‘At Tech-U, we want to produce wizards, not geniuses’

Technical University, Ibadan, an initiative of the Oyo State government, commenced academic operations in March 2017. A year after, in this interview with journalists from select media organisations, the vice chancellor, Professor Ayobami Salami, speaks on the progress so far made by the institution, and what it hopes to achieve in the near future. LAOLU HAROLDS brings excerpts.

It’s been one year since you admitted students and commenced academic operations. How has it been, and what level of work has been done?

Normally, it would take the vice chancellor of a new university about one year to settle down and put the structures in place; but within six months after the inauguration (of Tech-U), we were able to bring students into residence and to commence academic session. The university was inaugurated in June 2017; by July, we brought in the NUC team, and by August we were given approval for 15 programmes. Actually, we applied for 14 programmes; but when NUC looked at our records, and what we had on ground, they decided that we were qualified for 15 programmes, not 14. Eventually, within six months, we got accreditation for 15 programmes and students came into residence. Also, TETFund has come to do verification exercise for this university and we are already recognized by TETFund.

Let me also say that when we started, people were thinking that maybe given our fees it was going to be exclusively for the children of the rich; but I keep on saying that the aim of the Technical University is to provide quality and qualitative education in a way that is accessible to everybody. The rich who can afford it are able to send their children; for the poor who cannot afford it, we’ve been able to develop a scholarship scheme. Within the last one year, we’ve been able to raise over half a billion naira in scholarship for indigent, but brilliant students.

In terms of internationalisation, before the end of this month, we’ll be signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Texas Technical University, United States of America. And what is that agreement all about? It’s what is called 4+1x agreement. If you’re coming to Technical University for a five-year programme in Engineering, you’ll spend four years here, and then go to Texas Tech to spend one year. But you’re not going to get the certificate of Texas Tech; you’ll come back after that one year to earn a degree of Technical University. You can now use that degree to enter Texas Tech for a Master’s degree to spend the ‘x’ year, depending on you.

 

Recently, you invited industry representatives to a curriculum review. This is a young university; what is this curriculum review all about and what necessitated it?

The issue is that we don’t want to go via the fire brigade approach and then trying to do damage control when the damage is done. At the initial stage, we brought people together, but we said that before we even go far, who are the end users? We called the Nigerian Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA) because you are the people that will eventually use their product. This is what we are doing. Can you come and look at it? If we go through this, will it meet your expectation? It’s like a kind of peer review mechanism. We brought in NECA, Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN), and the private sector. The essence of this university is to ensure that we tackle the issue of graduate unemployment in Nigeria; and if we produce graduates and they get out there and they cannot serve as ‘plug and play’ in the industry, or they cannot live up to expectations, we would have failed – and we do not want to fail.

 

New courses and areas of knowledge are springing up, and the old ones are being redefined. How are you hoping to manage the National Universities Commission (NUC) in the area of modernizing the programmes you’ll be offering so that your products will actually be ahead for industry users?

Let me first of all say that the NUC has been a very good partner with Technical University, and they appreciate the unique nature of this university. So far, we have not had any problem with that agency. Secondly, let me also say that whatever you see happening outside (by way of new courses), we need to contextualize it within our own environment. There’s nothing wrong with the certificate we are offering (in Nigeria); the problem we have is people living up to the expectation of someone who holds that degree. If we have a graduate in Electrical Electronics, can he actually deliver? Our own training is being done in such a way that it’s not just a matter of holding degree but having the skill. We do not only have programmes that are on offer, we also have programmes that are not on offer. I’ll tell you about Cyber Security. We are one of the pioneers of that course in this country as far as I know. We have courses like Mechatronics. Only few universities are doing Mechatronics. We are offering Biomedical Engineering. These are new courses; so, apart from courses that are on offer in conventional universities, we have courses that are not on offer but are relevant to our national economy. Even those courses that are regular, our own mode of training is completely different in the sense that there’s a convergence of theory and practice.

 

Beyond looking at your curriculum, reviewing it and making sure that your products fit the demand outside; will these industry experts also help you in training the students?

That is part of the agreement; we want them to be part of all this processes. We do not only agree on the curriculum; we also agree on the mode of training. In this country, there’s what we call SIWES (Students Industrial Work Experience). SIWES now in many universities is just a matter of bringing report. They go to places where they do not have the facility to work. Some of them do not even have placement; so, at the end of the day, it’s just a matter of doing the routine to fulfill all righteousness. We (at Tech-U) don’t want to run through that route. From the onset, these companies have agreed to reserve placements for us. People will be sent to where they will have hands-on experience. In terms of training, 40 per cent will come from the industry; the university will be responsible for 60 per cent. Our people will go to supervise, but the experienced hands who have the knowledge will have to take them through the routine.

ALSO READ: Tech-U meets with industry partners to review curriculum

Universities are meant to provide solutions to society’s problems. There are expectations that someday in the future, this university would be like Nigeria’s version of the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) by way of innovative products and interventions. How high should people’s expectations be of Tech-U?

Without mincing words, let me just say that Technical University is an institution to watch out for in the next few years. During the orientation of our students, I said that in the past, we talked about thinking ‘within the box’. Today, people are thinking ‘outside the box’; but (at Tech-U) we want to train students who can think ‘without the box’. We want to train innovators and inventors. We want people who will identify problems and solve them; because you can only be relevant when you’re a problem solver. Every student that graduates from the Technical University must have a final project – not just a theoretical project; this project must solve a problem. The essence is to produce a product. Our students are not to produce thesis as their final year project; they must come with products. That is the challenge they have; and I told them clearly: Yes, we want geniuses, but it’s not just about producing geniuses; we want to produce wizards – those who can think, not only outside the box, but without the box.

 

Being a pioneer in anything at all comes with its own peculiar challenges. What challenges has this pioneer position brought to you?

One of the major issues is infrastructural development, but we are already tackling them and seeing solutions. Like I said, we already have private players coming to support us. You might have heard that AMNI Petroleum Company has decided to build a whole institute here. The architectural and structural details of that institute are already being worked out by the outfit. The idea is to replicate one of the institutes in Texas here. They are already working on it. Also, the Oyo State (government) has already awarded contracts for some of the infrastructural development of this university. So, within the next two or three months, you’ll see a lot of construction going on in this place. On our own, we have started the construction of two workshops for our students. In the next two or three years when you come here, you will not believe what you will see.

 

How many students are you running with now?

We have 183 students in residence. And let me also say this is also another major breakthrough for us, because when we were given the mandate, the target set for us was 53 students to start with; but 200 students gained admission and 183 were matriculated.

 

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