By Etop Ekanem
Vice Chancellor, Augustine University, Ilara-Epe, Lagos, Prof. Steve Afolami, in this interview revealed why faith-based universities charge high fees, saying it is wrong to assume that a university is created only for the benefit of a particular group of persons. Excerpts:
MANY faith-based universities have been criticised for charging more than what church members can afford. What is your take on this?
The word “university” derives from the word “universe” which means everything that exists. A university exists for the benefit of everyone from everywhere on the globe. It is, therefore, wrong to assume that a university is created only for the benefit of a particular group of persons. From inception, a university must be aware of its universality and found itself on that basis. A university that hopes to have a universal appeal must begin by doing things right from the very beginning.
Doing things right include hiring quality faculty and staff through highly selective processes. In a competitive market, quality staff means quality pay. Besides, infrastructure, equipment, services and maintenance have to be high quality and remain so if a university, particularly a private one, is to be attractive and remain so. All of these cost much money. In our case, school fees cover only a fraction of our running cost. The rest is subsidized by the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos which owns Augustine University. In addition, she still bears the brunt of capital development. What the church does is to offer scholarship awards to deserving students who cannot afford the tuition and other charges. That is being done through the parishes and individuals.
How do you deal with cultism on campus?
We do not have any such case and we hope that it will not exist. The system is working to prevent it from the start instead of having to cope with it. However, there are rules to deal with it if it ever surfaces.
What has Augustine University got to offer to educational sector and the nation at large?
Augustine University’s motto is “Pro Scientia et Moribus,” a Latin phrase which means: “For Knowledge and Character.” It is the hope and wish of the founders that Augustine University will offer the world knowledgeable persons for whom virtue in all its ramifications will be an important pursuit in his life at home, in the workplace and among superiors and subordinates.
How successful has the institution been since its inception?
Inception has two phases: the phase of constructing the buildings, roads and equipping the buildings to provide the first-grade facilities that have placed the university in an enviable position among its pairs, and the post-approval phase which began only on March 5, 2015. The university is, therefore, too young to begin to beat its chest about achievements. All the same, it will not be immodest to speak the truth about what goes on within its walls.
For a start, it ran its first session hitch-free in spite of the harsh Nigerian environment. It has computerized systems that enable students to handle their assignments from wherever they happen to be; a system that enables the student to monitor and know for sure what his performance is in continuous assessment ahead of examinations; a system that publishes students’ results two weeks after the last paper has been written; a system that enables parents to view and follow up their children’s results in examinations through pass-worded entrance into the particular child’s result page on the portal within hours of Senate approval; a system that rewards excellence through part-tuition scholarship awards as incentive to sustainable scholarship.
Staff strength has grown from two after approval to 66 in less than two years. The university is completely residential and offers world-class facilities in this regard. It provides uninterrupted air-conditioned comfort for classroom work, library, faculty and staff offices for 18 hours daily and deploys state-of-the-arts teaching facilities in the classrooms and laboratories.
Classrooms and laboratories
The serene environment which is the first thing that a first-time visitor notices has been maintained in spite of the cost of doing so. We are at 200 Level of studies and a stable calendar is assured. God helping us we are matriculating our second set of students on Thursday, February 23, 2017. All of these have been possible because of the support the Archbishop/Proprietor and the entire Archdiocese have provided, the continual support of Anthony Cardinal Okogie to whom Archbishop Martins has entrusted the development of the university.
With the current economic challenges, how is the institution boosting its revenue?
The Catholic Archdiocese has been very generous and supportive. The Building and Development Commissions of the Archdiocese have continued to foster capital development and kind donors have been coming forth. The Faculties of Law and Engineering are in the pipeline for the next stage of academic development.
The number of students graduating with first class in public and private varsities is on the rise. Does this signify a slip in quality?
I would think not. I will illustrate with what is happening in Augustine University: We currently have six excellent students on the Vice-Chancellor’s Honour List from the 13 programmes approved for the university to start with. That means they have, through very stringent examination and continuous assessment, worked hard enough to earn themselves a Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) of at least 4.50 on a scale of 5.00. Now, they remain on that list only as long as their CGPA does not fall below the required minimum.
There is a reward for being on that list, apart from the prestige the student enjoys among his or her peers and the pride the parents feel for that honour. Anyone who has been through the university knows that it is not easy. Neither is it likely that all the lecturers in all the courses, throughout the four or five years spent to earn a degree would all connive to award A-grade to a student throughout the duration of the programme. What has happened is that the number of students have increased, so the likelihood of having more students in First-Class grade has also increased. Besides, the unwritten policy of delibrately refusing to award First-Class degree to a deserving student as used to happen in the past has also changed. That does not mean fall in standard but increase in fairness and justice to those who deserve to have it.