Professor Juan Elegido, the Vice-Chancellor of Pan-Atlantic University, PAU, Lekki, Lagos, had a chat with Vanguard’s Agbonkhese Oboh. He spoke on education in Nigeria, the impact of COVID-19 on teaching and learning, post-pandemic academia and the culture of quality at PAU. The Professor of Business Ethics has been in Nigeria since the 1970s, and is a foundation staff member of Lagos Business School. Therefore, Professor Elegido, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria, Society for Corporate Governance Nigeria and a member of the Business Ethics Network – Africa, had good and authoritative points to make.
How would you review Nigeria’s education sector?
The main change was in 1980, at the time of the oil crisis. At that moment, the funding available for education went down drastically. But the number of students at the secondary and tertiary levels kept going up. So there was less funding but an increasing number of students. Then very many top academics either left the country or left the education sector and took up jobs in banks and oil companies.
From 1980 to 2000, it became progressively worse. Since the year 2000, after the return of civilian government, the economy started picking up. At about that time too, more and more private institutions (from primary schools to universities) sprang up. Then in the past six or seven years, while the private sector has been improving, funding for the public sector has been dropping again.
Does that explain why expatriates still dominate the construction industry when Nigerian universities produce engineers yearly? What’s missing between the town and gown?
First, in the construction industry, there are ‘foreign’ firms in every country. Even in the USA and UK. Not just Nigeria. The more relevant question would be are Nigerian graduates competing for jobs in Nigeria and abroad? Yes. Many Nigerian graduates are doing well home and abroad. Some 10 years ago, those who graduated abroad and came back to Nigeria had advantage. But it’s far less so today. Nigeria firms prefer local quality. It doesn’t matter whether you are from Harvard or Cambridge anymore. The competition from locally-trained graduates is much stronger.
Let’s talk about PAU. To what extent did the COVID-19 lockdown affect academic activities?
To tell you the truth, and if you don’t mind me beating my own chest, we are very proud of how we moved online. When the Ministry of Education instructed that campuses should be closed, it caught us a bit by surprise. Then we took two weeks of transition and instructed our lecturers to start online classes. LBS and Enterprise Development Centre, EDC, had a lot of online programmes all along. But in the main campus, many of our lecturers needed the special training to take the classes online. So we used two weeks to do that. We had the great advantage of having LBS and EDC to help with that knowledge transfer. From April 14, we returned to the original timetable and it’s been a learning process for everyone.
In the beginning, we were too ambitious. Eventually we had to adjust when the students’ counsellor came to us with complaints. We then adopted methods of teaching that are less demanding on data and extended data allowance to all the students; only students that are on scholarship were getting allowances for data before then. Now they all get 3GB data weekly. So we have not been perfect from day one. But, as I said, it’s been a process of learning for everyone.
What other adjustments has PAU made?
As a foundation, we generate our own funds. We don’t have a proprietor to fund us. So we have reduced salaries to 70% from April. When things normalise, we will not only go back to paying 100%, but will also pay the arrears of 30%. However, junior staff members’ salaries still remain 100%.
What helped us was that we saw ahead, given how the pandemic was raging in China, Spain, USA and Italy. So we quickly moved online because it might be a while, and much more difficult, before universities re-open. In fact, I won’t be surprised if the session finishes online.
So if this is the new normal, we are ready. We have the appropriate platform and relevant licences to optimise all the features of an online classroom. We ensure that the same quality we have offline is what we have in online classes. The secret of our success at PAU is that we never go for half measures. From the beginning, we were fully committed to the new system even though economically its worse for us now than it was in the pre-virtual classes.
What do you think will be the place of the physical classroom post-COVID-19?
That’s a big question. For instance, we were using very little online methods for teaching undergraduates. Now that we have capabilities that would ordinarily have taken about four years to develop, you cannot put toothpaste back into the tube. Also, staff and students have different expectations now. But we would go back to face-to-face teaching and learning process.
It is one thing to do a few months online and another for a whole degree online. You would lose very important things. For instance, life on campus is a very vital element of quality education. The interactions, face-to-face and social life are all important for a student. But when we get back, there will be many more elements of online in the system. Already we have distance learning in 70 locations.
PAU comes across as an institution for the elite/rich
To be sincere and open, that is a fact. Quality education is inherently expensive. Someone has to pay for it. Let me give an example. If you analyse carefully, UNIBEN, OAU, UNILAG and all the other top federal universities are spending an average of N800,000 on each student annually. That’s for a public university. The monies come from normal government subventions, TETFund and so on. And they actually need more. But for a private university, that money comes from parents. Those that think it will come from a benefactor or a proprietor are deceiving themselves.
In our case, we don’t even have a proprietor in that sense. Even those that have, the proprietor might not want to fund indefinite deficit, but prefer to spend on building, expansion and other development projects. At the end of the day, somebody has to pay for the recurrent expenditure.
So I agree that only a few Nigerians can afford PAU fees. But we have made a commitment to have 15% of the student population on scholarship. Little by little, we are trying to reach people who like what we are doing to help in the scholarships. If we can have 40 or 50% of the students of PAU on scholarship, it will be very good for us and the country.
Is there a strategy to your programmes’ development?
We are very deliberate in our pace of growth. Currently, we have 1,150 students on academic programmes. We started the undergraduate project with three programmes. Now we have five. That is to say, in five years we have only added two programmes. This year we are starting a Master’s programme in Film Production. By next year we will add three more in engineering: Mechanical, Electrical/Electronics and Computer Science. Then for the next three or four years, we will not have anything else.
The problem with most universities in Nigeria— public and private— is that from day one they start with 10 faculties and 40 programmes. But in our case, we want to protect the quality and culture we started with. We are not interested in being the largest university in Nigeria. We are trying to be the best and that is a question of quality. For instance, we are not considering Medicine yet. To do well in Medicine is very, very expensive. And part of our secret at PAU is that if we can’t do something very well, we don’t do it. Right now, we can’t do medicine very well.
How strong is PAU’s alumni association?
LBS alumni association is the most vibrant in Nigeria, with about 7,000 members. They hold an annual dinner and the members feel very connected. They also organise continuous education activities for members.
However, for undergraduate programmes, we have only graduated two classes of about 200 students. But it will grow. For now, LBS, EDC and School of Media and Communication, SMC, have very active alumni association.