The Vice Chancellor, Chrisland University, Abeokuta, Professor Peace Chinedum Babalola in this interview with Muyiwa Adeyemi argued that some private universities are better than most public universities and wondered why TETFUND Act excluded private universities from accessing the fund for research and capital projects.
How has the journey been since 2015 when the university was licensed to operate?
It has been very eventful and interesting, mixed with achievements and challenges. Starting from the provisional license that was given in 2015, we went through another verification in 2018 to obtain full license from the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2019.
Interestingly, also in 2018, we also went through our first accreditation exercise by the National Universities Commission (NUC), for our nine programmes, and by January 2019, we obtained 100 percent accreditation for all our programmes.
When I joined the university in November 2017, there were just 59 students here and they were already in 300 Level; the university started with seven students and today, three years plus, we have 685 students. We had just two Colleges: the College of Arts, Management and Social Sciences, and College of Natural and Applied Sciences. But now, we have added new programmes as well as new College, called the College of Basic Medical Sciences, and again, we got 100 percent approval. Right now, we have a College of Basic Medical Sciences and we run Nursing, Doctor of Physiotherapy, Bachelor of Medical Lab Science, Public Health, Anatomy and Physiology.
We also have security programmes and software programmes and we are looking at how we can run more professional programmes. Now, Accounting runs together with ICAN and the professional body has come to accredit us as well. So, we run our Bachelor of Accounting side by side with ICAN. We just went through another set of accreditation for three programmes – Mass Communication, Banking and Finance and International Relations and we are about to do the verification for Law in the next one or two months; the building is almost completed.
We also increased our staff, when I came here, I was the only Professor, and maybe three or four had Ph.D; but today about 34 of our lecturers have Ph.Ds, and we have five professors from different places.
What makes this university unique or is it the same like other conventional universities?
Our vision and mission is very unique. Everybody wants to be a world-class institution but the motto of Chrisland University, “Intellectual Radiance”. We pattern our lives and activities around showing light; we go for academic pursuit as well as moral pursuit. But coming to the nitty-gritty of it, there are specific goals that we set for ourselves in line with the university’s mission and vision and one of it is innovation and entrepreneurship. So, right from onset when I joined, I said every student here will graduate with a minimum of two certificates: Bachelor Certificate and Certification in Entrepreneurship and we have maintained it. We have graduated two sets, apart from the fact that we have a curriculum filled with entrepreneurship courses, we partner with registered entrepreneurship organisations outside that can certify to also come in and train the students
We are strong on academic culture, moral and ethics. If you bring your child here, be assured that we are going to take care of that child, not just academically but morally and ethically. Every Wednesday, we draw life-building programmes on our Assembly, where we bring in people from all walks of life to give motivational talks. Sometimes, it could be debate; sometimes it could be quiz and others, we have brought United Nations expert and others.
We maintain discipline as well, we have zero tolerance for drugs and cultism, we also have counselling center and a very good psychologist heads it. We partner with NDLEA to ensure sanity on campus, every time students go home as they come back, NDLEA are here to search them and we have been doing a good job of late. Sometimes, we do unannounced search. We did one recently and I am happy they didn’t find anything on any student.
Are they all residents on campus?
Yes, they are, it’s compulsory.
How are you coping with funding?
We thank the owners because it takes like 25 years to break even with increasing number of students in a private university. Most universities that are older are yet to break even; they still struggle because we don’t have subventions from anywhere. You will continue to build as long as you have capital project, even when you build a house that you are renting, it takes average of between 20 and 30 years to get your investment back. That’s the truth. Funding is never enough, whether for public or private university, we adopt Federal Government salary scale to pay our workers and we don’t pay less. For now, we still depend a lot on the founders, but the little we make is also something. I am sure what we make now can pay our salaries but we have to run overhead and capital projects.
As one of the best professors of Pharmacy in Africa, how are you impacting this university as Vice Chancellor?
The experiences I have had in other universities are very helpful. Each time, I tell myself I thank God I started my career in Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile Ife, before I went to the University of Ibadan (UI). Out of twenty years I spent in UI, I spent 15 years as an administrator, either as head of department, dean or a director while still doing my teaching work. So, I gained a lot of experience and that’s what I brought here, because coming in here, there was need to build what we call university culture, there are statutory committees that we should have. I have to set up Senate and other important committees. Of course, being a young university, you cannot have the complement of principal officer
TETFUND is money contributed by private organisations to help education sector but private institutions are being denied accessing it, is it logical?
