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Funding is a major challenge of university administration – Prof Sonni Tyoden

By Taye Obateru

Prof Sonni Gwanle Tyoden, Vice Chancellor of the University of Jos bared his mind recently on issues relating to the institution and the university sector generally.

Excerpts:

How has the journey been so far a little over three years as vice chancellor of University of Jos?

So far so good. The major challenge basically is not having enough funds to do what you have to do. Second is the issue of disruption in the academic calendar as a result of the protest by the staff unions.

This is a lot of problem for us because in the first instance the University of Jos is lagging behind in terms of academic calendar.  Most other universities are now operating in the 2009/2010 session but we are still in the 2009/2010 session.

We understand there was a special allocation approved for the development of the permanent site of the university at the twilight of the Obasanjo Administration. What became of the fund?
Yes, some approval was supposed to have been given to us by the last regime unfortunately by the time they left the money did not get to us.  We are still trying to discuss with the present regime to see if we can get it.

The Federal Government has been talking about autonomy for universities especially with the strike by ASUU. What is your understanding of the autonomy?
Autonomy simply implies that the university should be allowed to operate based on the structures on ground, the rules and regulations, and on the various statutes of the various institutions.  That we call for autonomy doesn’t imply that government should hands-off completely, because without government we can’t run these universities.  They provide the main finance and he who pays the piper dictates the tune.  So autonomy has its limit but I thank that what has been put on ground in the name of autonomy for now is credible. At least most of the processes still take place within the university system.

As we are all well aware the appointment and removal of the vice chancellor is now strictly a council affair, you simply inform the government about what they have done.  One problem we are having is that ASUU wants to eat its cake and have it.  In one breath they want the autonomy but in another breath they don’t want it.  You cannot say you want autonomy and when government says go and negotiate with your council, you say no.

The council is your employer, and by the terms of the autonomy the person you negotiate with is your council.  The council determines your terms of employment, including salaries.  So how can you refuse to negotiate with your council and insist on negotiating with the government you say is interfering too much in the affairs of the universities?

As far as I am concerned I think the autonomy is good and we should give it a chance and allow it to operate properly.

What are your major achievements since becoming vice chancellor of UNIJOS?

We have recorded many achievements.  I have tried to effect a change of attitude within the staff of the university for people to be more patriotic and more committed to their work.  Also to retrace our steps back to the traditions of the university system.

I have tried to put in place some of the structures that were initially taken for granted or have been forgotten.  I have tried to also give the university a face lift physically; if you come into the University of Jos it is not the same as it was before.  At least there is a semblance of some order and sanity.

We have also taken a major step towards the development of the permanent site. The foundation of the administration/senate building is now completed and I hope that by the time I leave office we would have moved there.  Once the administration moves there of course that will be major factor in the development of the place.

Not too long ago there were agitations from part time students of the university over their desire to participate in the NYSC scheme. How has the matter been resolved now?

It is a question that has been disturbing a lot of people.  You see, no university has anything to do with who qualifies for NYSC or who does not.  We don’t do the mobilization, it’s the NYSC secretariat.  By the NUC mandate only regular students can be mobilized for youth service.  In other words, no part time student or sandwich student can go for youth service.

And that is very clear.  But these students overnight feel that they should be mobilized.  We told them fine, while we are sympathetic to your cause given your age, there is nothing we can do.  You need to make an appeal to the NYSC secretariat and it they can do that for you, fine.

I even went to the extent of writing a personal letter two years ago to the NYSC directorate then requesting them to initiate a bill that will make it possible for part time students to also come on board for youth service provided they satisfy the entry requirements because they basically get the same certificate.

That is the best we can do.  We have nothing to do with the mobilization and so it is not something that we can handle.  But the students don’t seem to understand that. Despite all efforts to enlighten them, they don’t seem to understand where we are coming from.

Was the issue of non participation in the scheme made clear to the students from the outset?
This programme right from the beginning was meant for older students who were already working.  So they don’t need to go for any youth service.  But over time because of the lack of space in terms of admission, you tend to have a large number of young people who could not gain admission into the regular programmes going into this part time programme.

But it is clear to everybody that this is a part time programme and as long as it is so you can’t go for youth service unless the NYSC mandate is changed.  We have decided to retrace our steps and go back to the initial focus of the part time programme.  We are now going to limit it to older people who are working.  At least it will become very clear that they are not going to be eligible for youth service.

How is the university coping with the problem of cultism?
Cultism, I must say, seems to have quieted down a bit.  When I came on board there were quite a number of cases.  We decided to take the battle head on.  I asked the security to compile a list of suspected cultists for me and then I called all those students and invited all the security agencies in the state.

We had a meeting with the students and I told them that we have information that they were actively involved in cultism but if they desist they will be allowed to continue their studies but if they continue we will bring down the law hard on them.  Because we confronted them directly and took them off-guard, it worked.  Some of them openly confessed and renounced their membership of the cults. From our monitoring we have confirmed that they have left indeed.

We explained to them that since we know them by name and up to their villages, we can always monitor them anywhere.  That really scared a lot of them and they changed.  I’m not saying that it is completely erased but most of them now operate off campus.  They don’t come to the campus because if they are caught, they will be expelled summarily.


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