Professor of Mathematics, Abayomi Adelaja Arigbabu is a seasoned administrator, erudite scholar and Vice-Chancellor, Tai Solarin University of Education, TASUED. In the last 25 years, Arigbabu has been involved in Mathematics, Science and Technology (MST) Education and preparatory programmes in Nigeria. In this interview, he spoke on sundry issues bordering on education and the place of entrepreneurship training in his institution and internally-Generated Revenue. Excerpts:
Would you like to make an opening statement on your assumption of office as vice-chancellor and your vision for TASUED?
I welcome you to Tai Solarin University of Education, the first in Nigeria, second in Africa and we are eighth in the world. That’s why people say that we are in formula one, two, eight university. It is a unique university and one that ought to have been in place earlier than now. It is a specialised university of technology and specialised university of science because the conventional universities we have cannot actually address special areas.
The conventional universities usually take all courses. Students read all courses and can graduate in Medicine, Biology, Yoruba, English Language and in any area that matters. In 1980s, Nigeria decided to start having specialised universities. We started University of Agriculture to focus mainly on agriculture because we saw that agriculture is key.
When you have a specialised University of Agriculture, then you have a situation where such universities will be like centres of excellence in the area of agriculture and what ordinarily, a faculty was looking at in conventional universities, you will now have a whole university dedicated to it, that means they broke down agriculture into very small details and blew it up. The same thing was done for technology. It’s unfortunate it did not happen, it would have been the first. We continue to talk about the poor performance of students at primary, secondary and even at the university level, we never thought of having dedicated universities that will focus on specific courses so that we can actually take teaching and learning to the next level; to the level that we can conveniently say that students that pass out from our primary and secondary schools, will be well taught, well rounded and then can have excellent performance at examinations and even beyond examinations.
When in 2005, Ogun State Government decided to establish the first university of education, it was a welcome development that even the Federal Government took a cue from. Though the attempt they have made has not been crystallized, but since then, Tai Solarin University of Education has taken the bull by the horns. We are the ones showing the way, we are the flagship, University of Ibadan is the first university in Nigeria, but we are the first in education. When you talk about education in Nigeria, no university can actually push us aside. Our core business and mandate continues to be our focus and we have turned around education as a programme in Nigerian universities.
When you go to most Nigerian universities, you have 200, 500 and 1,000 students at most. Each year, we admit not less than 6,000 students in TASUED. Our current capacity is actually 5,800 but we give what they call attrition of about 500. So with that, we take about 6,200 and before they get to their final year, they are already back to 5,500 or thereabout.
What we have done is to bring life to education as a program, we have brought back the prestige. People used to look down on education and people who read education, but the emergence of TASUED has actually turned things around. Our students now graduate and go to other universities, even conventional universities for their Master’s and Ph.D. and they are taken.
In the past, it was hard to see somebody who read education. Let’s say if you read B.Sc. Health Geography, you will never be allowed to read MSc. Geography, you will have to go to the institution to do MHealth Geography or Health in any other area but now, for our students, it’s like they have double degrees. When they finish B.Sc. Health Geography or B.Sc. Health Biology or B.Sc. Health Mathematics, they go to the university and are able to go for M.Sc. Mathematics, Biology or Geography. Those who are interested in education are also able to do MHealth in Mathematics or any other area. It happens because the curriculum at the university and TASUED course were designed in such a way that our students take the full dose of what those who take other courses will take.
In other words, as a geography student that is not education, all the courses that you will take in the Faculty of Social Sciences or Sciences are what our students also take
We are also introducing more innovative programs in education, even our Master’s program is now becoming innovative. NUC initially had reservations but we have been able to make them see what we have been talking about and we are working together. There will be a turnaround in educational program and Nigeria will be better for it by the time that happens.
What are the challenges to this institution, especially the ones you met on ground or do you have an appreciation of the time you were a deputy vice-chancellor to this point in time?
