Prof. Michael Faborode is the secretary general of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (CVC) and former Vice-Chancellor of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife. In this interview with KAYODE OLANREWAJU, he bares his mind on several issues germane to the university system, including funding, research, strike and quality tuition.
There have been discrepancies following the reduction in cut-off marks announced by JAMB, which was said to be jointly agreed by all stakeholders, what is your position on this?
First let me confirm again that it was not a unilateral decision by JAMB, as all stakeholders were there when the decision was taken.
Of course, not all Vice-Chancellors or Rectors, nor Provosts were present and hence not everybody was privy to the logic of the convincing arguments. So, it is understandable that some, who were not there reacted immediately, claiming non-understanding of why the general cut-off points had to be lowered.
As had been subsequently explained, and as had always been the case, each university Senate or the Academic Board of each polytechnic or college of education still reserves the right to fix their peculiar cut-off marks, which is also dependent on several factors, such as courses and their demands, UTME performance in the various courses, catchment designation and so on.
The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) has no influence on what the individual institutions do in this regard. That is why you hear of varying cut-off from one institution to another, across institutions and even within same institution.
Sometimes we are too hasty in judgment and criticism without trying first to understand the underlying issues. I am sure people will ultimately get over the initial shock of the cut off mark being equivalent to 25 per cent in some cases, whereas 40 per cent is the generic failure threshold for many examinations.
The idea is that rather than perpetually sustaining our growing army of annual “admission drop-outs”, could we make realistic changes that boldly address the problem, even if it means that some less-endowed candidates would slip into the institutions.
The implication, as some commentators have pointed out, can be addressed by realising that an institution may be saddled with some weak “JAMBites” as we call them.
Appropriate remedial instruction methods can then be deployed to cure the noticed deficiency, and we can monitor the effect on standards and enhance ‘special-attention teaching measures’ for continuous quality enhancement to minimise the rate of attrition and retain the gain in access that this move would engender. So, we should not “throw-out the baby with the birth water”, simply for lack of thorough analysis and hasty condemnation.
The National Universities Commission (NUC) said a few months ago that some vice-chancellors are collecting as much as N5 million as furniture allowance and other forms of corruption in the universities, thus calling for a probe of the system. As a former vice-chancellor, and now Secretary General of Committee of Vice-Chancellors (CVC), what is your take on this?
Sometimes you wonder the origin and veracity of some news reports, which undeservedly get loud coverage in the media. This is one such news that has no foundation. The Executive Secretary of NUC, himself a former Vice-Chancellor, never made such an allegation because it is an unmitigated falsehood. No Vice-Chancellor collects what was not approved in the appropriate government directive on this matter, to the best of my knowledge.
Our higher education institutions are not as corrupt as being dramatically and loudly painted. Indeed, academics abhor corruption, hence what they talk about and denounce pales into insignificance with what obtains in the larger society.
Hence it is relative and as such it should not be over orchestrated, lest we destroy those committed to hard work, but fall prey to insufficient management capability.
As more and more academics leave their mainstream calling and take up management positions due to growing number of institutions, we need to double our efforts in strengthening their managerial capabilities in the overall interest of good governance. More than ever before, academics as well as top-level university administrative staff need more and more exposure to management training and this challenge should not be trivialized.
This way, we shall dissipate less energy on chasing shadows with increasing frustration. The CVC has realised this systemic shortcoming, and we have embraced continuous capacity building of not only member Vice-Chancellors, but also senior level academics in different areas of university management.
Investigations have revealed that proliferation of universities is not commensurate with the required number of lecturers, is this stating the obvious?
Well, it is like stating the obvious.
However, what it really demonstrates is our predilection with non-commitment to holistic strategic planning. We tend to plan in silos; ministry by ministry, without a common thread representing a holistic national vision.
For example, our Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) policy wants to produce 2,000 PhDs yearly, yet the Ministry of Education and the universities are oblivious of such intent, and neither does the Ministry of Science and Technology know the challenges impeding production of PhDs by universities.
Talk of working at cross purposes without coordination!
A national strategic education and national development plan should anticipate the trajectory of the growth of universities and what they need to maintain and sustain their quality in terms of all inputs and outputs.
Again, it is not that new universities would not have the resources, equipment, facilities, staff and students they need to be real universities and not what some commentators have dubbed “glorified colleges.” It is part of strategic and purposeful human capital development for provision of adequate manpower production to meet the immediate and projected demands of all the sectors of the national economy, and this must start with the knowledge system.
If the education system cannot provide needed manpower for the needs of the sector, how then can they respond to the manpower demands of the real and productive sectors of the national economy? It is true that we have shortage of qualified personnel (PhD holders or potential holders) to teach in our universities, and there must be a conscious national effort to encourage some universities with postgraduate programmes to produce in order to close this gap, if necessary with juicy incentives.
Time it was that many with First Class and high Second Class refused to pursue higher degrees, but preferred jobs in banks and other private sector firms. Such people need to incentivize to pursue higher degrees, as part of strategic national human capital development.
As Nigeria turns 57 years as a nation on October 1, is it not worrisome that no Nigerian university is among the Ivy League universities in the world, and what do you think could be done to redress the situation?
