Interview with the Vice Chancellor on Town-Gown Initiative
Q:Several things have attracted the external context to Covenant University in recent times, such as our public lecture series and world-class conferences like the International Conference on African Development Issues (ICADI), Future Ready University Conference, e-governance Conference, etc. It is generally understood that the initiative of town and gown is the interface between the University and its immediate environment. Kindly define sir, the context of Covenant University’s Town and Gown Initiative?
ANSWER: We know that conventionally, universities exist to teach, conduct research and impact the community. If you look at happenings in Nigeria, and in fact, most developing nations of the world, there is the issue of unemployment, among several other problems. They are pointers to the gaps between what we teach in the classrooms and the expectations of the industry. One of the easiest ways to solve this problem is to invite the industry to come and meet with the researchers, to brainstorm and see how we can improve the lots of the individuals in the nation.
Taking our bearing from the real definition of education (which is: equipping individuals with skills, competences and cultural values that would transform the society and on the long run translate to nation-building), we believe we have a lot to offer the society. Take for instance the problems we are encountering as a nation, such as fuel scarcity; it is unthinkable that Nigeria, the 8th largest producer and exporter of crude, is now having the challenge of even meeting the needs of the local industry.
It means we have simply misplaced our priorities, because setting up tertiary institutions to see how to transform your raw materials to finished goods is relatively cheap for any nation.. Adequate manpower is supposed to be produced to address that. It means that ever since the discovery of crude oil in Nigeria, we have not been able to build capacity along this line, whether by having refineries owned and manned by us, or even acquiring the required skills to transform the raw materials into finished goods. Not only that, if in spite of the massive land mass we have we are still largely dependent on imported foodstuff, then something is wrong. So, the idea is to invite the industry and showcase what we are capable of doing. Going through what we have accomplished thus far, it is time we initiate true and impactful development in Nigeria; that is the whole essence of the town and gown meeting.
Q:In specific terms sir, can you tell us what Covenant University has to offer the industry?
ANSWER: Covenant University, as far as I’m concerned, has come of age. This is our 13th year of existence and it’s about time we began to reconcile the vision, the mission and the mandate of the university with expectations towards nation development. We know we have some older universities in Nigeria, talking about 1st, 2nd and 3rd generation; we are in the 4th. Nevertheless, with the level of our adoption of technology, I believe we can leapfrog development by not following the rules of other universities.
Looking in concrete terms at what we are able to offer, first, Covenant University is one institution that operates at the cutting edge of technology. In the area of ICT, we have achieved a lot; most of the awards and accolades that we have won are in this area. The students we produce, even those that are not from the ICT-based discipline, have equally distinguished themselves through strategic policies put in place since the onset. A policy was made that students in a four year programme must have been certified in at least two international ICT programmes upon graduation and those in a five year programme, at least three. So, looking at where our graduates are working, they have really made us proud. Also, looking at the level of employment of our students, recently, while contacting the who-is-who in related sectors of the economy to attend the town and gown lectures, a number of them said, “We only recruit from 6 institutions in Nigeria, and Covenant University is number 1,” which is a pointer to the quality of our investment in the students.
Again, in the area of Engineering, we recently established several research clusters in the university, among which is a cluster on Reverse Engineering. In the late 70s when we were really talking about industrial revolution, the likes of Japan coming in; that was when we were talking about transferred technology. That was when the Japanese flooded our markets with series of their products. They were not really indigenous to Japan, but were things done elsewhere but replicated through Reverse Engineering. So, we are not stealing any technology; we are simply investing in an area that would lead to the development of our dear country.
It would interest you to note that presently, we are in collaboration with the Nigerian Air force. There are old planes whose parts are no longer being produced. Covenant University is leading the research in this area through the invitation of the Nigerian Air Force. We are taking those big compnents and, through Reverse Engineering, we are producing miniature sizes of those same components and they are working with the planes. The implication of this is that without that aspect of Reverse Engineering coming into play, those planes would have been abandoned, but through Reverse Engineering, we have been able to prevent that. And if you ask me, one way to institute real development in this country is to realise that we don’t need any rocket science; there’s nothing one is trying to do that has not been done. So, all we need to do is to borrow a leaf from the Japanese industrial revolution- Reverse Engineering.
There’s nothing that is available in the world that we would not be able to do. We have invested massively in this area, talking about our investment in the Departments of Mechanical Engineering, Electrical and Information Engineering, Chemical Engineering and Petroleum Engineering. So, we actually have a lot to offer the nation in terms of ICT and Engineering. If you go to our Biological Sciences Department, which is one department where we have massive investments in equipment, you’ll see some equipment that cannot be found anywhere in Africa. We bought the latest and we were told by the manufacturers that they were coming to Africa for the first time. There’s no research that is needed in the food industry that we cannot conduct. We already have investments in the area of Biomedical Engineering, , so that we would be able to move forward to impact the community.
Furthermore, to answer your question specifically, it is important to say that just like any institution, or unlike most institutions, we have been able to identify our areas of core competencies. We are invested in these areas and we are simply inviting the professionals in the industries to come and see what we have been able to do and to see how we can work together to improve what they are doing there. Noting that research is an ongoing concern, coming to partner with Covenant University will definitely reduce the cost of producing most of the things they are doing in the industry. That is just the major reason we are calling for this Partnership Luncheon.