It’s not logical, TETFUND is meant to assist universities to be their best, give them opportunities for staff training. I benefited from TETFUND staff training (research), capital project. In NUC, they tell all founders that if they want to make money, they will help them convert thier universities to secondary schools. It’s 25 years before you break even but you can start a secondary school and in three or five years you will make your money. I have example with where we are now. You can’t even charge too much.
Our fees here is one third of what a nursery child pays in Chrisland. For some reasons, at the university level, you can’t charge too much and a lot of those that are paying high fees in all these big schools, 98 percent of these children study abroad after their secondary education in Nigeria, their parents can afford it. It is not as if I am harvesting Chrisland University students from our secondary school.
Universities in Nigeria should benefit form TETFUND. We are churning out Nigerians mostly, it’s the same tool they used to assess Chrisland, that will be used for UI and you want us to play fairly on the same space. You give one money, you don’t give another and you want us to have the same standard, the same quality of education, the same quality of graduates, pay staff and they will specify number of offices you should have for lecturers, specify the laboratories, the facilities that should be there. It is unfair! Again, you treat private universities as profit making, rather abroad, private universities are treated as charity organisations but if you see the number of taxes we need to pay here, either from local, state or federal government, you will be marveled.
There is one on my table now, they call it tax and sometimes they call it charges and all sorts of name without considering that you have fewer number of students that cannot generate enough funds. For me, if that money is meant to enhance university, the private universities should benefit. We should benefit, that money is used to sponsor research, we should benefit. Recently, I was able to get a research grant from TETFUND, they insisted I must use UI to apply because I am on leave of absence; it can’t not be approved for me as researcher in a private university. We followed it up at the comity of Vice Chancellors, we found out that it was an Act by the National Assembly and to change it, it has to go through same process. We are making efforts to change it but we have not been heard.
Do you have foreign partners?
We have been working on that and we have one that is almost going through. We have a fellow from a Canadian university who came and spent three months here. We are working on strong collaboration, research, staff training and others. We have had many, but this is one I am confident in.
Many in public universities, for instance in UI where you came from, consider private universities as glorified secondary schools, do you share that sentiment?
I never saw myself going to a private university to be Vice Chancellor, but for a long time, when I got to know about a certain private university, I made up my mind that my children were going to that school because I heard good things about it. So, my two children that read Computer Science finished from that private university. My daughter that read Medicine would have read it in that school if it had Medicine. So, she studied in UI and she was delayed so much, I believe in some private universities and there are many public universities I can never send my children to because of what I know about them.
Every university has a culture and standard, in short, by the time I look at many public universities’ standards, I told myself I can only send my children to maybe three public universities in Nigeria.
Coming now to private universities, I have also realised that there were many misconceptions, starting with the fact that I began to appreciate the role of NUC. However, what happens after NUC leaves, you are now left with your conscience, that’s where morals and ethics come in. Morals and ethics are the things you do when no one is looking at you. For me, I have a moral obligation to ensure that my students that I am releasing, if they made a 2.1, it must be 2.1.
The first set we had, more than one student had First Class, maybe two or three. The one that made the best in the university had 5 over 5 point, I had to follow through, in short, when she defended her thesis, I went because I wanted to be sure and after it, she was given a standing ovation. One of the people there said, this lady would be first class anywhere in the world. If you see the way she defended her project, I haven’t seen it anywhere in my over 30 years of being in the university.
For me, I like quality and I am a quality person, even in Pharmacy, I do quality assurance of medicines and I want to produce quality graduates. It’s not a one-man thing, so you have to work through the staff and through the students. Like here, I don’t know how many universities do it; we didn’t even do it in UI, we have minimum attendance you must have before you take exams. Most times, we don’t use it. It’s all in the book but here, we use it, I am talking of attendance for teachers and students.
Before you write a paper, you must have attended 75 to 80 percent of lecture times. Assuming there are ten lectures, at least, you must have attended 8. So, we use that to clear the students.
Most private universities concentrate on teaching and not into research. What is your take on this?
I am a researcher, it is really tough because the university is only focusing on how they can manage to get students, survive, pay salaries and all that, although in the United States, there are many teaching universities. I rate all these private universities as teaching universities. But we do get good reports from few because to do quality research, you need to attract grants but grants these days will only give you money to do certain things. They expect that you should have the building, you should have the physical facilities, and you should have some equipment. Like now, I am trying to get support from Seeding Lab. It is an organisation abroad; they have been helping a lot of developing countries to equip their laboratories. They say, look, for us to ship and get what we want we will spend at least N24 million and I said, what of the equipment? They said the equipment would be worth over N100 million that the Seeding Lab will give us. This is a big challenge.