By Haroon Balogun
Professor Bashir Ademola Raji, the Vice Chancellor, Fountain University, Osogbo, in this interview bares his mind on the success so far achieved by the Islamic university, stressing that academic excellence laced with Islamic etiquette, enterprenueship culture and honesty are the core values the school is currently imparting on students in order to better the society. Excerpts.
FOUNTAIN over the years
There are over sixty private universities now in the country and out of the number, the Islamic based universities were four but with the recent licence granted by the Federal government, Islamic faith-based universities are now five. Fountain University is one of them and it is the only one owned by an Islamic organisation, NASFAT. There have been a lot of challenges trying to impart curriculum laced with Islamic ettiquett in our students.
We are marrying religion with academics so that the products will be better for the society. In our curriculum, there are general courses that are meant for all students both Muslims and Christians. These are Arabic and Islamic courses, albeit, at elementary level in year one and two. Since Arabic is a language, it is useful to even the non-Muslims and again the Islamic course gives them better knowledge of Islam.
There is also a fiqh forum where students interract and ask questions. As part of our common values, we ensure that every student including staff greets in Islamic way. Again, hijab is not cumpulsory but students must cover their heads. We want to see the Islamic culture in your outlook and behaviour rathan than the physical. We want them to behave ‘Fountainly.’
Among African Islamic based universities.
During my visit to African International University in Sudan and the University of Science and Technology, I realised that university cannot be taken out of context of the society. The way we practice Islam cannot be taken out of context with our universities. In Sudan, they don’t have a dress code; but we have a dress code here, although we still find it difficult to enforce it.
This is because, a lot of students were brought up in different ways, unlike in Sudan where Islamic cultures have been inculcated in the children right from their homes, so, they dont need to enforce it. So, everybody dresses and behaves Islamically. Therefore, students go into the university in their normal behaviour. So, if you want to evaluate us vis-a-vis other Islamic universities, you have to take these factors into cognizance. Parents and the society have a lot to do also in making a good society.
So, if you have to grade us, it must be vis-a-vis the society we operate from and the transformation we have been able to bring. In the recent private universities’ ranking, Covenant was ranked the best in Nigeria. In terms of academic ranking with other Islamic based universities in the country, Fountain university is the best. In terms of inculcating Islamic cultures, we are doing our best too.
I cannot evaluate myself; again, there is no generally accepted instrument to evaluate that but suffice to say we are still not where we want to be but we will continue to do our best to turn out products that will impact greatly and positively in the society.
The main challenge we have like other universities is funding. To run a university, you need a lot of funds. Even the federal and state universities, the governments need a lot of money to keep them going. They still cry of funding and that is also a challenge to us. Again, there is also the societal prejudice. People are already used to government institutions. Anything government seems to be more accepted than anything private.
It is only in primary and secondary school that education has broken into private realm. The concept of private universities in the minds of people has not changed totally. But because of the stability in private universities, a lot of people have come to buy into it. Again, poor enrolment in all private universities is a norm. Last year, the University of Ilorin alone had 107,000 applicants, the whole 60 private universities had only 17,000 applicants.
With renewed committment and leveraging on the brand name, NASFAT, which in otherwords is a success, every other thing under it must achieve resounding success. We see ourselves in the next few years ranking as the best among private universities in the country.
There are two core values we give to our students, we ensure that ICT is an intergral part of our curriculum. Our graduates can handle ICT very well and you know, nowadays, in various workplaces, knowlege of ICT is one of the requirements. We also inculcate in them enterprenueship skills. In our school, all the toiletries, insecticides we use are made by our own students.
The paints we used recently to paint some of our buldings were made by our students. During our enterprenuer training, we expose them to a lot of handiwork so that they can be employers of labour instead of looking for employments. So, we try to make them to be hardworking, honest and incurruptible. These are attributes you need when going into the labour market aside from your academic proficiency.