‘At Elizade, we benchmark against world class universities’

Aigboje Imoukhuede PHOTO: alchetron.com

The Pro-Chancellor, Elizade University and President of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede speaks on the magnificent hills of Illara- Mokin in Ondo State; the state-of-the- art- facilities that stimulate educational, physical and mental development; the high calibre teaching and non-teaching staff as well as the latest information and communication technology that all combine to position the institution as the premium Nigerian ivory tower of the future.

Sir, could you share your experiences so far as the Pro-Chancellor of the Elizade University?
The role of the Pro-Chancellor in a Nigerian University is very critical to the smooth running and performance of the university. I did not really appreciate the volume of work involved until I started functioning in that role. The Pro-Chancellor works with the Governing Council, a group of eminent Nigerians that have distinguished themselves in various fields – business, academics, public service, civil society, and they all bring various skills to bear in their roles as council members, who come together to steer the affairs of the University as the second highest decision making body after the Board of Trustees.

The Council and the Pro-Chancellor actually have the responsibility of overseeing how the Management of the University runs the school. In certain instances, certain decisions are actually reserved for the Council. I live in Lagos and the University is located at Ilara-Mokin in Ondo, so there is a distance issue. However, I always ensure that I am around as much as possible since Council meetings hold on campus. Indeed, there is always a sense of nostalgia as I always look forward to visiting Elizade University. I have a lot of family friends from Ekiti – Ondo axis and I am quite familiar with the whole area since I have been visiting over the years. I must also note the environment is very serene; the University facilities are first rate, so, I am always very comfortable with the physical environment whenever I visit. I also feel that a young adult would be comfortable schooling there and parents would be equally very happy sending their children there.

In terms of the vision of the founder of the University, Chief. Ade-Ojo, he envisages an extremely well run university along world class standards. That is a very lofty vision. There are not many Nigerian Universities that operate at that level. Yes, there are many Universities that run well, but in terms of world class standard, and the type of universities that we benchmark against, there are not many. So, it is an onerous task to move from where we are, just like it would be for any other Nigerian University, to where we want to get to be. Every day, I see something new in the University that gives me joy, that we are making sure strides towards that vision. I love being involved in creating things instead of just managing it, so this type of challenge is the one I love to take on. The Faculty is very strong. I have interacted with the Vice-Chancellor and other members of the Senate, Deans and many other principal officers and I know they are very strong in academics, well trained and recruited under very stringent criteria. You have at Ilara- Mokin, a university where the facilities, infrastructure and environment are first rate. A University with a solid faculty, where the governance comes from a council that you can compare with any other in the world; a University with a reputable and well respected Founder. So, all the ingredients are available. With these you can be sure that the “meal” that is being prepared will be a very delicious and attractive one. So all the raw materials are there, what is left is for us to harness them all to ensure that the vision is fully realized.

As the Pro-Chancellor, what specific strategies have you and your team designed to drive the vision of the Founder and to achieve the goal of the University?
The first thing is to understand the vision, so that you can relate the strategy to that vision. When Chief Ade-Ojo approached me to take on this role I had to ask him, what are you trying to do with this university? I do things when I key into the vision, so, I wanted to get it clearly from him. He explained that he sees the vision of the university from the prism of the student. That he wants to create graduates that will make Nigeria proud; men and women whose competences, character and capabilities will be at par with those who graduated from the best universities in the world. To create men and women who would be very enterprising in doing things. This suggests that he is heavily influenced by his background as an entrepreneur. So he wanted to create business minded students. Immediately I heard this, I keyed in because I knew the type of institutions that can produce these kinds of students. This is because I have attended some of them after my first degree in terms of executive management courses and my MBA, which was offered by 3 universities at the same time. So, I knew that I had a strong structured idea in terms of the university that can produce those kinds of students.

In terms of our strategy, it was firstly about bench-marking. We envision a university that produces a certain type of students. As you envision this, you look for parallels. Which university in the world can we use to illustrate this vision? We then say this is our benchmark. For instance, we pick three or four universities we choose to benchmark within Africa and outside. We then look at their resources, their culture and the system that drives each university. Note that we are not copying, we are just studying to understand. Having done that study and benchmarking, we then draw our route of how we will go round to position Elizade to become a world class university, producing world class students.  The first thing we felt we should do was to articulate this vision in such a way that all stakeholders can key into the vision – students, parents, faculty, council members and other employees. So we came up with a pay-off line and a logo. In the logo, you see the torch. If you look closely at that torch, you notice that it is a pen. And it begins to excite you. And our pay-off line is – ‘Let’s go higher’. We are constantly challenging ourselves. We refuse to accept that we are operating at our best level at any point in time. We say to ourselves ‘let’s go higher’. In everything we continue to challenge ourselves to keep going higher and we know that is the best way to be world class. We have also come up with what we call a teaching and learning philosophy. I have come across this in many world standard Universities. It is the University’s approach to teaching. In Harvard it is the case study method. In Elizade University we are very technology enabled. We believe that the Gen X student sees and interacts through technology, devices, software etc. So we believe if you create a learning experience that is consistent with this technology, they are more likely to embrace it. So the use of technology and facilities like the ones you see in my-office – video conferencing, a strong robust website and intranet system that students can use to interact with the university and amongst themselves.  With this, there is a system of competitive academic rigor where there is constant testing, application, class participation. This philosophy has really challenged the University to ensure that it is applied to various disciplines- Law, Business, Social Science etc. Each faculty clearly states how this philosophy is applied and the impact they believe it will make.

