INTERVIEW: We train students to think without the box – Tech-U Vice Chancellor

Vice-Chancellor, Technical University, (Tech-U), Ibadan, Oyo State, Ayobami Salami
Vice-Chancellor, Technical University, (Tech-U), Ibadan, Oyo State, Ayobami Salami

The Technical University, (Tech-U), Ibadan, Oyo State is an institution of learning which prides itself as the revolution the Nigerian university system has been waiting for. The university was commissioned in June 2017 and celebrated its anniversary last month. In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES’ Oladeinde Olawoyin, the Vice-Chancellor of the university, Ayobami Salami, a professor, speaks on the journey so far.

Excerpt:

PT: How would you describe the journey so far in the last one year?

Salami: The journey has been tasking, rewarding and exciting.

PT: How has it been running the university and realising the vision for its establishment in the last one year?

Salami: I am happy that I have the opportunity not only to envision something but also to see to the execution. I am happy to pilot something right from the beginning and see it grow. When you plant a seed and you water it and in your own very eyes, it begins to grow and sprout, there is a kind of joy that you have, rather than just going into a field that somebody has already planted and just plucking the fruit. So I can say that here, it has been an exciting thing seeing that we started based on the vision of the visitor to the university, Senator Abiola Ajimobi. He had a dream, we are interpreting the dream and we are seeing the result.

PT: The last time we were here, there were students coming in through scholarship, about a 100 students. What exactly is the population of the students right now?

Salami: We were able to offer admission to 200 students through the last JAMB exercise but eventually we were able to matriculate 183 – that’s the total population of the students, including those on scholarship and those who are not on scholarship.

PT: How have the basic academic activities been generally?

Salami: The full academic activities have since commenced in the university and everything is going in line with our calendar. And so far, we have not had any form of disruption or any reason to adjust or deviate from what we plan to do. Rather, what we have is to add some things to what we have; so we have really done beyond what we planned to do.

PT: I remember one of the fears we had with the idea ab initio was funding. In the last one year, how would you describe the experience with regards to funding?

Salami: For me, it has been an interesting and exciting journey. There was a lot of skepticism when we started; a lot of apprehension on how it was going to run. But I can tell you that as of today, we are raising our head far above water. We are not only running, we are comfortable running this university so far.

PT: In terms of staff strength, how would you describe the staff strength with regards to delivering on the university mandate?

Salami: In the last one year, our staff have continued to grow. Like you’d know, for a university like this, it is not prudent to employ and engage staff that you don’t need. So, we have been engaging staff on the basis of need and I can say that for every area where there is a need, staff have been engaged.

PT: What about their welfare, generally?

Salami: Let me talk in terms of welfare because I believe without motivating the staff, you should not expect them to give their best. And the commitment of the staff is critical to the achievement of our goal and for staff to be committed, their welfare must be taken care of. One, we pay our salary as and when due. I can tell you today, our salary is paid 25th of every month. For the past one year, we have never failed and you can ask from our staff.

PT: So nobody is being owed salary…?

Salami: Not at all. We pay salary 25th of every month. And secondly, let me say that we pay more than what they pay in other institutions. We can say that at Technical University, our staff earn more than what staff of other universities earn and at the same time, we don’t owe anybody salary. When you talk about the pension scheme, in other institution, I came from Obafemi Awolowo University, with the pension scheme that operates there, I pay seven and a half per cent, the federal government is supposed to pay seven and a half, making 15 per cent.

But in this university, we are implementing the new pension law which means the staff will pay eight per cent, the employer will pay ten per cent. So every of our permanent staff has 18 per cent every month as pension scheme (contribution) instead of 15 per cent that you’d find in most public institutions in Nigeria. That is to tell you how much we are interested in the welfare of our staff so that when they retire, they would have more from their scheme than their colleagues from other institutions.

PT: Last year, you mentioned that that no student of this university would look for a job after graduation. It was a vision at the time, so, in the last one year, how would you appraise your realisation of that vision?

Salami: With regard to implementing what we put on ground, I can tell you that we have covered a lot of mileage. For instance, we brought in so many stakeholders to partner with us in training the students. We signed MoU with the Nigerian Society of Engineers through which engineers who are actually on the field will train our students. We signed MoU with the private sector, through which our students will have access to hands-on experience in the industry to learn on site apart from learning in the university. So we have been able to engage these industry partners and they have signed on to this vision and ready to engage our students for hands-on experience.

Apart from that, despite that we are just running this curriculum for less than one year, we had what we call a curriculum review which in essence, we brought in NECA (Nigerian Employers Consultaive Association), COREN and others because these are the end users, to come and look at what we are doing so that when these students graduate, they can actually fit in. Like I keep on saying, they can’t serve as ‘plug and play’, so that we can be double sure that we are actually on track. So we are not just doing it as if, since we have put it on, we run it till the end. We don’t want to get to the end of the journey before we now look at what are the inputs.

So within the first semester of running this programme, we brought in NECA, COREN and the private sector, and they are already partnering with us. Secondly, we promised them hands-on experience, as I am talking to you, we have two workshops under construction that will be ready before the next three months. This is to tell you how far we have gone in actually implementing our vision and even going beyond our original plan. Here we train our students to think, not within the box, not outside of the box, but without the box.

PT: Last year, you promised that the hostel accommodation along the Lagos-Ibadan expressway was temporary? What’s the latest about the construction of the permanent hostel?

Salami: The arrangement is that before December this year, the new permanent accommodation will be ready on campus here and where we are using now will be for our staff.

