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Number of lecturers in Nigerian universities can’t meet needs of academics – Bells VC

by Editor

July 13, 2014 | 5:24 pm
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The Bells University of Technology, a private institution established nine years ago by the Bells Educational Foundation, has been moving on steadily. It was granted an operational license by the Federal Government on June 9, 2005 and started operation on July 1, 2005. Tucked in a serene environment in Ota, Ogun State, Bells is a fully residential institution with conducive academic and hall facilities. In this interview the Vice Chancellor, Professor Isaac Adebayo Adeyemi, told ZEBULON AGOMUO, Deputy Editor, the success story of the university, some of the innovations, the need for government to invest in human capital development and many more. Excerpts: 

The University opened its gate for operations on July 1, 2005; may we know briefly how the journey has been?

The first one year, we had the foundation vice chancellor in the person of Professor Julius Okojie, who is the current executive secretary of NUC. Within that one year solid foundation was laid for the take off of the university, and we still have a well grounded council and board of trustees in place and erudite academic personnel made up of eminent professors from Ife.  We took off in 2005 with three main colleges. The College of Natural and Applied Sciences, where we offer programmes in Biochemistry, Industrial Chemistry, Microbiology, Biology; Physical Sciences where we have programmes such as Mathematics and Statistics, Physics with Electronics.

The second college was the College of Food Sciences where we have programme in food science and technology; we also have the college of Information and Communication Technology, where there are two main programmes – Information Technology and Computer Science. Those were the foundation colleges and programmes at take off point.

At the commencement of the second academic year of the university, I came in. And we have been trying to build on the solid foundation laid. Then in the academic brief there are other programmes that are supposed to be established like the College of Management Sciences, College of Engineering and College of Environmental Sciences. We observed that those initial three colleges were not attracting enough students. We took off with just about 54 students or thereabout.  There was slight improvement in second year, then being a university of technology, definitely it has to be driven by engineering and technology courses, and also for the fact that even if you are reading engineering or environmental courses or whatever programme you are reading, you still need some management principles. So, we thought there was need to bring on board the College of Management Sciences. In 2009 we started it, and in that college we have courses like, Economics, Finance and Banking, Accounting, Business Administration; then we have a Department of Management Technology where we do Project Management and Transport Planning and Logistics. And immediately we started the College of Management Sciences there was a significant increase in students’ enrolment. At that time, students in the initial three colleges were already in their third year.  And they were also able to enjoy some of the management programmes. Then two years after, we introduced Colleges of Engineering and Environmental Sciences. What we try to do, although in the academic brief, courses like engineering and others are treated, but we thought that we could go novel, especially in the engineering programme. So, when the college of engineering was established, they had (and still have) two main departments – Electrical/Electronics and Computer Engineering. In that department we have three main programmes – Electrical/Electronics, Computer Engineering and Telecommunications Engineering.  

Then we have the department of Mechanical and Biomedical – three programmes as well:  Mechanical Engineering, and two novel areas of engineering – Mechatronics and Biomedical Engineering. We took off and we were able to attract competent hands. Initially, when we started engineering we were wary about getting experienced hands, luckily we have senior academics, such as the president of Nigeria Academy of Engineering – Professor Musbau Ajibade Salau; he has retired from the University of Lagos. He is in the Area of Telecommunications Engineering. Be that as it may, our first set of engineers will be graduating this year (November). Well, with all sense of modesty, I will say that Bells University is among the first few universities in this country, if not the first that will graduate students in Mechatronics and Biomedical Engineering.

Then the College of Environmental Sciences has programmes in Building Technology, Quantity Surveying, Surveying and Geoinformatics, Architecture, Building Technology, Urban and Regional Planning and Estate Management.

Have all the courses been accredited?

In terms of accreditation, that’s one thing parents want to know and students are also interested in it too. I could recollect that before we had the first round of accreditation about five years ago, parents were asking, are you running approved or unapproved programmes, and similar questions. But I can say that those initial colleges, we have full accreditation in all the programmes. For the management sciences, usually, there must be a resource verification (an aspect of the processes leading up to accreditation) the first accreditation we had was an interim one, but this has been repeated and we now have full accreditation in all the courses/programmes in that college.

