Prof Emmanuel Aluyor is the Vice-Chancellor of Edo State University Iyamho. In this interview, Aluyor speaks on the mandate of almost-four-year-old university, and how it is doing things differently to enhance the quality of education at the tertiary level in Nigeria as the institution prepares to graduate its first set of students. Excerpts:
You started this university from scratch. How was it at the beginning up to this point: the challenges of putting in place a new university and what makes it different from other public universities?
The last three years, going to four has been quite challenging. Like you rightly noted, we started the university from scratch and our first set of students are in their final year and will graduate in about two months’ time. The first challenge we had was setting agenda for the university, especially in the area of what we wanted to do differently. The university was conceived as one whose model is to compete with global standards and not necessarily Nigerian education standards even though it is owned by Edo State government. There has been the issue of a falling standard of education in Nigeria. We also had to contend with the fact that the world is going digital. Today there are graduates who can’t find employment and there are those who are not employable unless they return to school.
All of these motivated us into putting in place the university. For example, in our College of Medicine, we acquired an Anatomage table which is the most advanced digital device available for training in pre-clinical. We are the first university in West Africa to acquire the device. I am aware that there are several other universities in the region now in the process of acquiring the device. Regarding our nursing skills laboratories, I am aware that there three or four universities in Nigeria that already have them. However, we took it one notch higher by getting both the low fidelity and high fidelity mannequins (SIMMAN 3g) which enable the simulation of different kinds of scenarios for the training of medical doctors and nurses. We set out to acquire first-rate technological equipment in all our laboratories.
If you go to our anatomy dissection laboratory, the Medical and Dental Council and the NUC came here to say it is about the best in Nigeria. Our Mass Communication Department studios and Faculties of Engineering laboratories are highly rated. COREN was here and it attested to the high standard of our engineering laboratories. In the beginning, what we did was to consult experts. For every department on the ground, that admitted students, we invited experts to draw education curriculum. So, our curricula were put together by egg heads who married what was on the ground with our vision to raise our standard above what already exists.
In our MBBS program, we decided that we were going to adopt a competency-based curriculum. We are about the second or third university in Nigeria to adopt that curriculum. Why did I say second or third?
Before we adopted the curriculum, University of Ibadan (UI) already had it and that is the direction the Federal Ministry of Health had provided, and that is the curriculum global universities are using for the training of medical doctors. The University of Lagos (UNILAG) was in the process of converting from the traditional-based education curriculum to the competency-based one. So even though we had put in place ours before them (UNILAG), their medical programme was already running with students when we were just admitting our own students. Among the team experts that we put together to prepare the competency-based curriculum were professors from the University of Ibadan, University of Benin, University of Lagos and Obafemi Awolowo University. They all agreed that that was the way to go even though they did not have the experience as it was not yet in place in their institutions except UI.
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The education curriculum has a challenge because it is more demanding, it requires more facilities (inevitably more funds to put in place) and more staffing since it is integrated. That, however, didn’t deter us from putting in place competency-based curriculum. We have managed very well. A few weeks ago, the Medical and Dental Council gave our medical school accreditation for pre-clinical. All our programs in Edo University that are due for accreditation have been duly accredited by the NUC. So far, in all the accreditation exercises, the least score we have been awarded is 82.5 per cent (for the Department of Computer Science). For some departments, we got as high as 95 per cent. That is where we want to be – above 90 per cent.
All the Departments that are professional in nature have approvals from all the separate professional bodies (COREN, ICAN, Nursing and Midwifery Council, Council for Legal Education, Medical Laboratory Council). We are not only interested in the NUC accreditation, but we also want to be in the good books of the professional bodies. One unique thing we have done to address the issue of producing graduates who may not find employment is that from the second year, our students do two units of entrepreneurship courses every semester. The idea is that if a graduate cannot find a job, s/he should be able to create one. We have also tried to distinguish between entrepreneurship and skill acquisition. Skill acquisition is important but we are interested in grooming students to develop competencies in their chosen field of studies. If a student trained to be a doctor or an engineer, for instance, his or her entrepreneurship skill should not be tailoring.
