Professor Olanrewaju Adigun Fagbohun is the Vice Chancellor of the Lagos State University, Ojo. He recently hosted selected journalists where he highlighted what his leadership had been doing to keep the once crises ridden university together. ABDUSSALAM AMOO was there. Excerpts:
It has been two years since you assumed the leadership of this institution as the Vice Chancellor. How has the journey been so far?
I will start by thanking the Lagos State government for the development projects that have been consistent with our institution. When this administration started, we had a situation where the government came in, tarred the entire road of the university, put in lightings and changed a lot of things. Government has continued to support us with our subvention to ensure that salaries are paid on time to members of staff.
Again, we have continued to enjoy the very robust support of the state government in terms of funding to support our accreditation exercise, as accreditation is the life of any institution. The state government has continued to support us to measure up with global practices and other institutions in the world in terms of what is expected of us as an academic institution.
What has your administration done to bridge the town and gown?
We have continued to have strategic engagements with ministries and parastatals. One of the things that members of this group have continued to ask me all the time is that all of the things that we do, what is the nexus with the town? How is the town utilizing it? I am proud to tell you that one of the things we have been enjoying in the state is that ministries use of our faculties in terms of research to deepen their activities.
For instance, there’s a security summit that has just been concluded. A number of faculty members that were part of the exercise were taken from the university. There is a socio-economic study that Lagos State government is doing now. Our Faculty of Social Sciences is also very much involved in this exercise. So, you see a situation where the state government has confidence in us and they are able to leverage on us for some of their activities.
Then, the Ready Set Work ( RSW) programme, which is aimed at deepening the entrepreneurship skills and employability set-up of our students, has continued with the state government. The third phase will kick off very soon.
How much does your university collaborate with other academic institutions?
In terms of collaborations and partnerships, we have continued to deepen our efforts at the internationalisation of the university, which is a critical focus of the mission of this administration and we are also ensuring that we deepen collaboration activities.
London Southbank University is one of those we have signed a very effective MoU with; University of Georgia for the Faculty of Arts, Cornell University for the Business School. As a matter of fact, the Cornell team will be coming to LASU between May 7 and 12.
The Technical University, Germany is also going to be partnering with our Faculty of Engineering. We also have an exchange programme partnership with Indiana University. We would collaborate in staff and students exchange as well as research.
The Nigerian Airforce and Research Space Development Agency is working with our Aerospace Centre of the Faculty of Engineering and we are doing the result verification of the centre with the NUC shortly so that it would go out shortly as a full-fledged department.
Also, the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) has continued to give us support and this is in two critical areas – physical infrastructure and programme upgrade. Conference attendance, staff training and development and institution-based research are not left out.
So, you can look at it in terms of the development of our infrastructure and capacity building development.
What is the update on the Open and Distance Learning programme of the university?
As you are already aware, the National Universities Commission (NUC) has approved our Open and Distance Learning (ODL) programme. They have asked us to start. But we want to take off in a way that we’ll be very effective.
You would recall that we recently stopped the LASU External System (LASUES). It was meant to create access to education. With express instructions from the Nigerian government, we closed LASUES. But we are mindful of not closing education opportunity for adults. That is why we are going into the Distance Learning.
We had stated earlier that we want to give access to as many as possible. The way we can give that effectively is if the platform we are going to use is ready and will not be disrupted at anytime the activities start. We are doing things in-house for now and putting necessary machinery in motion so that by the time we want to roll out in September, it will be a continuous thing that would not be hindered.
What becomes of the LASUES buildings across Lagos?
We have closed the external system and we have also had a closer exit meeting with our partners. Those buildings are not owned by LASU. We’ve left them for their rightful owners to do whatever they wish with them. We have given directives so that all our banners in these campuses would be removed.
What are you doing to address the hostel accommodation problem in LASU?
When LASU was established, it was meant to be a non-residential university by law. But now, the law has provided for it. In terms of physical infrastructure, a whole lot of things have continued to happen. We understand that the security of our students would be much protected with the availability of hostels. In line with is the 6, 000 bed space model hostel. The Lagos State Executive Council has approved the project and we have PricewaterhouseCoppers (PwC) as the transaction adviser.
We picked PwC to insulate ourselves from pressures of people who just want jobs for the boys. PwC has done a good job in terms of ensuring technical and financial competence of those to be involved and they have been able to select two different companies that will be involved in the construction of about 13 of the hostel blocks.