In the College of Engineering where people were a little bit apprehensive because you have two strong bodies, NUC and COREN, and am proud to say that between last year and now, we had visitations both by NUC and COREN and we have full accreditation in all the programmes including Mechatronics and Biomedical Engineering. Also COREN came independently and we cleared all the programmes.

What’s the secret?

Well, I would say that it’s about making adequate preparations, because we know what it takes. What we normally do is that before NUC comes, we do self-accreditation to access ourselves; in fact, we are usually harder than NUC in appraising ourselves. This is because most of our lecturers including myself, we do go out to accredit others. It is not a secret thing, NUC will use academics. We assess ourselves and know where the grey areas are; then we try to remedy those areas.

It involves huge resources. We use the little resources we have judiciously to meet the requirements in terms of staff; we attract the best hands in the industry, including bringing on board very senior colleagues who have retired. 

We realise that the number of professors (lecturers) we have in this country cannot meet the demands of academics; so for this reason, we bring in people on part time basis. So, those senior colleagues will help to mentor the junior ones. Again, we know the standard and strive to meet it. Both the NUC and COREN came and were satisfied because we play the game according to the rules, in terms of students’ population, in terms of facilities, documentation and also in terms of maintaining a robust relationship with all members of the staff.

In addition to that, last year, for the first three colleges, we met the NUC requirement to commence post graduate programme. We applied and in its wisdom NUC approved for us PGD in some programmes and MSc in some others. So, we have commenced our PGD and Masters level in those three colleges. With this, I believe we have done well and will continue to do well.

Any laurels won by the school?

I can quickly make reference to the performance of our students in the College of Communications and Information Technology.  I could recollect when in their first year, there’s this Computer Programming Contest, organised by the National Mathematical Centre (NMC) for all Nigerian Universities/Polytechnics and our students were invited to participate at the mathematical centre in Abuja. When I saw the letter of invitation, we were just in our third year, and I said, how can we compete, do we have the muscle? But they went and came third.  The following year we sent a team they came second; the next year we sent two teams, they came first and second nationally. That gave us the courage and assurance that we are on track. Also, within Ogun State, Bells University of Technology in terms of ICT is yet to be beaten by other institutions. I am saying this because the Ogun State chapter of the National Computer Society has been organising annual event on programming content, and in the last two years our students have been winning laurels coming first, hopefully we might be hosting that contest this year because they take it round institutions and invite students from other tertiary institutions. Again, our students that have gone on industrial training have continued to attract commendation. Some of them, when they come back they are so excited and testify that they are recognised among their peers.

 Are there some international recognition?

Some of our lecturers have been having grants, winning post graduate programmes and fellowships to travel for further studies. One of our students that graduated about three years ago in Food Science and Technology won national award for his masters; he travelled to Denmark. We are trying our best, don’t forget we are just nine years old; we have been able to have linkages with foreign institutions. A programme is on going now with the campus on renewable energy. That partnership gave rise to what we call the Bellstech-Wecass Renewable Energy Centre for Africa. It is a product of a partnership between WECASS Institute, Berlin-Germany and Bells University of Technology. It is aimed at providing proximate location and affordable alternative for the teeming Africans who wish to participate in the Energy Mix trainings but often find it difficult and expensive to do so in WECASS Institute, Berlin, Germany. 

The essence of the Bellstech-WECASS energy centre for Africa is to ensure that the same quality of trainings based on German standard and curricular as obtainable in WECASS Institute Berlin is also obtainable in the African centre.

The training is for this month. It is hoped that it will be a reliable centre for renewable energy.  We have some other organisations approaching us for other collaborations which we hope will come on stream very soon.

One of the issues in private universities education is funding. How has it been with Bells?

That’s a big question. Well, whether state, federal or private, no amount of funds is sufficient for any growing university. Ours is a private university, we charge fees, but they are not even commensurate to the cost of education of an undergraduate. We maintain this university through the good will of friends of the university who donate one facility/structure or the other.

