interviewBy Dayo Adesulu
Professor Florence Banku Obi is the Dean of the Faculty of Education, University of Calabar (UNICAL). She spoke on sundry issues affecting students and lecturers in the Education sector and the way forward. Excepts.
What inspired the public lecture?
The Public Lecture is part of my drive to bring in quality and mentorship to our colleagues. Over the years, I discovered that academic excellence is gradually being eroded, especially in our faculties, so when I came on board, I told my colleagues that we are going to correct the academic culture by consistently organising seminars, conferences and public lectures to serve as platforms for academics to rub minds.
During my campaign, I promised my colleagues that I would engender this kind of arrangement, especially mentorship and mentoring of the young lecturers. So, I told them that three months into my tenure I will organise a public lecture, which is what we have today.
Aside targeting the regular students, we have agreed at the faculty to review our programme in few disciplines and bring in quality in all that we do. We have set a process of programme review in conformity with what is obtainable in academics in this century, so good that the Senate has approved of the review so that we can give our students an edge in the saturated labour market.
We are also reviewing a graduate programme by making the public lecture compulsory for all of them. We have also made it a policy that graduate students must present three seminar certificates before they can face the final examination because we want to be sure of the quality of graduates we are sending to the labour market.
The sandwich students were there too because that's where we have the problem. We are relentless in our efforts to improve the quality of our Sandwich students because, at the end of the day, they will also obtain degrees from this same university.
Do you have separate cut-off marks for education students?
That is where I may have a very big challenge because I am not really in charge of the admission. Though I am in charge of admitting students into my faculty but I may not be able to take a final decision.
We once had a Dean who said there was not going to be lower cut off point for Education and would not admit people who did not take Education as first choice, so I have to take that to my Management Committee for deliberation because there is no way people who are not interested in obtaining degree in education will do well.
Do you compromise admission criteria because you need students in the department?
Admission criteria is not compromised just because we need students. If you are coming to study Education, you need to have a minimum of five credits include Mathematics and English. The only difference is that people don't like coming to the Faculty of Education for any of the programmes because they prefer to first go for some other disciplines where they think they are better, and when they discover that they don't measure up to the requirements, they then come to the faculty through supplementary list.
How do you intend to sustain this passion to revamp the situation?
I am passion drive and my colleagues can attest to the fact that when it has to do with quality, I have always championed the course that we must maintain quality all through in the system.
I know I would sustain the passion because I made a promise that I am going to sacrifice my two years to improve the faculty and I don't want to fall short of what I have promised.
Advising students to work hard does not take much, telling colleagues to do the right thing does not take much, and going to the classes every morning to see what's going on to ensure that they are doing the right thing doesn't take much too.
We have monthly seminar which is like a mentoring programme. it's about standard internal quality accountability. We check ourselves ask what we are doing wrong, what are we supposed to be doing that we are not doing so we brainstorm for result.
Do you agree that many lecturers compromise with students?
I know that many lecturers are highly compromising, however, what I know about my faculty and what I have told them is that when I see a lecturer compromising, I invite such to my office for a talk, and if he still continues, it becomes official.
The VC and his deputy are not ready to compromise. We have boards around the school where we give students numbers where they can report lecturers who are asking them for money.
Compromising is not about the welfare of the lecturers because when I came into the university as an Assistant Lecturer in 1990, my salary was N550 and I was not involved in any fraudulent act. I think some of our members are just too unethical despite any increment in our salary.
If you were made Minister of Education, what will you put right?
The first thing I will do is introduce tuition fee in federal universities because when students pay school fees, then they will take their studies seriously. This is the only country where students at the university level do not pay school fee. In every other countries, students pay heavily in the university.
Many people who have children in the nursery schools pay more than N100,000, but when they come to the university, it is free. When the students know that they are not spending so much on their education, they would not have time to study because they are more interested in knowing the names of football players.
It may surprise you to note that when lecture is slated at 4:00pm and one of these big clubs are playing football, you won't find them in lecturer hall. If they were paying fees like they do in other countries, they won't try that.
Students can afford to buy Brazilian hair for N120,000 but can't buy textbook, don't go to libraries to study, don't do their assignment just because it is free. If their parents are paying heavily for their education, the situation would change.