Ivy League or top performing universities do not just drop from heaven or by wishful thinking as is the past time in Nigeria. They emerge from serious national determination, planning and perseverance to do what is right and progressive, faithfully and patriotically.
The three factors that birth Ivy League universities are: a concentration of talents in terms of high performing staff and students, who are capable of winning awards and impacting on their immediate communities and humanity through their research outputs and products that shape everyday life and livelihood.
The graduates of such a school are savvy goal-getters, who go into the real world to create jobs and opportunities for humanity and create conditions for human happiness of citizens.
The other factor is the abundance of resources; starting with national goodwill and understanding of the importance of knowledge; funding; facilities including knowledge infrastructure – classrooms, laboratories, workshops, studios, internet/bandwidth, computers and other hardware; municipal infrastructure, student hostels, NOT slum-type rat-holes that abound in our universities today, that the students have painfully gotten used to and do not want to pay an extra kobo to change/improve their situation – (poverty is an intellect and consciousness killer as it glamorizes mediocrity).
The third, and indeed the pillar on which the other attributes rests, is good governance, in terms of external and internal good order and commitment to excellence. Autonomy and the Committee System are the bedrock of internal good governance.
How can we have Ivy League state universities when a state that cannot pay the workers of its only university, as it is starved of “abundant resources”, with students and staff living in slums here and there, and goes on to establish a new university?
How can and when will that university become an Ivy League University? Or when the Federal Government decides overnight to establish nine or twelve universities, without backing such intention with funds and other needs, and when such funds are provided, they are already allocated to party men who build substandard facilities. That
is, if they build at all; some of them only do site clearing and disappear, yet we want Ivy League universities.
We want Harvard, we want Cambridge, and we want MIT. I have asked the Chairs of the Committees of the National Assembly, the officials of the Accountant General’s Office, and several other government officials who request Vice-Chancellors to visit them in Abuja every day of the week, when will those Vice-Chancellors be allowed to do real work or just keep on dissipating energy.
The same Vice-Chancellors will be called to the Governor’s Office and also the Local Government Area Chairmen, yet he has to provide water, electricity, roads, dispose the wastes and so on for students and staff because states and LGAs do not provide what are their constitutional responsibilities to do.
I asked them if that is the way the President (Vice-Chancellors) of Harvard and MIT and other universities run to Washington every day of the week. Yet the President/ Vice-Chancellor of MIT or Harvard has nothing to do with any municipal facility, including intra-campus transportation. So, how do we produce Ivy League universities under these poverty-managing conditions?
A peep into what is happening in Korea, China, Singapore, Malaysia, little Estonia, among others, not to mention the Scandinavian countries, show that it is possible for every country to have such universities, if willing to emplace the enabling conditions as highlighted above.
So, our Nigeria (as personified by the Presidency and the Federal Executive Council) must first have the real vision of what we want, including great or top global universities, how many of them, and work the talk to give them those conditions – abundant resources, autonomy and good governance that will enable them harness talents to make them excel.
Our first generation universities once had some of these attributes in their early years, but they were all run down (largely from 1982-2003) for 25 years to their present pathetic state of being highly localised with little or no foreign faculty or students – see the Federal Government’s NEEDS Assessment report of 2013. Those universities were once Ivy League, at least in the Commonwealth.
Given the numerous challenges or crises facing university system in the country, what has been the role of CVC in redressing such?
The Committee of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (CVC) has been a lone crier in the wilderness. Being not a trade union like ASUU or SSANU, it has been matured in its analysis, understanding and response to the issues and challenges.
CVC has been more objective in its response to issues concerning education generally and the universities in particular because our consideration is devoid of unionist biases, which unifies rather than creating imaginary dichotomies in the system.
The overall health of the system is the central consideration; hence we are basically concerned with issues that will enable universities fulfill their mandate to society and humanity.
For instance, we do not subscribe to the idea that it is only through strikes that problems in the system can be solved. Indeed, we believe that ultimately strikes are more destructive and ultimately more destabilising for the university system than the short, though significant, gains derived from them.
At the same time, we advocate for more robust and conscious response from the government and other proprietors. Government needs to be more responsive and enthrone trust in the polity.
We must desist from promising what is not implementable to terminate agitations or strikes, only for them to be re-enacted afterwards. It drains credibility and makes crisis management difficult. As a stabilising organisation, CVC has been prominent in interfacing between government and the unions.
The crises prolonged, when CVC is inexplicably ignored. Even when ignored, we still offer advice. And now, we are taking a long-term look at the system. At our last education summit in November 2016, the policy brief of which is just being unveiled, we have adopted a Charter of a set of action steps that must be taken to restore dignity to the Nigerian university system, such that our education can be employed in solving practical problems of the society and the nation.
It is incumbent on government to fund, challenge, and motive and keep the universities busy searching and researching for solutions to our national problems. That way, there will be no idleness, which breeds misuse of intellect (remember, the devil finds work for the idle hand…), rather the nation will reap bountiful gains in innovation and hence knowledge-derived development, which is more sustainable, home grown and self-multiplying, meaning a win-win for all.