Free Education in Nigerian Universities is possible – Prof Awuzie, IMSU Vice Chancellor

 

Vice Chancellor of the Imo State University (IMSU) Owerri and immediate past President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Professor Ukachukwu Awuzie, in an interview with selected journalists to mark his one year in office, gave the secret of running a tuition-free university and the scorecard of his administration. VAL OKARA, reports.

Imo State University has become the pilot for the free education programme. What is its workability? Has it succeeded, will you advise other stateowned universities to adopt it as a model?

Free education, at the university level is possible in Nigeria, it depends on how you apply the resources. All it takes is honesty, transparency, accountabi l i t y and passion. When these are applied, free education is p o s s i b l e . In Imo State, we have free education, b e c a u s e the state Gover nor is committed to ensuring that every child has access to university education, irrespective of social background. It is this passion and the prudent application of resources, which made it possible.

Has the programme, in any way, affected the number of indigenous students admitted by the institution or the quality of teaching and learning?

No, on the contrary, the number of indigenous students admitted in the university had, sharply, increased, since the introduction of the free education programme, because every family wants to benefit from the programme. For instance, in the 2014/2015 session, we matriculated 5,215 students, out of this number, 4,618 were from Imo State. Talking about the quality of teaching and learning, it is the quality of leadership that determines the standard of the institution and not free education.

How will you rate the performance of the programme?

Impressive. The free education of the Imo State University is a huge success. As we speak, Commissioners of Education from other states have been coming to the university to study how we managed the programme, so that they can introduce it in their respective states.

How have you been able to manage a tuition-free university, relying, majorly, on subvention?

It has always been my candid opinion that universities should, to a great extent, be self-sustaining, financially. I have always reiterated my plan to lay a solid foundation, upon the expiration of my tenure, which would ensure that the university would be able to generate a bulk of the entire resources for its operations, through research outlets, endowments, alumni organisations and partnerships/linkages with national and international organisations. Upon assumption of duty, it was discovered that the Faculty of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine, had been focusing more on theoretical aspect than the practical aspect of its mandate. So, it was decided to put the faculty on a sound footing and ensure that it serves, not only as an institute for the propagation of knowledge, but also a major income earner for the university.

To achieve this, my administration was able to, among other things, increase the number of birds in the poultry section, to such an extent that the poultry, presently, sells eggs and birds to the university community and members of the public. We also increased the number of pigs in the piggery, and, as a result, products of the piggery section are now in the open market. We also established eight fish ponds, stocked with over 2,000 fingerlings. It is expected that within the shortest possible time, the fish ponds would prove to be major income earners for the university by attracting substantial investments. My administration also resuscitated the moribund feed mill on campus, which had remained neglected by previous administrations and it is now performing at optimal capacity. Upon the realisation of the place of such feed mill in the drive for improved income generation for the university, my administration remains committed to its continued expansion.

In the first 12 months of your administration, as the substantive Vice-Chancellor, what have you done to transform the institution?

Upon my appointment as the acting Vice-Chancellor, by the Visitor to the university, Governor Rochas Okorocha, on November 22, 2012, I set about putting in place the relevant governance and administrative infrastructure necessary for the smooth running of the university. To this effect, I demonstrated to the Visitor, the apparent need for the urgent constitution of the Governing Council. Prior to this time, the absence of an inaugurated Governing Council had been a huge impediment to the development of a sustainable and robust governance and administrative framework for the university.

The advent of the seventh Governing Council brought in its wake, the commencement of the process for the ethical rebirth within the university community and the process for a comprehensive intellectual value re-engineering among staff and students. No doubt, my administration has made tremendous and appreciable progress in this regard as sound moral, ethical and intellectual values have begun to permeate the institution’s environment. Also, the Senate, before the advent of my administration, had uncertain days of meeting. Under my administration, our university, like others, now has a definite date of meeting and a robust calendar for its functions, as each meeting’s deliberations are followed up with action sheets.

In which other ways have you brought your past experiences to bear in the management of the University in the last one year?

As a foremost academic and a trade unionist, I do understand the need for the maintenance of high standards within the university community. I understand the essence of ensuring proper incentives for the staff, particularly, through regular payment of salaries and prompt sponsorship of staff and students to international and national conferences, workshops and seminars. My administration, had, in the past two years, in collaboration with the TETFund Research Fund, sponsored over 16 members of staff for MSc and PhD programmes at both international and local universities. This is considered a necessary step towards the development of a virile and robust university.

We have also employed 16 consultants at the College of Medicine and another 140 new academic staff, without increasing the wage bill. Firstly, we had to work hard to maintain peace and stability, which had helped us to work within the academic calendar. We have completed two sessions since then, graduated our students and ensured that those that are qualified went for their mandatory Youth Service.

The university has had regular Senate meetings, from 39, when we assumed duty, to 56 now. We have had panels try students for examination misconduct and those found guilty were rusticated, about 700 students have been affected. We had also set up panels on disciplinary matters involving staff; some have been completed and disposed of, while others are on.

 

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