‘Indiscipline among undergraduates must never be condoned’
Across the country, undergraduates are resorting to violence to settle scores with either school proprietors or governments. In the process, property worth billions of naira are destroyed. Chairman of the Governing Council of Lead City University, Ibadan, Professor Jide Owoeye, strongly believes that undisciplined students should be punished to serve as a deterrent to others, and for education to have meaning. Also in this interview with Ibadan Bureau Chief, Sam Oluwalana, he expressed disgust at the utterly poor ranking of Nigerian universities in the world, and his institution’s strategy to soar in the ranking.
Private universities are no longer insulated from riots and protests. What strategy is your school putting in place to prevent this from happening?
As an institution, we are student-centred. At the same time, one of the first things that we tell students during their matriculation is that they should focus on the main objective of their coming to school. If in the process they are aggrieved, there are processes to follow. They are also made to realise that studentship does not confer on you any kind of immunity and so they are not immuned to criminal prosecution.
They are made to understand that their freedom stops where that of others’ begins, and so academic freedom must be used with a lot of sense of responsibilities.
So, if students have issues amongst themselves, or have issues between themselves and the university, there are standing rules that guide the processes to take, as long as the situations are normal. Students can argue and shout at each other, but they must not use physical force on each other. In a situation where students attack each other, the university rules and regulations would definitely prevail, and could lead to disciplinary actions, including the suspension or even expulsion of affected students. But where the action goes beyond what the rules and regulations can address, or where the action is deemed a criminal breach, then the matter will have to be passed on to the police and eventually the court. When such matters arise, the student could be relieved of his studentship for that period to go and answer for his/her actions because the campus is not a place to harbour criminals. When a criminal breach occurs and is allowed to go unpunished, it would thrive. So in a situation where students go on riot or rampage and destroy property, they eventually have to pay for what they have damaged.
There is no Nigerian university ranked among the first 1000 universities in the world. Can your university lead the charge in this direction?
Definitely, there are hurdles that you can jump now because of technology. We think that with the technology that is available now and still developing, it is possible for us to be able to do something revolutionary rather than an evolution. We may be able to move 30 years ahead of other people who have spent 30 years on the stage. It does not mean we have to spend 30 years as a university because of the technology that is now available. So we are thinking that with that, we and other universities that think alike should be able to champion what you could call “Ivy League” set of universities in Nigeria, that will be able to rank alongside those institutions that are internationally acclaimed, especially in Europe and the United States. Don’t forget that university system in the whole of Africa, maybe except South Africa, is still in its infancy. The oldest university in Nigeria is just 60 years plus and we have universities in England that are over 300 years and those universities are not going to stop developing.
A lot of efforts must be made so that we can jump hurdles that would enable us meet them at their levels, and if possible, surpass them. We are certain that some of the technologies that were available to them, that enabled them to hit world ranking, which were not available to Nigerian universities in the past, will eventually be available to Nigerian universities too. With the success of those technologies, we would be able to join the best league of universities in the world.
What was the motivation for those behind the founding of this university?
Those of us that were in the planning committee for the founding of this university are all from the Nigerian public university system, and it was found that, there were few things that we needed to correct and we aimed at those things that needed to be changed and amended, those pathologies in the public university system because we have been part of the system for even up to 40 years. So, if we were not going to correct it, then there was no need starting something like this. This was part of the motivations.
That kind of foundation still guides everything we are doing. For example, in choosing the courses that we do, we looked at those courses that will attract candidates who want to come to the university and of course, who are willing to come to fee-paying universities because if it were state and federal government, the attraction is different. In this case, we have to find courses, mostly professional courses, applied courses, those in the areas of sciences and humanity that people would see as being worthwhile for them to patronise in this institution.
In the area of personnel, when we started, we were clear of the kind of personnel that we require for an institution like this because they have to be people who will share the vision of the founders, who should also be interested in helping us to move the mission forward not just people who have come to work.
What challenges are militating against the realisation of the school’s vision?
Most private universities are institutions put up by mostly organisations that are backed either by Christian missions, Islamic missions or some that were created by individuals who already loomed large in the eyes of the Nigerian public, and who have the resources to pursue big ideas, like setting up a university.
In our own case, we were just professionals, academics and we felt that we needed to partner with those in the financial world for support and also to partner with the people in the civil service, that we had to work with. We must work with the regulatory authority, convince them that we know where we were going, and we must be sure that they appreciate the teething problems of a young institution.
Out there in the field, it takes great effort for you to be able to assure them (regulatory body) that you are going to succeed and to be able to appraise their own guidance as well because it is one thing for you to say that you want to guide the development of the institution, and another for those who are running the institution to be able to make it clear to you, the difference between guidance and maybe disturbance as it were. You must be able to strike a balance between the two.
Sometimes what is perceived from the outside is not what you see on the field, but the important thing is the outcome, not how much you have stood firm with the guidance principles on ground It is the outcome that becomes very important.
Even though the student is really the objective of a university system, we are here to train students for both good, moral upbringing and academic development and whatever we are doing, whatever we are setting up, the goal must be that particular outcome. So, it takes a lot for you to balance between what has been set for you, what you have met on ground and how we are reacting to it, in order to be able to meet the objective of the institution.
Where do you see this university in the next 10 years?
We were 10 years old last year and we believe that in the next 10 years (with the structure already on ground), we will be able to, with all sense of humility, be able to be on auto pilot because the structures would have been fully developed, both human and material. Even the sources of revenue for the university would have gone beyond taking loans from the banks or fees collected from students and other clients. The university would have been able to have certain levels of investments that could sustain it for the next few decades because the university is not an institution that is built for a short term.
How happy are you with the quality of graduates you churn out?
Well, in the last few years, we are happy with the array of graduates we have turned out. One thing we have noticed is that, apart from the academic abilities they posses, there is also the fact that a lot of efforts have been put into building what we call a total person, to the extent that these are people who will respect the laws of the society and who would always make their contributions to the growth of the society and at the same time carry the flag of the university wherever that they are. We are certainly very encouraged.
We have people who graduated from here who are currently working here either, as lecturers or administrative staff. That is to show that our graduates are focused.
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