Government should task varsities for solutions to country’s woes
Vice Chancellor, Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT), Prof. Luke Okechukwu Anike, in this interview with ENO-ABASI SUNDAY, spoke on how universities can excel in community service, the roadmap to their attaining global visibility, and the issue of Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) among others.
How is the Nigerian University System (NUS) facilitating Nigeria socio-economic development?
The essence of the university is to proffer solutions to the societal issues/problems. That is why the cardinal objectives of the university remains community service. When problems arise, universities take them up as challenges and look at all the options using knowledge and skills to find solutions. So you cannot separate the university system from the society.
But is this really what currently obtains in the country?
The universities and the country must necessarily work together. So, we want the government to challenge the universities by giving them more specific tasks towards finding solutions to particular problems facing the country, both socially and economically. With the right funding and motivation, we will be able to provide sustainable solutions to some of our contemporary problems in the country.
Economic recession is biting hard in the country and schools need a lot of funds to stay afloat. How is your school faring in terms of Internally Generated Revenue?
IGR is always there even though universities are not commercial ventures to earn some money from their activities in order to support themselves. Having said that, recession has a very critical impact on universities because universities are expensive to run, and in a cash strapped economy, it becomes more difficult to be able to get proper and quality materials required to carry out the critical functions needed to maintain standards with other universities. That is why I said that governments should challenge universities more by asking them to carry out specific tasks geared towards solving particular problem.
ESUT is one of the high-rated state universities in the country, and equally rated high among all Nigerian varsities. How do you feel about this?
Well, we are happy as a university for such rating. It is good to stay at the top. What we are trying to do is to maintain such recognition.
What are the things you are doing to ensure that the momentum is sustained?
From the onset, I have promised that our university will take bold steps to ensure global visibility and excellent academic rating. We have also tried to build best practices and skills so that we will be strengthened enough, and be more confident in carrying out whatever functions that come our way. We have tried to build linkages and connections with institutions around the world and we will continue to build such linkages.
Only recently, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Anglo Ruskin University, in the United Kingdom for staff and students exchange programmes, and for collaboration and research, which is one of our principal actions. In addition to the collaboration/linkages with other varsities and agencies, and as a way of enriching and enlarging our coast in terms of academic content capacity building and internalisation, the university has successfully signed MoU with a number of foreign institution in the areas of staff and student exchange, curriculum development and other areas of mutual benefit. Some of the institutions include Dolphin University, Ireland. This was facilitated by our Visitor, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, when he visited the United Kingdom. We also have a relationship with the University of Wolverhampton, England to mention a few.
We believe that any university that focuses on this will be able to meet its goals and aspirations. As a result of this, our emphasis is on research alongside teaching and community services.
What is your view on universities picking their respective cut-off marks?
I believe that it is important that there is a statutory cut-off mark so that every university will be operating at the same level. If you begin to establish different standards, then there will be a problem acceptability in future as universities will begin to discriminate against students.
In your convocation address, you listed some challenges facing your school. How are they being addressed?
As a university, we cannot say we have everything that we need to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves, especially with regards to funds, laboratory materials and other important features and structures that contemporary universities require. However, in terms of funding, it is pertinent to mention that the government of Enugu State has shown deep interest in allowing the university to function, by providing subventions to the school regularly. On this, we are very happy with our governor who believes in education and excellence, and has maintained that by showing great interest in, and releasing funds to us as at when due.
We are also grateful to the 17 local councils in the state under the umbrella of ALGON, as they are also helping to fund the university, by regularly sending subventions to the school.
We have also devised a means of reaching out to our alumni, as well as to well-meaning individuals and philanthropists in the country and beyond.
Additionally, we also look for funds through the proposals that we send to international organisations like UNESCO, and sometimes we are lucky to get approvals. All these are sources, which we get funds from.
One of our recent doctoral degree awardees, Prince Arthur Eze, voluntarily agreed to invest the sum of N100m yearly for five years, with an additional N50m for street lighting in the university. Eze also donated books to strengthen our library.
I think that this is necessary to motivate other philanthropists and other well-meaning persons to invest in education because the gains of such investments to the community, and the nation are unquantifiable. Such funds will allow universities like ours to obtain some features and materials that are necessary for their smooth running. We still need to continue to work at the pace, or increase the pace, in order to achieve the goals, which the university was set up to achieve.
The Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) has assisted greatly in providing infrastructure within the university. In fact, some of the structures built by the agency include lecture halls, laboratories, classrooms, and an auditorium. We are very grateful to TETFund and the Federal Ministry of Education, through the NEEDS Assessment Implementation Committee. We are also grateful to the Central Bank of Nigeria for providing us with a central laboratory that is currently under construction.
We also have the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) to thank for the provision of an ICT laboratory for the university, which has been completed and put to use. Innoson Group also deserves our appreciation for providing us with the General Studies Complex.
We are also grateful to our Chancellor, Wakili Adamawa, Dr. Hassan Adamu who has also mobilised his friends to support some university projects. It is important to note that where we are is the permanent site of the university and requires development. We are one of the universities that have moved to permanent sites in recent times, and we are working hard to ensure that all our activities are concentrated within the permanent site of the university in order to maximise the use of the facility
We see these forms of support for education as very essential and positive to the Nigerian University System.
We look forward to other persons and corporate organisations coming to our aid, especially in the areas of housing so that we can accommodate our staff within the campus in order to boost mentoring, enhance their effectiveness, and increase all campus activities that are required to further students and staff development.
What are your dreams for ESUT?
We want ESUT to be globally competitive and a university that young people seek to be admitted into. In that line, we are ready and committed to hire the best staff, and we emphasise research because the school was established for the purpose of carrying out research. Like I always say, we should be able to carry out such mandate by emphasising collaboration and linkages to solve contemporary problems.
Let me also say that as a university, we cannot throw our borders open since we need to know who is coming into the school premises. It is not a way to discriminate against our host community, but a way of improving our security. We will be interested and happy if anybody helps us to erect a fence around the university, so that intrusion into the university would not be a source of strife between the school and its host community.
In the next four years, where do you want to see ESUT?
I would like to see ESUT move from this level to another level. A large proportion of our staff leave the campus after work and in a university, there is no after work. This is the kind of global picture we want to have of ESUT. So, I want to see ESUT become a community of its own.
What is the relationship between management and staff?
The university management cherishes its teachers and programmes. We have been able to do this by relaying every information to the unions and other interested members of the university. When you tell them the truth, everybody becomes aware of the situation on ground in the university. There is nothing to hide. We maintain seamless information flow between management and staff, and we call meetings often.