‘At FUTO, we’re expanding internally generated revenue’
After one year in office, vice chancellor of Federal University of Technology Owerri (FUTO), Prof Francis Chukwuemeka Eze, in this interview with Southeast Bureau Chief, LAWRENCE NJOKU, spoke on plans for sustained academic activities among others in the school.
How far have you gone in actualising the culture of excellence promised during your inauguration last year?
I was part of the immediate past administration, I served there as Deputy Vice Chancellor (administration); so, I am in a familiar terrain. We instituted then the quest for excellence. What we will do within the next few years is to drive this excellence to every facet of the university and that means in terms of research, quality assurance, in terms of conducive environment for teaching and learning. In terms of the type of research we will do is such that is of relevance to society not just for the sake of published papers. We must develop agriculture as a business. We must revolutionalise our technology base. We need to do things differently. So far, we are moving forward. In the past, we admitted students without their registration numbers because the ICT was not very effective. But we have entered into an MOU with the Afrihub and that has helped us to the extent that during the last matriculation, all our students had their registration numbers. We are expanding the ICT facilities of ICT with optical cables to enable it carry more band weights, and improve the e-learning platforms.
We have also been fighting corruption, exploitation, extortion and non-payment of fees. There is now an improvement in payment of fees. We have always said that for us to give you quality education, you must pay your school fees. We have put a condition that if you don’t pay your fees, you won’t get your results and by that way, we are motivating them to do what they are supposed to do.
Transportation was a big problem here. But within the last one year, we have introduced the shuttle service on campus and that enabled us ban motorcycles on campus. We decided to place the ban because we discovered that over 80 percent of security challenges we had was traceable to the motorcyclists. When we had this last demonstration from the students, we discovered that it was the motorcyclists that carted away our property. We have achieved that. I am not saying we have the best quality shuttle, but this is a shuttle that started recently and I believe that we will stabilize the shuttle system with time.
If you look outside the gate, you will see we are clearing our land for agriculture. We have made steady progress to ensure that we built professorial quarters; we are also going to plant some trees in some of the areas. So what we have in mind is modern commercial farming that includes processing of cassava. There is a river that runs round this institution called the Otamiri River. We are exploiting the place to do fishery. These are things that will boost our revenue base. We also want to generate energy using the presence of the river here. The other dream I have is to make sure that we export technology. We have gotten partnership that will help us actualize the dream. Immediately we get the funding, we will move.
What are other sources of funding that you have discovered or developed in this past year to improve your IGR?
We are actually looking inwards and expanding our Internally Generated Revenue base to support us in our plan. We have some outfits that will yield money to us when we improve on them. We have the Micro Finance bank; it is doing well and needs some improvement. We have improved on FUTO press and getting money from there. We have the FUTO bookshop, the new Managing Director is doing very well. Apart from that we have FUTO Consult and gingering that unit to be able to make more money for us. We have the Centre for Industrial Studies, we have told them, it is not just teaching people, but that they must go into production. For instance, things like burglary proofs we use in the building can be produced. We have the Food Science and Technology department; I have challenged them to utilize what they have to generate revenue for the school. To my mind, almost all our departments can generate good money for the school.
There is no reason why they cannot make bread; there is no reason why they cannot give us fruit juice (fresh one). We are looking at polymer and textiles; we have machines that can give us money. We have glass blending machine. We can produce test tubes we use in our Physics and Biology Laboratories. What we have tried to do is to take away the academics from these business outfits and put core professionals to run the outfits. We are implementing that and to put the right people where they should be. We have been able to block all the leakages. We no longer collect fees by hand but online. We are also contacting other agencies for possible collaboration.
Two of our programmes did not meet full accreditation of the NUC according to the report released recently. Can you throw more light on this?
