‘At UNILAG, our offering is defined by creative thinking, partnership’

Prof. Ogundipe

The management of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) is devising all means to mitigate the impact of the ‘sex-for-grades’ video, released last Monday by the BBC African Eye ahead of the maiden edition of its International Week opening on Monday, October 14, 2019. In this interview with KABIR ALABI GARBA and MARIA DIAMOND, the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe speaks on the objectives of the Week and strategies being adopted to ensure that the university stays ahead of competition in terms of core mandate of research, training and scholarship.

What are the objectives of the UNILAG International Week opening on Monday?
One major step forward for us as a university is to increase our international footprint. Over the years, we’ve had a lot of interactions, but we’ve to step up to the next level, because, we believe that for us to, really, be globally competitive, we must have stronger collaboration with industries and other universities. So, this international week is to bring together as many of our international collaborators, for them to come and actually see this university. The tendency for most of us, here, is for our students to go there, but we want the students over there to come here and learn about what we do here. We found from going around that when we actually present ourselves, they understand us better. Nigeria has a bad reputation generally, so, we want them to come and see that it’s not as bad as they thought. We’re bringing them here, not only for them to see the campus and see that it is okay for them to send their students for short-term visit, but also to meet with many of our faculties and increase the collaboration, especially in the area of research. And it’s already bearing fruits. The other part of it is to see how we can constantly increase the collaboration between our foreign partners and the industry. No country moves forward and record developmental strides without collaboration… we’re trying to improve that, so as to ensure that the students we send out of here are fit in all dimensions. Also, findings from our research actually affect development, so all these can be achieved in collaboration and we’d improve.

In the last one year, there has been a lot of interest in Nigeria, and we realise we need to step up to the next level. The other part of it is that our nternational week is not just about the global world and us, it’s also about Pan-Africanism. The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) that opens up Africa was recently signed and the major part of that is that according to World Economic Forum, 73 per cent of jobs will be technological in the next 10 years, and we want to be a part of that in Africa. It means some of the things that our students are doing need to be showcased. The International Week is designed to provide that platform of showcasing our excellent performances. This is in addition to using this to strengthen our relationship with our African partners. Some of them are coming for the event, while some cannot come, but they have indicated their interest for the next one. So, it’s just the beginning and we’re hoping that whatever lessons we’ve learnt from this particular one will help us to improve upon the next edition. UNILAG has just gotten to the world ranking. We started a bit low, but being in the first 800 is not bad for somebody who is just entering the process. We realised that in getting into that ranking, part of it was internalisation which we didn’t do as well as we could have done. There are other things we could even do better, because they do require a lot of information which we couldn’t give all in this first ranking. So, all these are ways to improve our ranking, improve the quality of our students, quality of our staff and showcasing us. One university that has been really good at showcasing themselves is University of Ibadan (UI). UNILAG has been a bit slow, but we’ve really improved in recent years and we intend to keep doing that.

What informed the theme of the International Week, ‘Education In A Connected World’?
We’re moving into the fourth-industrial revolution and a lot of that is about information technology. If we’re going to be part of that story, we have to recognise that, even we, as a country, is not really there yet, we can actually move forward by leveraging on our networks. So, that’s part of what we’re doing, education here is not just for the Nigeria market, part of it for us is recognising that we are just a small part of the whole global story and the technology in the global world will definitely affect us here. So, the ideology is to come together and move forward. We are also bringing government agencies in education, hoping to change some policies to improve the nation.

What connection does it have with the issue of Cities of the future, future of the cities?
The world is changing the way cities function. Cities are really the heart of a nation, so, how organized your city is, will also matter in terms of your development. So, the cities of the future have certain things that come into play like how you manage your waste, how neat you are, how your buildings are constructed and arranged… organisation of everything. So, all these things are connected, so the cities of the future is how do you have a city that manages its environment, that is environmentally friendly, those are the things we have to look at. And in a place like Nigeria, how do we even do it in such a way that is cost efficient and cheap for people to access.

More importantly, as one of the sub-themes of the two-day international week, Cities of the Future, Future of Cities, is an acknowledgement of the fact that from time immemorial, cities have played significant role in defining civilization and human development. The all important roles of the cities have made it the engine of growth and development. The urbanization experience of the 17th and 19th century accentuated the significance of cities in human development. The level of our development in years to come depends on the attention that we pay to the growth and management of our cities. Ability to manage our urbanization and ensure the emergence of generative cities is pivotal to development of any nation. Today, the cities that are supposed to be engine of growth are more or less liabilities in most African nations including Nigeria.

