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UNICAL: Facts about the unapproved programmes and the downgrading of affected students to 200 level

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The attention of the University of Calabar has been drawn to some online publication titled, “Anger, Frustration as University of Calabar Vice-Chancellor asks Final year Students to Return to 200Level” published on Tuesday, April 13, 2021, alleging that the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Florence Banku Obi, Fnaec, mnae, JP, unilaterally ordered the downgrading of 400 Level students in some programmes to 200 Level.

To say that, the University is taken aback by the misleading publication by some of its most admired and respected online newspapers which has always relied on investigative journalism before publishing any article is to say the least. The disposition of the foremost online platforms to one-sided journalism in this circumstance is particularly very worrisome, especially, in the face of the extant Freedom of information Act (FOIA), amid the unwavering commitment of Professor Florence Obi-led administration, to always avail the general public of any information on request.

By virtue of the provisions of Section 10 (1) of the Education (National Minimum Standards and Establishment of Institutions) Act, Cap E3, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, the National Universities Commission (NUC), is constitutionally empowered to lay down minimum standards for all programmes in Nigerian Universities, including granting approval for their establishment and accrediting them at maturity (First Semester of 300 Level). In carrying out this very commendable and globally acknowledged quality assurance activity, the NUC is in league with sister federal-agencies, namely, the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and the National Youth Service Scheme (NYSC), under the auspices of its inseparable tripartite relationship, pursuant to the orderly development of Nigerian Universities vis-à-vis the provision of quality university education in the country.

It is instructive therefore to state that, by default, no Nigerian University has the power to commence any academic programme without prior approval from NUC, as doing so, contravenes the laws of the land. NUC’s approvals for the commencement of programmes are always conveyed after a successful resource verification visit to the proposed academic programme (s) in question. Suffice that, resource verification visit is implicitly mandatory for any proposed programme to get NUC’s nod for takeoff.
Over the years, the University of Calabar, has consistently observed all extant regulations governing the establishment of programmes in the Nigerian University System. Unfortunately, this was not the case, with the commencement of the Faculty of Engineering and Faculty of Pharmacy with their associated Departments and programmes, as well as, the B.A Fine and Applied Arts and B.Sc. Mass Communication, programmes etc., without prior resource verification visits.

The controversial programmes were indeed established some years back by the immediate past administration without approval from the NUC. However, in a belated move, in 2019, the then administration of the University of Calabar filled the appropriate Application Forms for the Establishment of New Academic Programmes in Nigerian Universities, requesting the National Universities Commission to conduct resource verification programmes to proposed programmes, including the controversial programmes in the new Faculties of Engineering and Pharmaceutical Sciences, as well as the B.Sc. Mass Communication and B.A. Fine and Applied Arts programmes which have hitherto commenced with some of them having students at 300 and 400 levels.

It is noteworthy that the corresponding resource verification exercise by NUC to the University was conducted in November, 2019 and as expected, the outcome of the exercise was disastrous to the image of the University and inimical to the delivery of quality university education in the country in view of the fact that most of the programmes resource verified had commenced fully without approval.

This misnomer prompted the Commission to summon the former Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Zana Akpagu to Ajawachikwu House, Maitama, Abuja. Consequently, vide letter referenced NUC/AP/F08/VOL.II/09 of 18 March, 2020, the National Universities Commission, granted approval for the establishment of: Chemical Engineering; Petroleum Engineering; Mechanical Engineering; Civil Engineering; as well as, Fine and Applied Arts programmes, with a caveat that the affected students be stepped down to 200 level.

The Commission, in the same circular (NUC/AP/F08/VOL.II/09) approved that the students of Mass Communication be moved to either Departments of Theatre Arts or Linguistics, and that Students of B. Pharmacy, be moved to the approved Pharmacology, while the University applies for the establishment of Pharm. D Programme.

Indisputably, I must say, without mincing word and without fear or favour that, the displayed carrot and stick approach by NUC was indeed a rare show of magnanimity by the Executive Secretary, Professor Abubakar Adamu Rasheed, mni, MFR FNAL. Arguably, this unmerited grace has not been granted to any University by NUC in recent times.

It is also imperative to convey that, the application for the establishment of the affected programmes, the corresponding resource verification visits to the programmes and the subsequent results/decisions of NUC on the matter took place before the era of Professor Florence Obi, as Vice-Chancellor.

Perhaps, due to the COVID-19 Lockdown and the lingering ASUU strike at the time, the immediate past administration could not implement NUC decisions on the subject before exiting office.

Furthermore, in cognizance of the negative consequence the NUC decisions could have on the students concerned and their families/sponsors, the new Vice-Chancellor, upon assumption of office on December 1, 2020, has held interactive meetings with students of the affected programmes, with a view to encouraging them as a good and caring mother to brace up to the obvious challenge.

While empathizing with the students over the ugly situation, the Vice-Chancellor avers that the right thing must be done to redeem the University’s image, for the good of the affected students and for our collective common good as a country and the world at large. There is no gainsaying that, the rationale behind NUC’s decision on the controversial programmes is the production of quality graduates from the affected programmes, relevant to national development in the face of global competitiveness.

The University Senate, under the Chairmanship of Prof. Obi, was unanimous in its resolve to implement NUC decisions without further delay. This was with a view to, among others, improve the University’s reputation and prevent/avoid any pending danger and any unnecessary litigation that may arise in future, over the institution’s inability to mobilize the affected teaming Nigerian youths for the one-year mandatory national assignment (NYSC) at graduation as and when due, due to the subsisting NUC decisions which had since been communicated to NYSC and JAMB, as well as, avert the danger of their degree certificates being under scrutiny by employers. “A stitch in time saves nine.”

For the avoidance of doubt, Professor Florence Banku Obi, is an unrepentant advocate of quality education with zero tolerance for corruption and sharp practices. She tenaciously believes that, for quality to be fully entrenched and embedded in the Nigerian University System, internal quality assurance processes must be maintained and sustained by the Nigerian University community.

According to her “a good product is always sought after”, she maintains that quality assurance at all levels in the delivery of university education is the driving force behind fully-baked graduates, who would be widely sought after by the private sector, especially in the context of the 4th industrial revolution.

Quality leadership in all spheres of human endeavours is attained, not by emotions, but by respect for the rule of law and due process. For the Nigerian University System to make hay while the sun sets, all laid down policies geared towards the orderly development of Nigerian Universities must be observed. It is high time we changed the lingering awful narrative that our Universities are producing misfit and mismatch graduates for the world of work.

Nigeria is not a banana republic; we should join the rest of the world to play according to laid down rules.

The entire University of Calabar community and its stakeholders is committed to supporting the new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Florence Banku Obi, in her unwavering resolve to restructure the University, thereby repositioning it for optimum service delivery in line with the vision of the founding fathers.

In carrying out this noble and laudable but herculean task of nation building, the new administration in University of Calabar will leave no stone unturned towards restoring the pride of the University as it was in the beginning.

Gabriel Egbe, fcai
Registrar

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