I will say that I have seen it all because Tai Solarin University of Education happens to be a transformation of the Tai Solarin College of Education which was originally Ogun State College of Education, established in 1977 as the first tertiary institution in Ogun State and it became Tai Solarin College of Education when Tai Solarin died in 1994 and it was named after him. In 2005, it was transformed to a university as Tai Solarin University of Education. I have always been around and I saw it all happen. The challenges initially were enormous because changing a college of education to a university is not just going to the signpost to change it. At the beginning, we had a lot of challenges with the unions and staff. We had problem with how to place the staff that have been in the college of education structure, how to change the mindset of the students to see themselves as students of the university and of course, students that were into NCE program. It wasn’t as if we said because the school has been changed to a university, you are now going to get a degree. The university started and admitted its own students from 100 level and the NCE students were allowed to finish their program. We had the first vice-chancellor who did very well. He was Professor Olukayode Oyesiku, of course with members of his team. As at that time, I was the Dean of Students and I doubled as the Director of ICT. We had a lot of challenges but because we started with technology, we are lucky as a university. Other universities don’t have that opportunity, so we were able to tackle a lot of issues with technology and then, moving forward, I left and became the Dean of Science and then the Director of Academic Planning, Quality Assurance and Research.
I became the Deputy Vice- Chancellor in 2015 with the third Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Ogunlade. Ogunronsi was the second vice-chancellor; he left in 2012, December and Ogunlade came in 2013. I became the vice-chancellor in 2015 and as a fantastic woman, we had a very good working relationship together. We were able to move the university beyond where it was with a lot of changes. She tried her best, we were able to introduce a number of new programs and even new buildings on campus. This building where we are now was built during her tenure, though it was TETFUND-funded.
What about the problem of funding, especially given that the university is state-owned university?
Yes, it has always been with us and it is not only in our university, some state universities have that problem, even the federal universities are also having it, they call their own shortfall, they no longer get what they used to get in the past. In other words, the Federal Government is also reducing whatever subvention they have been giving them which means they also have to look inwards for revenue to actually augment. For us, we augment with more, it’s like when you have children, in most cases, they are always better and more successful. This has made us to work harder, we have worked seriously on our internally-generated revenue. This is not yet where we want to be because TASUED started with vocational and entrepreneurship programs. We are the first university to do that, it was later NUC embraced it and recommended to all universities. Before NUC did that, we had started in 2005. It was part of our program so every student that graduates from TASUED must pass vocational courses. Students here graduate with two certificates, they get one in their subjects and one in vocation. It may be shoe-making, bead-making, fish farming, textiles, tie-dye, bee-keeping and so on.
There are about 12 of them. Every student in TASUED has to take one from 100 level until he gets to 400 level and you have to pass all the courses, do the practicals before you get certificated. If you don’t do that, even if you make a first class, without passing your vocational course, you will not graduate and you will not be mobilised. So all students take it seriously. Unfortunately, I am not putting on their shoes today. Some of their shoes and slippers are what I wear. We want to commercialise some of the things the students are doing so that people can buy them and generate revenue for the university. When we have visitors, we assemble the products and give to our guests as souvenirs. Our students alsio make garri from the cassava farm.
All students in the university are expected to take a course called GNS 221 and pass it. The major thing they plant there is cassava which they also process and package and sell for N500. We also have TASUED Custard and there is a course called Fruit juice. In the course, students are taught how to make fruit juice and custard. We also have honey, fish from fingerlings which we sell during events in the university.
Part of our vocational studies is wood work. Most of the tables and chairs we have around are made by our students. We just won a contract of N293 million from Ogun State Government to supply tables and desks to all primary schools. The total of that project is more than N500 billion and they gave us more than half of the money because they saw what we were doing. If you go to the Ministry of Education today, all the executive directors’ chairs and tables were made by us. If you go to the Ministry of Finance, we actually equipped that place, all the furniture you find there were made by us. We supply all the pews and benches in Ogun State chapel and Kola Daisi University along Ibadan-Oyo road, the furniture in the Senate Building and Council Chamber were made by us. The chairs and tables used by our lecturers and staff generally are made by us. We save money through that and students also learn. We do this because the jobs that students think are available when they leave school are not available. When they graduate, they don’t have to wait for government to employ them, they can actually augment or employ people.