For instance, the two structures housing the university clinic were donated by a friend of the institution.  When I got here, we put together what we called Bells University Parents’ Forum, and it has been extremely active and supportive. The way we’ve done is that the parents determine how much each student should pay, we have a dedicated account and they manage the account. They decide on what to do with it.  We have a cafeteria with an e-learning centre which was built by the parents from that fund.  The ICT centre has been equipped with up-to-date materials, and they were all donated to the university. At the initial stage, water treatment plant was established from the fund; recently students’ friendship centre was built also from the fund. These are the areas people are helping, and it is being supported by the fees students pay. Education is not free anywhere.  If you want quality, there must be money to provide it.

Some years back, it took about N500,000 to N600,000 per annum to educate an average student depending on the programme in the university.  That was as far back as 2001. But in public institution it is free, yes they pay N100,000 now they are increasing it. If students are paying N250,000 in public institution, government will still have to subsidise it.

So, private university like Bells, whatever students are paying, it is still being subsidised through provisions of facilities by friends of the university, the parents forum etc.

What’s the range of your fees?

Our fees are within N550,000 and N600,000 and that includes cost of accommodation, excluding feeding. Even in public universities where students are paying N100,000 or N150,000, they have to calculate the cost of accommodation.

But we ensure we accommodate all our students.  Currently, population of our students is between 200 and 300, although the envisaged population at full maturity as contained in the academic brief is five thousand. It is the wish of the founding fathers that we should have a manageable university, quality university, not over-populated because by the time you have over population quality drops.  That’s one of the things public universities suffer.

The rate of youth unemployment is high even among graduates. How are you equipping your students so that, if possible, they will not join the queue when they graduate?

 Part of what we are trying to do is to ensure that they have some training in entrepreneurship and that’s the import of having the Faculty of Management Sciences. For instance, I did mention that we have a programme in Food Sciences.  It is more or less a hybrid between some management courses (Economics, Administration) and Food Science. Even those in the Engineering, and Environmental Sciences, they are also going through the entrepreneurial approach. We are planning in the nearest future, because we are doing some strategic planning on repositioning Bells from 2015– 2025; it is a 10-year plan. We are looking ahead what and where Bells should be in the next 10 years.

We are looking at how to provide an industrial park. It may be a little bit expensive but we believe it will be good. Be that as it may, with the little resources that we have we want to make sure that we inculcate in them the idea of self-employment through entrepreneurship training. But we are not just giving general entrepreneurial programme, we are looking at programmes that students, irrespective of their programmes (courses), can key into so that they can be thinking on how to become employers of labour through such entrepreneurship training.  There is a programme where we invite those who are already practising their professions (they are workers in various organisations out there) to come and teach our students. The essence is to let our students know what is happening out there so that they will equip themselves very well.  We are hoping that whatever they might have imbibed through these programmes they should be able to put them to practical use, not forgetting the socio-economic factors we have in this country in terms of utility, bank loans and credit facilities.

Some people say the standard of education in the country is falling and that’s the reason people are establishing private universities to assist in rescuing the sector. Do you have any regret about what is happening in the industry?

Well, I won’t say I have any regret.  Although when one compares what we went through during our time and what is going on in the public universities, one would say, ‘Ah where are we heading to?’ But I have had the opportunity of teaching in the federal, state and private universities in this country. And I had the opportunity of following some of our undergraduates who go out there – US, S/Africa, UK, for their post graduate programmes. I can tell you that I have witnessed about, if not, 100 percent or 99.5 percent great performance. Well, that could be as a result of innate capability of an average Nigerian. But be that as it may, one of the factors that might have contributed to the low quality education is the students’ population. When you have a university that is not supposed to be more than ten thousand students and they have about 25 to 35 thousand students, definitely the quality will be watered down because of the facilities. Facilities are not elastic. It cannot go round. Again, it could be that government says, go and generate funds through IGR (Internally Generated Revenue) then the universities now increase students’ intake to generate the fund even knowing that facilities available will not cater to their proper education.

NUC says many universities have more part-time students than regular students, and when they graduate they still call themselves graduates of this and that university. And when you evaluate them, being graduates, they do not measure up to standard. So, that’s number one. Number two is diminishing number of the academics.