The neglect of well-ordered organization has led to break down in the infrastructure and social fabric of the cities. More than 60 per cent of cities in Africa are slums and the experience has been that of increase in slums and scrubs. For us to really develop as a nation, we need to rethink our cities. We need to begin to look at key roles of cities – a functional city, a smart city. All over the world today, people are talking about smart cities – city driven by technology, example is Cuba. We must begin to think of massive urban generation. We must learn from nations that have embarked upon urban regeneration cities like Liverpool, Chicago and the present day Dundee, United Kingdom are all cities that have gone through massive urban regeneration that we can learn from.

How does the International Week reflect UNILAG’s pay-off line of being the university of first choice and nation’s pride?
Of course it is. In fact, we’re moving further to global pride.

In what ways have UNILAG graduates consolidated the ‘nation’s pride’ mantra?
Many! What we’ve been doing, apart from this international week is working to ensure that our curriculum is in line with what is required in the industry. So, we’ve had a lot of alignments and we’ve had major industry partners to work with us, to change our curriculum so that our students are well-positioned. We’ve looked at what’s going on in the world and we’re working on our curriculum. It’s not just about content. One of the areas we’re moving into strongly is also changing the way we train our students. What has happened is, we’re going to see students that are really creative, and many of our students are out there developing apps. Our students are winning competitions around the world, we’ve been exposing them. Our students have been showing how good they are and we are now having major companies coming here to recruit them. Bank of America has started coming into this campus to recruit students. We’ve got some other big companies from abroad, coming here to recruit our students, because they said that they’ve found that they are smart, creative, and what we’re now doing is working around improving the potentials they already have. Because a lot of what is going on now is technology and other intellectual mastery. We’re also established entrepreneurship centre, where we’re saying that every student must graduate with entrepreneurial mindset. You may not in the end have a company of your own, but you would have been taught how to stand for yourself, think creatively, logically, critically, and work in teams, networking and be able to search for information and use it judiciously.

What are the expectations from the International Week?
We expect improved collaboration in terms of research, writing for grant, networking, student exchange and faculty exchange. We’re hoping that the event will strengthen those ties and also for people to come in and see that Nigeria is not such a dangerous country. The travel advisory for Nigeria is so terrible such that when people actually come in they see that it is not so bad. So, we hope to erase that negative impression and open ourselves. We can’t continue to be that place where people talk about but have never been. This is the maiden edition, it is going to be annually and we’re hoping that next year’s will be bigger and better than this year’s.

How is the management mitigating the impact of the recent BBC African Eye video, ‘Sex For Grades’ on the programme?
I wish I could tell what impact it would have, I only know that it is a shameful thing and the university has no tolerance for it. The lecturer has been suspended as soon as we hear and other allegations are being investigated. Saying that we’re upset is an understatement but again, a university is a community, it’s bigger than some local governments, so, you will always have bad eggs, but we also have good people. So we try to stamp it out as soon as we hear it. What we also like to say is that students should please report any maltreatment and harassment. Many of these cases, we don’t hear about them, they don’t report and there are many avenues and those who have reported in general have been taken care of, dealt with, some people have been dismissed. But again, we have to investigate, because of the rules of the university. But this kind that is shown, the evidence is all there. Unfortunately for many students and I think it’s cultural, we don’t like to report. We have sexual harassment policy, it’s on the website and it’s given to students, we have lines of communication they can use, and counseling centre. We recently developed an app with a panic button that if you’re in any situation you don’t feel comfortable, press the panic button, a GPS will show where you are and we can come and help you. So, we have all these things. However, unless management hears about it, we can’t do anything about what we have not heard. Sometimes, the cases are not as straightforward as this and we have to investigate it. So, we hope that some of the things we’ve put in place to show that we are a no nonsense university and will not tolerate such, will help to damp it down and shouldn’t technically affect us.

This facility called ‘Cold room’, where lecturers allegedly perpetrate the act….
(Cut in)There is a cold room, but not for immoral act. People only misused it. It is actually a meeting room for VIPs. It is called the Cold Room because it has the best Air condition. So, they use it for parties, meetings, and seminars. But like anything, any room can be misused. It’s not a shady place, it was just abused. People hire the said cold room to have their birthday parties, so it’s not that it is one hidden place but how it became a spot for such act is what we are investigating. Now, it’s shut down and under investigation. So, the main cold room is not related to sexual activity, it’s like just any other classroom.

