Vice-Chancellor of The Technical University, Ibadan, Prof. Ayobami Salami, speaks with CHUX OHAI about the goals and prospects of the institution
What is the real status of The Technical University? Is this a public or private university?
This is a public university. It was established by the Oyo State Government, but it will not just run the normal way. I would describe it as a public university with a private sector orientation. We are not going to run the conventional system, whether in terms of training or grading of our students. We want to make sure that what we do are things that actually meet the needs of the society.
What will be the unique selling point of the institution? What niche does it aim at creating?
I am happy that you asked this question. I am sure that many Nigerians will agree with me that one major issue facing us in this country is the match between the certificates that people possess and the skills they acquire. There is a skill gap in Nigeria today. We are having a situation whereby many graduates that we are producing do not really fit into the labour market for want of skills.
When you talk about technology, you are referring to a process that drives development. In this respect, you want to talk about the theoretical principles, the methodology and concept that drive development. But when we talk about a technical university, we are referring to a university that imparts skills to students so that in the end it won’t just be about the theoretical principle of how development should take place. On the contrary, it should be about the skills that could give us products.
So skill acquisition is the unique selling point of this university.
What specific programmes, in terms of skill acquisition, will the university focus on?
Most of our programmes are not what you have in most conventional universities. Let me mention some examples. In the world today, we are talking about technology as the main field and Information Communication Technology being the backbone on which technology will ride. So this is a digital world. However, one thing that goes along with this is cyber crime.
In respect of cyber crime, globally Nigeria ranks third after the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Yet, we don’t have the skill and expertise to deal with this problem. President Muhammadu Buhari recently admitted that Nigeria is losing over N120bn annually to cyber crime. Unfortunately, we don’t have any institution in this country that trains people to fight cyber crime. So we have a major gap in that area.
One of the courses that The technical University will run is Cyber Security. Also, we plan to run a programme in Biomedical Engineering. All over the country today medical equipment are breaking down in teaching hospitals, but we don’t have the people that can fix them. It is either you abandon them and wait for experts, who you have to fly into the country from overseas, to come and fix them at very high costs, or you buy new ones.
Also, we shall run another programme in Software Engineering. As a software engineer, you don’t need a big office. All you need is your laptop computer, access to Internet and your skill. Basically, we are looking at the critical areas of the economy that can contribute to the development of this country and we are deliberately trying to impart skills in such areas to our youths so that we can bring about rapid national development.
Getting qualified and competent teaching staff has always posed a serious problem to technical education at all levels in Nigeria. How do you intend to tackle this problem?
We needed to address our minds to this problem when we were setting out, with respect to the courses that we want to run at the university. We looked at the areas where we lack adequate skilled manpower in the country and decided to locate the necessary teaching personnel anywhere in the world and bring them here to work with us.
Are you saying that you may have to consider going abroad to hire lecturers?
Well, a university is a place where you bring people from different parts of the world. It is not supposed to be a localised institution both for students and staff. Although we intend to do that, let me also state that most of our staff are going to be Nigerians resident in the country. But there are a few areas where we need people with certain skills that we can’t find in Nigeria. We shall bring in such people to come and fill those vacant positions. They are not necessarily going to be here for up to 12 months. We will look at the critical areas of our programmes and the period that we need them. They will do what they need to do within that period and then go back to their respective countries.
With tuition fees already fixed at N400,000 per academic session, don’t you think that The Technical University will rank among the most expensive state-owned tertiary institutions in Nigeria?
When you talk about being expensive, I think it is in relative terms. First, you have to ask what we really want. What we want will come at a cost and somebody has to pay for it. It is either the government pays for it or the individual will pay for it. In this case, both the government and the people will share the cost. In the end, what matters is the output and if it really justifies the investment. Let me assure you that we are going to justify every kobo invested on education at The Technical University.
Inadequate funding is also one of the major challenges facing tertiary education in the country. How do you intend to solve it?
We have a unique funding model. I have said before that this is a public university with a private sector orientation. The Oyo State Government has agreed to give us a take-off grant. At a point in the future, while government takes care of infrastructural development, the university management is expected to generate revenue to pay the salaries of its workers. For now, the government is taking care of everything.
When will the university officially begin to admit students?
We have started admitting students. Come November 26, our gates will be opened formally for students to come into residence. The university is fully residential. We cannot admit any student that we cannot accommodate.
What impact will the university likely make on the Nigerian society in the next 10 years?
I want to say that no student will come to The Technical University, graduate after five years here and end up roaming the streets in search of employment. In the first place, we are not going to run the curriculum in the same way that it is normally done in Nigerian universities. In developing the curriculum, we are not just going use the university lecturers, but we are also going to bring in other people in the various fields to discuss the components of the curriculum with us.
Our programmes are divided into two components: the theoretical and skill acquisition components. The theory is 60 per cent, while skill acquisition is 40 per cent. Our grading system will be determined by the appropriate mix between theory and practice. As I said earlier, we want to liberate our youths from the thinking that they can only push ahead in life within the narrow confines of their chosen disciplines.