There is a boom in the number of universities we have and the country is not prepared to match that increase with academics. We are not planning aright.  We should be able to match the number of universities we have with the number of academics/quality lecturers. This means we should have a special provision for training of lecturers either within or outside the country.

Government will just wake up and say we are establishing three, four additional universities; but where are the teachers? They forget the fact that some years back, we had brain drain, when we had a long strike. Go to South Africa, we have a lot of qualified academics who are Nigerians. They are in Ghana, US; they are in the UK, the Caribbean, but to come back home is very difficult because they have settled there. So, unavailability of quality teachers is another major factor, then funding. Government is using Tetfund, but most of these are in terms of infrastructural development, provision of buses, building etc, and for science-based programmes, you need facility.  We should be able to say as a country in the next 10 years we will have so and so number of universities, number of lecturers and upgrade some of the old universities to turn out more PHD holders. It is not difficult because if you can provide grants and scholarships for bursary awards it will help a great deal in raising capable hands, rather than some of the lecturers teaching and also studying, and doing research. One will spend five or six years to earn PHD, whereas if they are studying full time, within three years, they will make it.

Some of us enjoyed that benefit. I keep on referring to it that if General Gowon had not done what he did in 1976, honestly, the quality of education would have gone down the drain earlier than now.

Some of us enjoyed full sponsorship outside the country. And most of us came back. Again, government must create an enabling environment rather than allowing people flee the country to practice elsewhere. We spend a lot of money on diesel to power our generators in order to operate.  There are times we spend more than N10 million in a month to power our guarantors. Assuming that electricity is functional, water and other necessary things are available, the amount of money you spend on electricity would have been diverted to providing equipment and facilities.  So, they are all interwoven.

But having said this, even with all these deficiencies and challenges, I still have confidence in the average Nigerian undergraduate who has actually gone through the mill. All of them cannot be flyers.  You get my point? Anywhere in the world, all students cannot be flyers. Those who have that intellect, when they go out they make it. 

If we compare what we had then and now, there’s no doubt, something has happened to the nation’s education system. However, at the same time, what are we using as a yardstick? Are we using the same curricular that have been modified times without number?  And with changes in technology and you spread so many courses for the students.  We are now in a global village; it is like we are running a rat race. And everybody wants to catch up. The pressure then was not as much as what it is now, because an average Nigerian wants to ensure that if he has a university degree plus a professional certificate he can compete with his peers anywhere in the world. We are using global standard (which is ideal because we are part of the global village) and so we must be competitive.

Insecurity is a major problem besetting the country now, and it is really affecting businesses, particularly in the northern part of the country.  If you were the president of this country, how differently would you have handled it?

You have to know that insecurity is a worldwide challenge. Mention anywhere in the world where the issue of insecurity is not a major item. It depends on how you handle it, and how prepared a nation is. To effectively combat it, all of us must be security-conscious. That’s something that is lacking in this country. A car is parked somewhere for days and nobody will report to the police. Whereas, in some developed countries it cannot happen.  Somebody must draw attention of the police.  Again, you have community policing which we do not have in this country. Now the National Conference is talking about state police, it has to be considered. Why some people are against it is that being Nigerians, some politicians can use it to their own advantage.

But first and foremost, government should ensure that you and I are security-conscious. That’s number one.  Number two, there must be a perfect reporting system; three, we must empower the police- our police are not well-equipped to do their job, this must be reviewed.  There must be community policing. Security must go down to the grassroots.

How did Bells become the centre for international space weather research, workshops and seminars?

When you talk about a university as an Ivory tower, it means you have to share knowledge, disseminate information and carry the people along, and that what Bells University of Technology has been doing. We handle this from several perspectives, particularly through college lecturers (university lecturers). 

The idea is to ensure that we sensitise both the university community and the host community to developments in technology and to see the relevance of university system to national development; so that is why we do invite eminent individuals in various areas of disciplines to come and rub minds with us.

Over the years, it has paid off. Number one, it is quite educative to our students. Two, we do invite some surrounding industries to share their experiences. You know Ota is a town of industries. We believe that one of the core areas of a university system is to provide information to the people both those inside the university and the community outside it.

by Editor

July 13, 2014 | 5:24 pm
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