In the area of quality assurance and control with regards to NUC, how has the accreditation process been?
Fortunately, TASUED has been the university that is very keen on quality. We don’t want a situation whereby we have our name dragged to the mud. The cost of having to struggle out of such thing is always enormous. So it’s always good to be on the right side of the law. We have always had a good relationship with NUC. There was a time we had a problem with them because of some programs we introduced which we felt should be introduced and they originally gave us approval for but later on, withdrew it, may be they felt we shouldn’t run such program.We resolved it eventually though we danced to their tune.
But the point is that we have also been making strong cases to make them see why some of those courses should come up. Those courses incidentally have surfaced as part of the 34 key subjects that we have in secondary schools, unfortunately, Nigeria will start a policy and will not plan for it. There are no teachers for those courses, we started in 2005, planning with teachers that will teach those courses but because they are not the traditional courses we find around, NUC felt that they should not be run, we convinced them that for us to do it, let’s sit together and make benchmarks for such courses. That was what caused the delay. The first accreditation we made in 2007, all our courses were accredited and the other one we had in 2012. Because when you have a full accreditation, you have up to five years, the ones that you have are interim, you do them in two years. We had few interims at that time, so two years after, they had full accreditation. We had full accreditation in 2007, 2012, 2015 and the last one was in 2017 because of one or two courses that were interim so they came back in 2017 and we now have 100 per cent full accreditation of all our courses in the university.
How about affiliation with foreign universities?
We have linkages with foreign institutions. At the initial stage in those days, we had affiliation with a university in Northern Colorado in the area of technology, I was actually the Director of ICT in 2008. I was in Uni Colorado to understudy the IT facility and was also there in 2009 in the area of library where we actually signed an MoU in six different areas. We also have linkage with Masora University in Los Angeles. I was part of the team that went for that. We had a host of others in US and UK, we had a set of training collaboration with University of Essex. Some of our staff went there for training to get their Ph.D. In Africa, we have linkage with University of Education Ghana, and one with University of Ghana in Legon, we have with University of Cape Coast and we have a working relationship with a few universities in Nigeria. As a young university, we want to ensure that a lot of our staff who are yet to complete their Ph.D. as at that time do that and we have actually been able to harvest a lot of things on that. When we started in 2005, those that were really our own were about 12 , less than 15 academic staff with Ph.D. About five of them were sent to the University of Essex in London and they came back with their Ph.D. Some also went to Malaysia, South Africa, America and so forth.
Today, if you look at the staff lists, you will be amazed at how many Ph.Ds and professors we have.
There are two issues that usually distract the administrators of higher institutions from pursuing their goal, one is managing the student population and another is government interference. What do you have to say about that?
The advantage there is that I was the pioneer dean of students. On April 1 when a new vice-chancellor came in, all other deans were relieved of their post. I was the only one that was retained maybe because of the strategic nature of my assignment. I was made acting dean of students up to September that year and later, I was retained. I remained the dean of students for five years, I was dean of students for the first five and half years of the life of this university and I combined that with the directorship of ICT we used to call e-learning at that time. I was able to use technology as a weapon to tackle vices, track students to ensure that they behave and conform because at that time, we found out that students who engage in cultism and other vices hardly come to class regularly. Some don’t pay their school fees on time. We introduced a lot of things at that time that technically curbed those vices.
