciences (geology, computer, chemical sciences, etc.). I would like to say that our law faculty building donated by the Alakija Family is the best law faculty building in the country. It cost about N1billion.

In the pipeline are the faculty of environmental studies (architecture, estate management, quantity survey, urban and regional planning) and faculty of education. In the near future, we hope to have faculties of agriculture, medicine and engineering, which will take off on our permanent site.

What is your vision for the school?
The tenure for a Vice Chancellor is a single tenure of five years. I started on October 2, 2015 and my vision is to make the university a world-class institution, where the standard will be European-American in every respect and we shall achieve it by the grace of God.

It has been said that Nigerian universities produce half-baked graduates. What causes this?
It is not true that we have half-baked graduates though some of them are. My simple answer is that in the university system, we graduate by degrees. At the end of the day, some will graduate with First Class, Second Class and Third Class, while others graduate with ordinary pass. So it will be wrong for you to encounter someone with pass degree from the University of Ibadan and use him/her to judge the institution. Secondly, the university has a culture, which assumes that you are roofing a building that has a superstructure and foundation. But if the building collapses, it is rarely because of the roof, but that of the foundation.

If government confers dignity back on teachers, give them good working tools and requisite facilities, and then the teachers will work. The universities can only make do with the materials fed to it from the secondary school level.

There are many social disconnect, on the part of government in providing social amenities. Ninety per cent of people in urban settings send their children to private schools and only the children of those that cannot afford the fees go to the public schools. And so there is a social gap, but all these people will go into the university together with those that have committed examination malpractices and bribed their way in. The university will take what is available, but to turn out properly depends upon the initiative of the students themselves. It is not the university’s business to form people. It is there to o teach people that are already mature and so the government has a role to play.

How crucial are private universities to Nigeria educational system?
It is a known fact that majority of eligible candidates hardly find space in the conventional universities. So we have to take care of these thousands of people who could not be admitted; it is crucial that they get mopped up. Secondly, private universities have given publicly owned universities competition in the area of initiatives and new programmes, which are absent in public institutions such as character formation programmes.

Also, faith based institutions are more disciplined. There is so much liberty in state and federal institutions, ranging from sexual assaults to extortions and lecturers not coming to class. But all this is not applicable to private institutions.

Are you saying there are no malpractices in faith-based institutions?
There is no university that is absolutely free, but it is grossly reduced at faith-based universities. When offenders are caught, they are dealt with because there are rules.

What Challenges are you facing as an institution?
The only challenge for now is funding, because there is not enough in Anglican Church. The dioceses funding the institution do the little they can but then, it is just like a drop in the ocean. So, we are using our initiative to venture into profit making businesses. We want to start new programmes so that we can have more students and that way we can succeed.

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