Q: We know that one of the major landmark achievements is the ranking of Covenant University. How does the Industry-University Partnership affect the ranking of Covenant University?
ANSWER: Looking at the ranking parameters, we have research, which is important if we must compete on the global landscape. Presently, we have not been able to do much; the age of the university is not an excuse. But one thing I can assure you of is that we have laid a solid foundation for this to take place. Very shortly, we would be launching a number of programmes and products. Telemedicine will come to play in the University.
Again, we are currently working on a product called AFRO-SCHOLAR. It is intended to be a one-stop-shop for African Scholars anywhere in the world. The level we are now is about 80% completion. If you look at the population of Africa, it is huge. If you consider the student population, it is equally huge. And now, we have resources needed by these groups of students, contributed by all, some as free gifts, some as investments on the part of the university. Last time I was in the US, I missed my flight and that was when I realized that every disappointment is a blessing. On that particular occasion, I saw something I had never seen before. It was a Self-Service Scheme. I approached the service unit, instead of talking to me, I directed to a machine that can solve my problems. It was toll free; you can call a taxi, hotel, etc. Then, I remembered I had supervised a Ph.D candidate who worked on a similar project, which had been lying on the shelf; he also supervised another student on the same subject. So, when returned, I said to him, “We can do this thing.” We invited the young man supervised by my candidate and we’ve been able to do it. That is part of what we would be showcasing during the Industry Luncheon. There would be a standing screen, powered by Covenant University. We would have a slot for advert all guests to Nigeria will no longer be stranded. If they need a taxi, there’s a slot for taxi, accommodation etc. And it is toll free. We have raised a number from the Business Management to work out a business model; so that we can be able to reach a number of organizations. We intend to approach the telecoms industry. For individuals coming, we don’t want them to pay, “are you able to make this available?” and they agree; so we have a number of things lined up from that interaction.
Again, looking at what we have accomplished in the past, perhaps they are not known to the general public, like the electric cars. We have a new one currently being introduced by a company from the United States - we are talking to them, we are thinking of having our own mini factory; where through Reverse Engineering, through collaboration, we’ll be able to produce some parts here on a limited scale and then we see our roads being plied by such electronic cars. So, what we are simply going to achieve with this is: all the accomplishments of the University, thus far, would be harnessed together and showcased to the industry and we ask for collaboration to take them to town. Thank you!
Q: How does Covenant University’s peculiar model of Town and Gown blaze the trail for research in Nigeria, Africa and even the world?
ANSWER: Our expectation at the end of the day is to see how universities would begin to spearhead research activities in Nigeria. Whereby, you look at the various sectors of the economy, you find out what is really wrong with them, and you’re able to proffer solution. It’s just like some years back when we had the captain of the industry, particularly the finance area of industry, led by Chief Adiegbe, one-time CEO of First Bank. That statement was credited to him when he pronounced Nigerian graduates ‘unemployable.’ So, one thing that this will address is that it would definitely solve the problem of un-employability of our graduates – because you are regularly interacting with Town, so, you cannot finish with that interaction and not be absorbed. Just like what we have found out in most developing nations or the US for example; in universities that have close ties with the industry. As you are finishing, you are already getting a job. Even while in school, on a part-time basis, you are being engaged – because your research is related to the industry. You cannot graduate and be combing the streets, looking for job. That is one thing we intend to solve with this, that is, our graduates having an increased level of employability. Again, rather than our nation being dependent on imported goods, now that we have a very lively industry that is functional.
Look at the particular case of the fashion industry. Cotton used to be among the major revenue earners for Nigeria, now it’s nowhere to be found. The textile industries have gone under; and the few things being done now are just the Chinese coming around, with sub-standard product. Looking at the population of Nigeria, about 180 million, naturally, this is an attraction for the developed world. A nation, where they can easily dispose of their goods - that means we have not been thinking right, this is sufficient for our Government to take advantage of this population; see what we are able to produce among ourselves, to the expected quality and let us continue to consume. Unlike the so-called revenue from oil exportation, that is what we used to back goods. So, imagine what would have happened if here, we had functional industries that are able to produce things needed by us and that is the expectation; that is one prominent role expected of higher education institutions in the world. If other institutions are not thinking this way; we are thinking of being one of ten-in-ten, and one of the ways of accomplishing that is to take control of the industry, whereby, we contribute meaningfully to their development and by extension, the development of our dear country, Nigeria.
Q: Covenant University has a very huge alumni base now, having been churning out graduates since 2006. How do they come into picture of the Town and Gown Partnership?
ANSWER: We have given preference to our graduates. There’s no project we have embarked on since I resumed office that have not been driven by our graduates. If you look at e-kiosk, Afro Scholar, Edu-Social etc., they are all being championed and developed by our graduates. More precisely, eighty percent of the projects we are currently working on are all being driven by our graduates. We are actually giving them opportunities to improve their lots and with the success of what they are doing here, there’s the tendency that it would rub off on their organizations outside here.
Interview was conducted by:
Sheriff F. Folarin