Private universities not inferior to public ones — Vice-Chancellor, Achievers University
The Vice-Chancellor, Achievers University, Owo, Ondo State, Prof. Tunji Ibiyemi, speaks on education issues, in this interview with PETER DADA
Do you think the rush for foreign university education is good for Nigeria?
When you are faced with two evils, an option is to look for a lesser one. That is the situation. Training your children outside the country, particularly at the undergraduate level, is not too good. I do not subscribe to it. The students are too young to experience the type of discrimination they face while studying abroad. I experienced it when I studied abroad. Sometimes, I would wake up in the night and would ask myself why I left my homeland. Then, I was of age before I travelled. These days, I do not think these children are of age before they embark on these trips. So, it becomes a trauma. It is not a good thing for parents to say they sent their wards abroad for undergraduate education. Anytime I hear it, I begin to wonder how we got to this point.
You said you had a bad experience in a foreign university, what really happened?
Over there, as a black man, they believe you are not good for anything. Then, in the class, I was a quiet student. I would just sit down and look at everything, not talking. There was a professor that always picked on me. So, one day I said, ‘Sir, you don’t know how I got here and you would not know how I would graduate. One thing I would assure you is that I shall lead in your course’. He looked at me and I repeated the comment. When the result came out I led. He could not do anything. I succeeded in telling him that being black or being quiet is not synonymous with dullness.
So, when the result came out he was the first to inform me about it. Being black does not mean we are inferior to anybody. Our problem is that we allow outsiders to break our ranks. They know the power in us and they know how to derail it. They are the ones producing and there must be buyers because if everybody is a producer, who will then buy? Our government will go and seek advice from them, they do not want us to be like them. If you do not have their exposure, they will say you have not arrived. I remember when a certain private university wanted to start; I was a party to it. We went to the Stamford University, one of the leading universities in the world, to understudy them. When we got there, I went to the Department of Electrical Engineering, I saw their curriculum. I saw something primitive there and I asked them why they were still using that primitive system. They said if you did not use it to teach the students, they would not know how to upgrade to modern level. But if you do that in Nigeria, they will say you are primitive; the foreigners will be the first to support that it is primitive because they don’t want us to grow.
So, this is why we must train our children here because education is a function of one’s culture. You cannot have education outside your culture; it will boomerang against you if you import education that is not fashioned in line with your culture.
But what is wrong with our education sector?
The Federal Government needs to do something about the system, particularly as it has to do with higher education. When people talk about falling education standard in the country, I do not agree with them because all the theorems are still the same. The principles remain the same. The change is only in the delivery and application. Rather than emphasise knowledge acquisition, it is high time we emphasised knowledge utilisation because it moves the economy from natural resources-driven economy to the knowledge-driven one. But we still dwell on knowledge acquisition. Knowledge acquisition is necessary for the dispensation of natural resources-driven economy because you need it to know the resources you have. But if you have the knowledge and you cannot turn it to products, you will carry the resources and the buyers will tell you how much they are going to pay for it. If you do not agree to their terms, they will even take it away from you and you cannot do anything about it.
Anytime I am teaching in the class, I always have it in mind that these people are the ones that will take care of my children’s children. If they are half-baked, my grand children will be quarter-baked. So, the repercussion will definitely come. Therefore, it is better you deliver your best to them because the lives of your children’s children will be in their hands. So the Federal Government should, in this era of ‘change’, start the reforms from the universities and other higher institutions.
One of the criticisms against private universities is that they produce ‘half-baked’ graduates. What is your take on this?
I do not believe in that. Four years ago, the Federal Government started a programme called Special Scholarship. This initiative is for first class degree holders from the nation’s universities. The approach to earning the offer was that all the candidates will sit for competitive examinations and from the result the authorities will select the best few. In the first edition, of the over 1,000 first class degree holders from the universities–public and private – that sat the examination, the authorities selected 120 of them. Of this selected number, 35 of them came from the private universities, with products of the Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State, coming tops.
For some stakeholders, it was a fluke. However, in the second edition, the same university won again. In the third edition results released a few months ago, this same university led. At least, it confirms that good graduates come from the private universities.