We introduced portal which we started with all these online payment right from 2005, we also used bulk SMS at that time. If you are not able to pay your school fees or log into the portal, it will tell you to go and see the dean of students. I was able to use it to check a lot of things and of course, the experience I gathered as the dean of students lived with me and I have been able to touch almost every vital aspect of the life of any university. I was dean of the college which we call faculty in other places for three years and I became the director of academic planning and quality assurance, that is like the heartbeat of the university because politics is very important and NUC takes it very serious. The academic planning and quality assurance, in some universities, are three different units, academic planning, quality assurance and research will be separated,but it was combined under my own directorate. I introduced the need to have two directors, one for academic planning assurance and the other in charge of research, when I got there that particular unit was only academic planning and nobody noticed but today, we have turned things around in the university. I didn’t apply to be a vice- chancellor here, I applied to be a lecturer. You see a lot of things as an ordinary lecturer but now I don’t see those things. I saw it all when I became the dean of students. Is it cultism you want to talk about? There is hardly a university that doesn’t have this, that is why on our campuses, you see what we call special marshals and you can walk around freely. In those days, it was terrible not only here but almost in all Nigerian universities but we were able to curb it with the introduction of special marshals. We call them campus marshals and that helped us to curb cultism to a large extent, because of what we do with technology, we track students’ attendance and some other aspects of their academic sojourn. It makes them to at least conform and they are able to see the need for them to follow university regulations and sanctions are applied appropriately. We give rewards where necessary to students.
We also curb indecent dressing, and they now know that indecent dressing should not be encouraged or allowed on campus. The experience I got over the years is helping me and as vice-chancellor, I am always ahead of them. I get reports and I still have my ears very close to the ground, taking my experience in college together with this one, I have been here for 29 years, by next year February, it will 30 years, and the university will be 13 years old and I have been here from beginning and there is no time I have not been a member of the Senate. Even in days of college of education, it was only in my first two years that I was not a member of academics. I have always been a member of the highest decision-making body of the system.
Talking of government interference, it’s all over, you just need to know how to balance it. People will still say you have not done enough as you can never do enough. The government is our proprietor, while the governor is visited to the university and we need to carry them along in whatever we are doing, there is university autonomy, freedom and so on.
Some of these things may border on interference but you just have to balance it. There is no where in the world where there is absolute freedom. It is said that where your freedom ends is where another starts. There is no direct interference with the Ogun State government, they allow us to do what we are doing as far as we are doing what is right. To a large extent our government and governor in particular doesn’t interfere that’s why students have been conforming. Otherwise, we have some institutions where students do something, they just run to people in government and then ask them to reverse it without knowing that senate is the highest decision making body. You will be creating problems for the university if you allow things to go that way. Our government has been very wonderful when it comes to allowing us to run as a University.
Do you agree that the standard of education in Nigeria is falling?
No, the standard of education in Nigeria is not really falling. There are things people are mixing up, the standard is there, courses students take now are more than courses they take in the past, some of the topics they teach students and even pupils in nursery school they were never taught until they get to the university. But now they are, you can talk about the level of performance which has always being a problem. So you don’t say the standard is falling.
Some people are of the believe that we can actually take Nigeria education higher if we take up the pass mark for instance which is currently 40%, and if we make the pass mark minimum of 50, that the student will be compelled to work hard.
It has nothing to do with it, mark is just a figure, you can mark it 70. I want people to give me the correlation between the scores students obtain in school and what they later become in life. The number of people that were failures in school are today better of outside. A number of factors come in, that is why there is nature nurture controversy, it will always be, there are a lot of things that determines that. Some of our students here, they complain about the standard, they leave Nigeria to go outside the country to be excelling, people that are not even doing well here because of the facilities, they will be well in America. Maybe the facilities and standards are not good enough, they don’t have the right atmosphere that’s what is causing it.
I hope your schedule as the vice chanc6ellor doesn’t degrade your personal and family life?
No, I carve out enough time for my family because I know that when the job leaves you, those are the people that you will go back to so if you continue to complain that you don’t have time for them because of work. By the time it leaves, they will always remain there, when you want their attention. If you don’t give them attention then don’t expect them to give you attention when you didn’t.
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