We want to challenge students’ minds in their fields of studies so they can be creative and innovative to develop something that can put food on their tables and money in their pockets in the course of being employers of labour.
Every student graduating from Edo University should be able to do profit and loss in the account, feasibility study, business plan, approach a bank for a loan for the purpose of setting up a business and also know what to do at the point of graduation. The University Council has graciously supported that idea by instituting an N5 million prize for competition among our graduating students on the best business idea.
One of the other things we have done in Edo University is to put in place the Learning Management System (LMS). We are the first university in Africa to do so. When we were looking at putting in place the system, we had to find out how many universities in Nigeria were using the learning management system. CANVAS LMS is currently the most modern learning system in the world. 70 per cent of the Ivy League Universities uses CANVAS LMS. Going by global ranking, six of the best 10 universities in the world use CANVAS LMS. We then decided that if in standards we want to be where those universities are, then we should have CANVAS LMS for our students.
We have had challenges, no doubt, particularly looking at the work culture we are familiar with in Nigerian universities where many students come to class only when they have lectures. CANVAS helps students in this category to study round the clock but the staff must necessarily do extra work.
I want to commend the quality of staff that we have at Edo University. As the pioneer VC, I am the number one staff member. Right from inception, the first challenge we had was to get the right staff. We decided that we were not going to be the university where those who were rejected in other varsities will come to. We set our standards quite high with high remuneration scheme.
Then we embarked on an aggressive drive for quality staff. In some cases, we had to negotiate with the staff that we believed met the standards that we had set. An example is the College of Medicine where we needed to put in place the competency-based curriculum and those who know about it are scarce.
We had to go to UI where it had already started and located the Provost who set it up for them. We didn’t get him to join us easily at that time but we are glad that he has joined us at Edo University today to develop the programme at least for the first five years. The same we have done in several other departments. We are still in the market scouting for quality staff. Some will come on sabbatical and go back. We are only three years old but we have at least one professorial cadre staff in each department.
The university hostels look good. Some of them look like a hotel. You don’t find the kind in private universities not to talk of a government-owned one. What motivated this?
What we found is that students’ restiveness is caused by the fact that the living conditions are not conducive. In essence, if you want a child to behave properly, you have to put him in a good environment. The model of the universities is that all hostels are en-suite. Every student is resident on campus. The value is that you can insist on a certain code of conduct.
You might have noticed that our students’ culture is corporate. Every student must be in a hostel by 7 pm. We don’t restrict their movement during the day. The hostels have facilities for reading, relaxation and the rooms are conducive. No room for the misdemeanour. We have zero-tolerance for cultism and illicit drugs.
It must be very expensive to put the hostels in place. Did you ever think of recovering your cost?
The structures are expensive to put in place. We are putting more in place such as the newly completed medical hostel. We will both agree that every good thing requires money. Some people say Edo University is expensive but we don’t want people to say because it is a public university, they don’t have quality facilities. Everything about Edo University education is quality but to ensure that we don’t become an institution for only those who can afford it, with the support of the state government, we have put in place a scholarship scheme for 100 indigent students every year. In essence, if you don’t have money but you have the brain, you are welcome to join us.
Let us talk about the challenges, especially funding. With the structures and facilities in place, how do you cope?
No matter the amount of funding that is provided by the government, you will always have something extra to do with it. There are a lot of ideas that we want to execute with money but there is always the constraint of availability. That is a problem in all spheres of life. But going by what we have been able to achieve, I want to commend the level of funding by the state government. We have several ideas that we want to execute while exploring extra sources of funding. For example, we are into collaboration with some foreign universities – the University of Sunderland for instance – and I have no doubt that we can raise some money through that source.
Where do you want the university to be, for example, in the next five years?
In the next five years, we would have graduated five sets of students and the quality of what we are doing will reflect on our products out there. So I hope that in the next five years, Edo University will be a Mecca of the sort as far as university education is concerned. We are challenged by global standards and foreign students can come here to study instead of our students going abroad in the name of education tourism.