We are looking at constructing about 16 actually and we already have two firms which would handle 13 of the projects. Very soon, a date is going to be announced for the groundbreaking ceremony.
We’ve experienced precedence in other schools like the University of Lagos, the University of Ibadan and Obafemi Awolowo University which provide hostel accommodation. Overtime, some of them were having challenges maintaining the hostel facilities.
Therefore, we, as a university, will not be involved in maintaining hostels. We would build the hostels. Security and maintenance of the hostels will be part of what the private sector will be dealing with. From the start, we are concerned with affordability. That is one area the state government has come fully in our support. It is subsidising it by providing infrastructure, paying part of the rent, so that overtime, those investors would be able to balance out on their investment and the students would be able to get it at an affordable rate.
What other infrastructural projects do you have in the pipeline?
Recently because of the enabling peace that we have had in the university, we have been able to attract benefactors who are now willing to support us. Calverton has just given us a 500 – seat capacity auditorium.
We have approval for the construction of a Primary Health Centre through the Office of the Special Adviser to the President on Sustainable Development Goals. They gave us the PHC and a brand new ambulance. This would complement the existing structure of our medical centre. Construction has started and duration for the project is 20 weeks so in another four – five months, you should see the edifice up and running. The beauty of this project is that it now within our environment. It is an opportunity to bond our university with our community.
Also, we will soon do another groundbreaking ceremony for a privately funded 2, 000 capacity Computer-Based Centre (CBT). This is a partnership we are doing with the private sector because we want a situation where LASU will be a major hub for JAMB and other examinations to ease up the pressure for students who are coming in all the way from Badagry and Mile 2. We believe that in the next six months, the construction would have been concluded because discussions are at a very advanced stage. We are at the point of signing important documents. These are aside from the TETFUND intervention programmes that we have. TETFUND – sponsored projects, which we have received our allocation are just going through the due process of selection and other things to be involved.
How about students’ welfarism?
In terms of students’ welfare, we have continued our monthly breakfast engagement with our students where they bare their minds on matters that affect them. Our students are still open to engage with us from time to time.
We are now establishing a career development centre because we recognise that it is not sufficient for us as a university to just graduate our students and tell them to go. When you look at Ivy League institutions, they monitor their students and are able to say the employability ratio of their students is 60 percent or otherwise because they track their students.
That is what we are doing with this career development centre such that from the time somebody comes in as a student of our university, you enrol online with this centre and it continues to monitor your progress in terms of getting you affiliated as a student member to professional organisations that you will be dealing with by the time you are through.
We have also signed MoUs with a number of companies and small- scale enterprises to deepen entrepreneurship activities of our students. We want a situation where these companies will serve as incubation centres to train our students on necessary fields.
Our TETFund-sponsored entrepreneurship centre is ready. Entrepreneurship is critical to us as an institution and we are not relegating it to the background in any way.
In the area of admission, the university has become very competitive, and we have so many students that are seeking to come in. We have limited spaces but as much as possible, we try to put in a process that is driven by technology to ensure that we give equal access to all those who might want to come in. That is why we have a large percentage of students with disability; and we interact with them regularly to give them the opportunity and also let them have effective student experience of being in our university.
We have been able to maintain a very stable calendar, sustain the peace and maintain a conducive environment for academic excellence.
What about staff welfarism?
In terms of staff welfare, promotion processes are very much on course from time to time. We bring in top-notch third parties to also assist in giving effective quality assurance to our processes. Training and development is a critical component and we are also doing that.
The university management recently dismissed some members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) over allegations of corruption and forgery heightening fears of another round of crisis in the institution. What is the university doing to resolve the issue?
I want to assure you that the LASU management has a very solid relationship with ASUU members and I will urge that you interface with academic staff members so that you’ll be able to put opinions together. Already, some of these aggrieved ASUU members have gone to court. So, I will refrain from commenting further on the matter.
How would you react to the issue of sex-for-marks in Nigerian tertiary institutions?
All universities have the challenge of sex scandal but in LASU, we have encouraged whistle-blowing because we believe that it is one way that we can get information from students. When we get the information, we quietly go after it. That is why you see that the disciplinary process in the institution has been very thorough here at LASU. We shall continue to try our best.