PT: The university location––along the Lagos-Ibadan expressway––is quite unique, away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Has it been a minus or a plus?

Salami: For me, it is a plus because what we intend to do is to create a completely new community in this place. A place that’s going to be a model, a reference point, where people can run to, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. We want to create our environment and this place is good for that. Here, we have the opportunity to modulate. Now, we are located within the free trade zone within Oyo State where 175 private investors have signed on to establish their presence under the Pacesetter Consortium. As at now, we are sharing boundary with the Circular Road which means literally we are the gatekeeper for this city. In the next two to three years, you’d see a lot of activities going on here and you’d see a lot of industrial development in this area.

PT: Aside teaching, one other important mandate of the university is research. Being a STEM-focused university, what has Tech-U done or plans to do on research for staff and students?

Salami: Well, because we are the first technical university in Nigeria, we don’t want to create a new university that is just operating within the national space. We are focusing on the international – in terms of research, staff, content, faculty. To that effect, within the first one year, we have gone into collaborative arrangement and before the end of this month (June), we are going to sign an MoU with Texas Tech University, in America. By that MoU, we are signing ‘4 plus 1 X’ arrangement which allows our students to spend 4 years here if you have come for a 5-year programme. And once you can afford it, you spend the next one year in Texas Tech University and come back here to earn our degree and use that our degree to have automatic admission for master’s degree programme in Texas Tech in the U.S.

This means that our curriculum (with what is going on in Texas) is comparable, and that means we can exchange our staff. We want to create an environment whereby our students can be here and get instructional materials from Texas Tech and then our staff will go into joint research partnership with the staff over there so that we look at the Nigerian environment and the challenges; and then we take advantage of the findings we have there to really deal with our local problem in the country.

PT: What about the third mandate of the university – community development. How would you appraise your presence in this community?

Salami: Let me say that community development is a continuous thing and as the university grows, our footprint in the community becomes bigger. But you’d agree with me that a year ago, this place was just like a jungle. Being here, we have opened up this place; economic activities are here. Let me give an example, some of the companies around come to our cafeteria to eat. Some of the travelers stop by, have some time to rest and take some snacks. Gradually, we are building a presence, we are creating a new hub of activities in this environment. We are still at the initial stage; in the next two to three years, you’d see the footprint.

PT: Let us talk about the political concerns here. Last year, there were fears of the political establishment in Oyo state taking control of the university. Based on these fears, how have you managed the political atmosphere? Have there been issues with regard to the state government controlling the affairs of the university?

Salami: Let me say it clearly and without fear of contradiction that since I have been appointed as vice-chancellor of this university, Oyo State government as a government; the visitor to the university, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, has never played politics with this university and I want it to be on record. And when you talk about politics, politics itself should be about development and if this university is about development, I don’t see why anybody would have problem with whoever is in government once this university is to solve the problem of this country. We are happy for the first time to have an institution that is not about paper certificate. We have a silent revolution taking place in the education sector, originating from your Oyo state. So I believe whoever is in government would be proud of that achievement and legacy and I believe we have no problem with sustainability.

PT: On sustainability, the university is an initiative of the present government and in the next few months, we will have change in government. Is there any reason to think of uncertainty with regard to the future of the university as far as political change is concerned?

Salami: First and foremost, universities are run by laws and statutes. So it depends on the law and statutes upon which the university was established and this is a university that was established from the word go to be self-sustaining; a public university with private sector orientation. So with that, except the law is changed, I do not see any problem with that. Let me say clearly that this university is not running on government subvention.

What government gave us is the take-off grant; apart from the take-off grant, we are supposed to really, you know, generate resources to actually forge ahead while the government takes care of infrastructural development and that’s what we have been doing in the last one year. We have been partnering with so many agencies and we have been running the university smoothly.

PT: The question is important because of the experiences we had in other states like Ogun, Ekiti and other places where changes in government led to change in public institutions’ management, with its attendant disruption and…?

(Cuts in) If a university depends solely on government subvention, that will happen because he who pays the piper, dictates the tune. But that’s not the case with the Technical University, we are supposed to solve problems and we can’t solve problems without having resources. We don’t depend solely on government subvention. Yes, government has a responsibility to support education but what we are saying is that we are not going the way of other public universities that rely solely on government. We are able to survive because we do not depend solely on government.

PT: Is the scholarship by the Oyo State government going to be sustained?

We have established a scholarship basket. In that basket, we have government, private sector and individuals contributing. I am happy to announce to you that in less than one year, we over half a billion naira in that basket which we have been utilising to fund indigent students.

PT: Meaning the scholarship is going to be sustained…?

By the grace of God. It is something that the parents and students are happy about and it is going to have a spiral effect in the next 10 to 15 years down the road. Those who ordinarily wouldn’t have seen the four walls of the university, even a public university, are now being brought to a university like this through scholarship and they are embracing it with both arms. They are very happy about it from the feedback we have.

PT: What do you think is the missing link in the Nigerian education system?

Salami: The missing link in the Nigerian education system is about relevance. People go to the university to spend four, five, six years. At the end of the day, it’s not really worth it. At the end of the day, can they really fit into a part of the economy? We have cases where people go to the university, when they graduate, the society is not happy about them because they cannot deliver on their certificate. They, themselves are not happy with themselves because they have spent these years and at the end of the day, they are misfits. So that’s what the university is trying to correct to ensure that we produce graduate that are fitted for our economic development. Unless we do that, we are going to wallow in the dungeon of underdevelopment.


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