NUC will continue to sanitise varsity system, insists Okojie

No Comments » January 24th, 2009 posted by // Categories: Higher Education in Nigeria



 

GUARDIAN

January 22, 2009

 

NUC will continue to sanitise varsity system, insists OkojieBy Rotimi Lawrence Oyekanmi

WITHIN minutes of a conversation with Prof. Julius Okojie, the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), anybody meeting with him for the first time would immediately recognise his brilliance, deep knowledge of the university system and dedication to duty.

It is impossible to always agree with his techniques and reasoning on what an ideal university system should look like. But what is not in doubt is Okojie’s commitment to enthroning merit and good quality in the universities.

However, the former Vice Chancellor of the University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (UNAAB) has also been variously criticized, even by his colleagues, for his blunt comments on tertiary education issues and actions as Executive Secretary of the NUC. For instance, he has come under verbal attacks on the issue of accreditation, unapproved programmes and campuses, with some stakeholders accusing the NUC of intimidation and even corruption. Others have also been taken aback by his position on cost sharing in public universities.

But in an interview with The Guardian recently, Okojie declared that many people would not believe it if they knew the extent of unethical practices going on in the university system. But he is undeterred, he assured, in his determination to introduce sanity, and would remain resolute in his quest to stop what he described as the “rot” in the system.

Enumerating some of the commission’s achievements in 2008, Okojie said, “we have carried out resource verification. We have also done what we call programme audit and staff audit. You can’t have a good system when you don’t have an idea of how many professors, lecturers and students you have in the system, and what programmes are running. We should know, for instance, how many students are graduating from an Engineering faculty. We should know how many more faculties we need. We have also established a database. We have continued to monitor.”

He continued: “Since the restructuring of the NUC, we now have a department of Students’ Support Services, taking new ideas to students on campus. There are the HIV and entrepreneurship issues. We have also started addressing the issue of benchmark academic standard for the postgraduate programmes. Before now, the MBA (Master in Business Administration degree) was so rotten. The first thing we did was to address the issue of the MBA. We have lawyers advising us. What we did was to first of all, write to all those affected universities to close shop. Some are already in court. Then we have ensured that programmes that are not approved are not run in the system. We are enforcing carrying capacity. Recently, we visited Madonna University, to see their Law programmes and to see how many students they have for their Law programme. Every year, we have what is called the Universities’ Annual Review System. We invite all the universities to rub minds on various things.

“The problem with the Lagos State University (LASU), we have not finished with it. We are going about in a very methodological way. Now, we have gone to inspect LASU’s unapproved campuses. In addition, there are a lot of unapproved affiliations (in various Universities). Some are in the Seminaries: religious bodies running unapproved affiliations with some Universities. So, in these cases, you have no idea of how many students are going out of the unapproved outlets. But we now have a better knowledge of the system itself. We are also trying to streamline the academic calendar. I have been meeting with the Vice Chancellors one on one, on issues like new faculties and departments. What we are actually trying to do is to consolidate. This means that, universities look internally at the programmes that are not running properly. Why must you continue with such programmes?

“We’ve had a lot of workshops, seminars with other professional bodies too, like the NBTI (Nigerian Board for Technological Innovation), because in the Universities Research is very weak. So we are thinking of those agencies that can help us carry forward the results of our research. We are encouraging linkages and strategic partnerships.

“Through the Federal Government, we have a Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement with Zinox to establish computer parks in our 27 Federal Universities, because the rate of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) is very weak.

“We are talking about brain drain, how do we address the issue? We are trying to catch up with our people in Diaspora. Every so often, they come here for Diaspora convention. We don’t want it to just be a ritual. Recently, I spoke with a Diaspora group in Britain: Nigerians in Diaspora Organization, during which I discovered that there is a British Nigerian Association, which has now translated to the British Nigeria Education Trust Fund. I didn’t know that existed. So, we are encouraging our colleagues, who can spend three, six months to come home. Some are tied down by marriage and other issues, and they ask, where are they going to come to? I say look, we are going to provide return ticket, a stipend of $1700, free accommodation and transportation within the system, so spend some time with us. And if you find the environment conducive, you can stay longer. You won’t believe that we have had over 200 academics. Three Professors just came here from the US, they are all anxious to come home. Whatever job you do out there, you are just working for some other country. So we are trying to encourage them and increase our capacity.

“Through the encouragement of the Federal Ministry of Education, the Education Trust Fund (ETF) is going to provide more research grants, a critical amount if N1 billion for post graduate science and technology education.

“We have N180 million from the World Bank, we call it catalytic funds. We are planning to revisit the instrument of accreditation. We have had a lot of meetings, discussing issues. Some of the problems are on programmes: when students have matured and couldn’t graduate, or when they graduate but cannot go for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme.

We have linkages with the International Centre for Theoretical Physics, Italy. We have an MoU with them. What we are trying to do is to re-train our mathematics teachers. We would take about 180 of them. We just concluded arrangements now. You come, and for three months, you look at new concepts of teaching mathematics. We want to do that over a period of time.

“More than 50 per cent of our senior staff has gone for staff development programmes. And we keep calling government’s attention to the fact that the universities need more funding. But I still believe that government is doing enough. The time has come, that I think all stakeholders must partake in cost sharing in education. The problem is that, if government keeps funding at this level, we can never improve.”

On the opposition of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to the staff audit carried out by the commission, Okojie stated that the opposition was unnecessary. “I think that they (ASUU) thought that we wanted to use it to remove those who didn’t have a PhD degree. But that was not the intention. If I am funding a system, shouldn’t I know the staff members that I have in place? Shouldn’t I have the staff profiles? What is ASUU afraid of? The fact that you don’t have a PhD does not mean that you cannot work in the University system. What we don’t want is a situation, where someone who was Lecturer 1 in one University, goes somewhere else, and from Lecturer 1, he is made a Professor. There are minimum standards.”

 

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