Culture is also very key to us. This is an area where banking and education have great similarities. When you get a banking license, it confers on you that trust for people to bring their life-savings and keep with you. Incidentally, our most treasured valuable is not really money but our children. If you have that license to build an institution like Elizade University, it means a family will take their most treasured valuable, their child and keep with you trusting that you they will get the best returns in terms of a lot more values added to that child. These two businesses take custody of the two most valued treasures we have. So we want everyone in Elizade University to understand that we have a unique public trust to pick up this most valued treasure from families and build them up. That is the culture at Elizade University is building up individuals in everything we do. Of course, there are certain things that must be in place for this to happen.

One is discipline – so it is an environment we don’t compromise on discipline. We also have the culture of no compromise in terms of quality of life and standards. We also have a merit driven culture; we have no bias for any State, Tribe, Religion etc. So, there is a level playing field for everyone. It will now depend on their efforts that will put them in various academic, sporting or social categories. We also want our children to have fun while in school. So, for instance, we have an annual scholarship for physical endurance and excellence that I created. Between the hostel and the academic blocks are some steps. Two students, male and female, that can run up and down those steps the most, in a given time will get a full academic year scholarship. You can imagine the kind of excitement this type of healthy competition can engender. Just like the quadrangle in Oxford University. So you can get some insights on the brand of University we are creating. We also feel that every aspect, activity and role in the university must be benchmarked against some universities we have identified as our standard. We have created Key Performance Index (KPI) for each position – VC, Registrar, Bursar etc. and there is a 360 degree assessment twice a year. I am seeing a lot changes, although we just started this culture. These are not things that are associated with a normal Nigerian University. The Administrators are quite talented in delivering as agreed and expected and the benefit comes to the students.

Sir, there are so many private and public universities in Nigeria and more are springing up. Why must parents send their children to Elizade University? What is this competitive advantage in attending the Elizade University over and above another private or public university in Nigeria?
I will firstly, you know that your ward is in a very secure environment, so you can trust your child with us. The fact is that our goal is not to charge school fees and make profit. Our goal is to build outstanding graduates. So if you want your child to be an outstanding graduate, send your child to Elizade University. Irrespective of the grade your child makes, first or second class, the child will be an outstanding graduate. Let me illustrate it with just one opportunity. If they told you that by the time your child graduates, he/she will be equipped with full ability to play golf, would you ever believe? That is the type of University we are. I cannot imagine what I would have been today if I had that kind of benefits as a student of the University of Benin, to learn how to play golf on weekends with all the benefits and social advantages you can have as a golf player. At Elizade University, among many other things, our students learn how to play golf.

What are your plans to ensure that awareness on these benefits get to all prospective students and parents so that they can know in details the gains of coming to Elizade University?
For me, I strongly believe that you don’t sell what you can’t deliver. Now that we can deliver I can sit down here in this interview to invite the world to come to Elizade University.

Sir, what do you think is responsible for universities in Sub-Saharan Africa, and Nigeria in particular, not functioning as creators, inventors and pathfinders of development like those in Asia, America and Europe?
That was not the case several years ago. If you look at Ibadan, ABU and UNN of those days, if you pick Arts/Language, Engineering or Architecture for instance, if you want unique architectural designs, those Universities were the places to go to. I have some amazing stuff done by Nigerian professors of Architecture. However, I feel just like many other areas of our national life, things have deteriorated rapidly and it comes down to the issue of standards. The cause for deterioration has been a failure of leadership to maintain and enforce a very high standard that existed pre and just at the time of independence. As we have embraced the more mediocre things in life, our standards in Nigeria slipped. Nigerian Universities, and indeed the educational system are prime examples of that. I speak passionately about this because my views on leadership and governance are very clear in this respect. These things do not happen by mistake. The fact that a University becomes an engine room for the advancement of Science, Medicine, Humanities, Engineering does not just happen.

Those Universities make careful plans and declare that at a particular time their lecturers will win a specific number of prestigious academic awards. Besides, we have various platforms that exist globally like the American Academy of Arts and Science where I was recently inducted. Those platforms used to be very strong in Nigeria and I think they are being revived. By creating such platforms and by creating a culture that encourages significant achievement, you are encouraging Universities to go for it. And they are going for it, not really because money is made, but because it is valued by the society. The second issue is, if a University produces things that are valued, from market perspective it must be monetized. Intellectual property has suffered for sometimes in Nigeria because it was not respected and enforced. But things are changing fast. If a University actually comes out with a patent or an invention, there are ways they can protect it. If they know how to make it known to the business world, it can be monetized. These are things the university system and government can come together to agree on the enabling framework and environment to allow this to thrive. But at Elizade University, we are not waiting. Already in the field of Engineering, because of the Founder’s background, there is an initiative with the Japanese auto industry we are pursuing where they are encouraging innovations and inventions from the University and the benefits to the students and Faculty members behind those innovations.

What kind of Elizade University do you want to see five years from now?
I will not like to have a five-year horizon for the University; I think 10 years is my goal. Simply put, I want in 10 years’ time, if you ask a parent with bold ambition for their children, what university would you like your child to attend in a list of four universities? I want Elizade to be among the list of any parent’s four Universities.



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