In university admission system, there are always flagship programmes that attract students, what are the flagship programmes of UNILAG?
Medicine, Law, Engineering, Mass Communication, Architecture, we have many of them. Some of the new ones that are beginning to show up as flagship Geo sciences because of their link to petroleum industry.

Is UNILAG library affiliated to globally renowned virtual libraries of the world?
We are affiliated, we have relationships to get some books and data from some universities. We also have subscription with major e-libraries. Do we have enough, no, we could do with more but it’s been improving every year and TETFUND has helped.

Nigerian universities are said to be in shortage of Ph.Ds, why are the nation’s ivory towers still caught up in such quandary?
Ph.Ds are not just a degree that can be attained, it’s about really acquiring something that pushes the frontiers of knowledge. It requires that you teach the person good research methodology and at the end of the Ph.D, the person can think critically and see a problem and arrive at a solution in a logical thinking process. So, it’s not a situation where you just have people in the class and you just award them Ph.D, no! Some people would spend five years because it depends on the topic. We should also know that the environment affects – no electricity, no water, it’s a tough environment in Nigeria. So, where everything is good, everything is available, they are doing it in three years, you should expect that where otherwise is the case, it will take a little longer. Also, one lecturer that has a Ph.D can only, in a good sense, supervise like two or three candidates, so, it’s a slow process. However, the sitauation has improved with the government intervention helping people to go out and do their Ph.Ds, while internally, a good number of doctorate degree holders are being produced without compromising the quality. It’s very easy to have all sorts of people with Ph.Ds and then you talk to them and you don’t see scholarly or intellectualism, so we have to be very careful and thorough.

Nigerian universities are plagued with the issue of overstretched capacity, what is the situation in UNILAG?
Nigerian universities are actually plagued by underfunding, and once you’re underfunded, it means everything has it capacity limit. What we try to do in UNILAG is that even though there is a pressure to admit a lot of people, we are actually not admitting as many as we’re asked to because we don’t have the capacity to deal with that now. Even now, dealing with the capacity we have is major issue and we could do with more teachers, less students because worldwide, the smaller the ratio between teachers and students, the better it is for the university. In all these, quality is important. We’re looking for a calibre of thinking, because really, a university is a place where you talk about superior thinking and superior minds. So, if you don’t have it, irrespective of whether you have a Ph.D or not, we really don’t want them here. So, the university is also looking at attracting people from outside even if it’s for a short-term, because in education, in academia, cross-fertilisation of ideas is the best. Right now, we have too many of us just rotating within Nigeria, so, we encourage our lecturers to travel, go out, and also have others come for sharing of experiences and expanding our horizon. But in terms of capacity, we’d really have to sort out this funding of university because really students don’t pay fees, they don’t pay tuition. If you pay N55, 000 in a year for university, you’re not paying any tuition.

How far can the issue of tuition be pushed in Nigeria?
The question is, do we really want university education? It’s like saying I want to buy a car and you only want to spend five naira! You’d end up buying a bicycle even if you decide to call it a car. If you want to pay the price of a bicycle for the price of a car, then be ready for what you get. What is essentially done in Nigeria is benchmarking our education at poverty level, so, those who can pay are not paying because you feel like some people cannot pay. What we should do is put a cost on each course and let government say, I want to train 1million people in Medicine, university take their cost. So, the universities have to be improved. I think we’ve got it wrong, now all our children are in Ghana and other countries. There is need to put a cost to education. Some people will pay and out of the money realised, we’ll take care of indigent students.

Recently, TETFUND technical advisory group was inaugurated without a member from UNILAG, out of almost 50 members group, why is that so?
I think we’d have to ask TETFUND! We would have preferred to be part of the group, I believe we should have been part of it, but I would not want to speculate but I would also want to mention that we do have a cordial relationship with TETFUND.

What happened to the dream of Professor Ayodele Awojobi, who already advertised ‘autonov’? Did the vision die with the engineering genius of UNILAG?
No, the engineering department is presently working on the low emission vehicle, I’m sure that will come out soon. Work is going on. There’s a lot going on in the institution, but we’re obviously not sharing our information, as we should. there’s a lot going on in terms of improvement, which is what our international week is also about, to come and let people see what we’re doing differently.

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