By Mike Ebonugwo
AWAY from the many problems plaguing the education sector and putting a big question mark on the quality of graduates, especially at the tertiary level, in Nigeria, one institution presently prides itself as worthy of being celebrated for its academic excellence.
The Auchi Polytechnic in Edo State was recently ranked by Webometrics, a ranking web of world universities, as the best polytechnic in Nigeria and West Africa. Last year the school was rated the 11th best higher institution in Nigeria, the only polytechnic so rated. It was to improve on its position in the latest ranking as it was rated the 10th best higher institution this year.
It is a development that has brought a lot of cheer to the administrators, staff and students in Auchi Polytechnic and there is understandably a feeling that the drums should be rolled out in celebration, especially by the students who revel in the euphoria that their school remains the best polytechnic in Nigeria for two consecutive years.
But for the Rector of the polytechnic, Dr. Philipa Idogho, it is not celebration time yet even though the occasion calls for it. For the alumnus of the school and its first female rector, Dr. Idogho, feels strongly that this is the time to work even harder to consolidate on the institution’s stellar achievements in recent times. But she was quick to acknowledge that the ranking of her school as the best polytechnic in Nigeria underscores the prevailing academic excellence there.
“That simply shows that we have improved significantly since the last four years and we will keep improving. Being rated along with the universities means that the standard here is high; it shows the level of academic attainment here since it has to do with scholarly endeavours,” she said, adding that the improved rating only goes to show that the one of last year was no fluke and did not happen by accident.
Careful and rigorous planning
According to her, it was an outcome of careful and rigorous planning on the part of the school’s management under her leadership. “The magic is pursuing our vision and mission. If you have a written vision and a mission on your job and you remain focused, no matter the odds, you will achieve what you set out to achieve as a leader or manager,” she told Vanguard Features, VF during a chat in her office.
While describing her position as the first female Rector of the polytechnic as a privilege, she also regards it as “an opportunity for me to give back to this institution that brought me to limelight”. And four years after, she has made bold to declare thus: “I would say we have done very well, having taken the polytechnic to an enviable height”, citing the impressive Webometrics rating of her school as a clear testimony.
Authorities of the Ministry of Education and the National Board for Technical Education obviously agree with her and the achievements credited to the school under her leadership as their recommendation got President Goodluck Jonathan to approve her re-appointment for another four-year term as Rector of Auchi Polytechnic.
The re-appointment is said to have been based on the fact that her first tenure recorded significant milestones in infrastructural development and capacity building in the polytechnic.
Indeed, during VF’s recent visit to the school, there were sufficient evidence that the authorities there are in a hurry to create a conducive teaching and learning environment through the provision of infrastructural facilities. This included the building of new structures and renovating of old ones.
The highpoint is the building of a new campus called Campus 2 within a period of four years complete with modern-type lecture halls, classroom blocks, theatres and other structures, with the lecture halls being provided with computers.
The success of this endeavour has been predicated on the ability of the rector to mobilise the entire school, including the alumni body, the Education Trust Fund and some corporate organisations to contribute. This had paid off with the Alumni building a 100-seater lecture theatre, while the ETF responded with four lecture halls and an E-Learning Centre, just as the United Bank for Africa, UBA contributed a six-classroom block.
A particularly remarkable development at the new campus is the on-going renovation of 10 duplexes which were said to have been abandoned since 1979. As at the time of VF’s visit, two duplexes and six bungalows had been completely renovated while work was proceeding steadily in others.
Other departments whose structures and operations readily caught the eye were the Centre for Entrepreneurial Development Auchi Polytechnic, CEDAP, with its pioneering efforts in food technology and in fabrication of metallic products; the School of Engineering that presently boasts of 3G equipment in its laboratory and workshops, as well as the Poly Ventures which is involved in the production of bread and refined water sold in bottles and sachets.
She revealed that she did not just stop at this, but took immediate steps to ensure that she had the requisite human resources to work with her and ensure that the students are well educated in line with modern trends across the world: “In the area of human development, I realised that our staff were lacking in computer literacy.
Barely five per cent of the staff were computer literate when I assumed office, so we started training them because with that, we can achieve a whole lot of things, as we actually have done today. We collaborated with the then Afribank (now MainStreet Bank), which linked up Omatek Computers Limited to supply 500 laptops to our staff to be paid for within 24 months. The different unions later started buying for their members under the same instalmental payment option.”
Testifying that she had indeed made a lot of difference since her appointment, the President of the Student Union Government, Comrade Osaro Louis had this to say: “It is amazing that within a period of four years, she has been able to build a brand new campus to decongest the old one.
From the intangibles of institutional tradition to the tangible, the polytechnic has leapt from a comatose state to one of vibrancy. For three years running, the institution has not recorded any forced closure due to strikes by students or staff, with salutary effect of a consistent academic engagement throughout three sessions, making students more studious and academic members and non-teaching members of staff to give their best”.
Other stakeholders have attributed her achievements to her managerial ability, especially in the management of the resources at her disposal, as she had to rely on internally generally revenue to carry out most of the projects credited to her. She readily agrees, adding: “Managing available resources, being organised and able to reach out are attributes every manager should possess to make progress.
I have been able to reach out to people to develop this institution to the level it is today. I have also been able to maximally utilise the resources we generate internally to achieve what I have achieved. What we couldn’t achieve on our own, I reach out to people for some special interventions. And before you ask for interventions, you have to make them see the much you achieved with the much you had. It is only then that they can be spurred to assist you.
“One of the first projects we executed on assumption of office was to change the outlook of the school by constructing more befitting gates at the two entries to the school. The next thing was to construct perimeter fence round the school, at least to control entry to and exit from the school and ensure security. At times, I wonder how we were able to do all these. But I think it was because we were focused, hardworking and not distracted by critics and criticisms.
As a leader, when people see that you are working, they don’t know how you are managing to get things done with the little resources at your disposal. I thank God for what we have been able to achieve. “My predecessors, well, did their bits with the resources at their disposal. But some people say it is even during my tenure that the institution is getting less funds through students intake.
“This is because we try as much as possible to adhere to our carrying capacity; that is admitting the number of student that has been approved for us by the National Board for Technical Education, NBTE”. She revealed that in spite of her efforts, she has also received an unfair share of criticisms, but added that she has been “taking them in good faith, because I am trained as a leader, and as a leader, you cannot assess yourself very well if there are no criticisms, objectives ones I mean.
It is when there are critics and criticisms that you really sit back, assess yourself and chart a way forward. The important thing is not to allow such to distract you from the path your have charted for yourself, and that is exactly what I have been doing since I came on board. The records are there for all to see”.