We put forward 13 programmes during the November-December, 2016 National Universities Commission (NUC) accreditation exercise. Of the number, eleven met full accreditation; two were placed on the interim to be revisited in 2018. I would say it was a good result because of what is involved in the exercise. Full accreditation is distinction, while interim accreditation is like a credit. There is denied accreditation, which is like a failure. The two programmes placed on interim accreditation are Architecture and Building. These were due to their requirements especially in terms of personnel. For Architecture for instance, when they came for the accreditation, they saw all that we put there within a short period of time but there are very few qualified professionals that you can get in that field. So the staff structure, which is a requirement for NUC accreditation, is that 20 percent of the academic staff should be professorial, 35 percent should be senior lecturers and the other lecturers should make up the rest of 45 percent. So staffing was the main problem. We are trying to close the gaps. We are not resting on our oars. We are trying to ensure that by next accreditation, all these things will be in place and it will be a smooth sail. We are training our staff and encouraging them to get the requisite qualifications.
Tell us why your students rioted recently and lessons learnt from it?
When we came on board last year, we discussed with the Students Union Government (SUG), where they listed all that they wanted us to do and by November last year, we implemented all that we agreed. So everything went fine, they were paying their fees until February when a communication gap was created. They had a few issues here and there as it concerns illegal collection but failed to communicate management accordingly. So those who lost in their election earlier capitalized on the loophole to cause riot. In the process, they brought hoodlums into the hostels through the bushes. Their target was the ICT centre and they broke into it and stole everything they wanted. In fact they destroyed the place. We never had that kind of students who will go and destroy what belongs to them. That shows external hand in what happened and subsequent revelations show that there were some external hands because the leader of that group from what he was saying makes it clear where he was coming from.
The lesson for us is to educate the students and being able to have a channel where you can now send and receive information straight. We have been able to establish a twitter handle that you can send whatever the issue straight to the Vice Chancellor. The Alumni association has been helpful in this regard and with this we have been able to check them, because they didn’t know we could hold the matriculation, let alone doing exams. The lesson also is for us to know that certain things may be happening within your organization and because the students were not coming out to say what is happening, it becomes a problem. Before that protest, somebody was collecting money and it was the quality assurance people who brought a report that some departments were collecting money illegally. I have told the deans that I want a report as it affects the departments because we cannot let these people go free, though the students did not report. Some of the people that participated in the demonstration were charged to court by the police. Some of them have also learnt their lesson and I want to believe that they will not go into it again, because it did not pay anybody any good.
Have you recovered lost ground?
We have our calendar. It is just for a few months. We are not the first that experienced this. We have checked our calendar and we don’t feel we have lost so much. We will certainly meet with every expectation.
Why constant encroachments into the school?
If we had done perimeter fencing from the beginning or use palm trees to delineate the boundaries, we won’t have what we are having now. For us in FUTO, there was no take off grant, because if you had that kind of grant, you will be able to secure the boundaries. If we had secured the boundaries, the question of encroachment will not be there. The question is why is it more pronounced here than in other areas? In some places, you see people donating land to the university. Here the land appreciates and it becomes a source of business for them. But like I have always said, FUTO land is FUTO land and when we get some funding, we will reclaim our land. We are doing so much, outreach services, agric research and extension; improved seedlings among others and these are things we carry to the communities. We are talking to their leaders and we believe that with time, there will be a change.
Tell us about your level of technology bearing in mind that you said you want to export technology?
We have inventions littered all over the place. We have patent on renewable energy, which was given to us some years ago. What is obtainable in patent is that you must be servicing it yearly that is why it is better for an institution to do than individual. We have developed a bio-digester and what we are focusing on now is modernalized agriculture. We have some products; we have the Afri-care which we developed with a University in Germany. We have the K-pop made from Cassava. We have the wine production that is ongoing. We want to preserve the cassava for a long time for up to one month for export and the solar power. There are so many things we have done and we are still doing more. If we have not excelled, we will not be the brand name we are.
You talked about power project. What has happened so far?
We have done feasibility study about the power project from the Otamiri River; a group had come from federal government. FUTO was selected among the six universities where they can put the Independent power and luckily we have the Otamiri River. If we are able to generate power they will give us the turbine and they will take us away from the national grid and we will be able to power FUTO and surrounding communities. We hope we will be able to do that when we get the funding.
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