Nigeria: VC - We Aim to Attract African Francophone Nationals to Christopher University

28 July 2021
interview

Prof. Olatunji Oyelana is the Vice-Chancellor of Christopher University in Mowe, Ogun. He has pioneered three universities such as Elizade University, Ilara-Mokin, Ondo; Chrisland University, Abeokuta; and the University of Africa, Toru-Orua, Bayelsa. Oyelana, who assumed duty on April I, 2021, shared his vision for the institution with journalists. Excerpts:

What is the proprietor's vision for UNICHRIS?

Our proprietor and chancellor, Chief Christopher Ikechi Ezeh, envisaged the need for closer collaboration and synergies between the ivory towers and industries. He advocates for the improvement in the content of our courses and programmes by integrating the skills set required by industries for the 21st-century economy to improve the quality of our university graduates with a view to enhancing their productivity for the global competitiveness of our industries on the one hand, and equally ensure that the synergy between the universities and industries translate into a positive development for our communities.

What is your vision for the university?

I will nurture and project Christopher University as a world-class bilingual-entrepreneurial university (with English and French or Spanish as a medium of communication). I will work to transform it into an institution with high-quality research and innovation output, high-quality teaching/training, high global graduate employability, high international visibility/reputation and a high capacity to substantially raise funds from non-government/non-statutory sources to drive and sustain the vision of our founder.

My leadership at UNICHRIS would be to set apart the university as the credible alternative to public universities in Nigeria and Africa. Integration of entrepreneurial modules in our courses/programmes and attracting high quality-world renowned academics, state-of-the-art teaching/research facilities, and brilliant local and international students will be my focus and priority. We must do things differently and not follow in the footsteps of public universities. The content of our curriculum will be dynamic and community-industry related to providing "home-grown" adaptable technologies at solving our developmental challenges as a nation. We would provide the much-needed institutional platform to build and develop local initiatives and alternative adaptable indigenous technologies that would be capable of galvanising Nigeria's rapid agricultural, economic, and infrastructural/industrial development. We would establish synergies and collaborations with industries to ensure a solid base for high-impact research and the inflow of industry funds. We would engage industry professionals and experts as facilitators and members of special boards to help initiate and build business models and as well help improve the chances for jobs and employment for our graduates.

How do you intend to handle endowment and capital campaign projects?

The rationale for instituting the endowment and capital campaign is borne out of the need to seek alternative sources of funds, reduce the burden of overhead cost on students' fees and proprietor's funds. Sustain the quality and standard of the existing teaching and research facilities and infrastructure for the provision of affordable, qualitative, and high-standard education. It's also to continue to provide financial security through scholarships, fellowships, and grants for students and young academics that demonstrate scholarship in their respective disciplines and from low-income families.

What are your plans for the e-learning platform?

The ICT facilities have been upgraded to support a high-grade e-learning platform in all academic programmes, including other relevant internal and external e-learning resources such as distance learning platforms. The university's Information Management Unit (IMU) is being deployed on the ICT platform to improve and enhance services such as: working and learning from home (a lesson learnt from COVID-19 pandemic), library services, student course registration, and payment of fees, examinations, and issuance of transcripts, students/staff biometrics, and a whole range of issues around operational procedures and processes, as well as, campus security. We have achieved the goal of innovating our processes and procedure and as well promoted the uptake of IT in the delivery of services to our clients and partners. We have ultimately enhanced our system efficiency. Striving towards financial independence, we have found innovative ways of relying less on proprietor's funds. This includes adopting a more stringent financial discipline and cutting down on overhead costs substantially.

We equally strive to improve student enrolment through the introduction of professional courses and programmes. We have evolved administrative processes and course delivery techniques that are powered by IT. This has helped us streamline our activities, reduce staff redundancy and promote efficiency. We have transformed all the support services departments into independent businesses and relieve the university of the burden of wage bills. Consequently, these units have transformed into sources of revenue for the university. We have attracted industry funds through appropriate need-driven and skills-related researches that meet the skills gaps of several industries. We have equally organized tailor-made training courses for specific industries for human capacity building and system efficiency. These initiatives are being conceived and implemented on the basis of robust university-government-industry partnerships and joint funding.

How will you achieve bilingual status at UNICHRIS?

We will deploy state-of-the-art facilities to promote English and French as the official languages of communication, teaching, and research within the UNICHRIS community. The initial efforts will be concentrated on few specific fields, including Mass Communications, International Studies, Performing and Film Studies, and Hotel Management and Tourism. Sciences and Engineering will follow after three years. The goal is to re-direct the interest of Francophone nationals in Africa seeking education and employment overseas, specifically in France, to Christopher University. Thereby expanding our catchment area for student admission and attract the interest of other African professionals to UNICHRIS. There are millions of nationals from Francophone Africa in pursuit of education and careers in France currently. Our entrepreneurship programmes will be powered by the outcomes of our individual and group or collaborative research efforts. We will showcase scientific and technological inventions from relevant academic disciplines. The ultimate will be to generate wealth and services from the outcomes of our research to advance the socio-economic, technological, and industrial development of our communities. Our staff and students would be required to develop and submit viable business proposals based on the knowledge of their careers and disciplines. That will be peer-reviewed by industry experts. Successful proposals would be jointly funded by all stakeholders and end-users of such research efforts.

Are you thinking of setting up a postgraduate school?

We will submit a proposal to the National Universities Commission (NUC) on the need to establish a postgraduate school in UNICHRIS. The school will operate within the framework of the university research thrust, envisioned through a needs assessment of industries, and powered through joint university-government-industry partnerships and participation. We will ensure that all research concepts are community-industry related and inspired.

What new academic programmes do we expect from UNICHRIS?

Our academic programmes will be streamlined, made more attractive and dynamic, and packaged to meet the demands of industries and the emerging careers of the 21st century. This becomes expedient, as resources to fully accommodate the needs of all academic programmes are inadequate and scarce. We will identify the industry expectations for skills needs, and their present trajectories, in terms of future developmental goals. We will re-package our academic programmes to meet these special needs. About six programmes will be re-branded/re-packaged to provide staff and students with the requisite knowledge and skills. I will submit proposals to NUC for the introduction of courses and programmes in Engineering, Medicine, Nursing, Law, Earth and Environmental Sciences (Geology), Architecture, Quantity Survey, Urban and Regional Studies, and other more professional programmes. These new programmes will improve patronage and student enrolment ultimately and guarantee financial independence for the university.

What are the selling points of UNICHRIS?

The chancellor/founder, Chief Christopher Ikechi Ezeh, has put in place a system that only rewards competence, excellence, builds integrity, probity, and hard work, and with passion and love of country, irrespective of one's religious, tribal, and racial standing. We are ICT-powered. Our instructional and teaching modules and library services are deployed on our e-learning platforms. The virtual library facilities present timeless online accessibility to books and journals for staff and students. We engage world-renowned academics and professionals in our academic programmes from across the globe. Their quality of teaching and mentoring has helped provide world-class experiences to our students and young academics. These international exposures have placed our students in good stead at securing international jobs and opportunities for advanced degrees in foreign universities.

Our modern classrooms and laboratories are equipped with multimedia facilities and are internet-powered. The interactive electronic boards provide real-time online services and access to library resources by lecturers and students. The University of Lagos was appointed by NUC as our mentor university shortly after the issuance of our licence in March 2015. We have enjoyed this synergy, particularly in the areas of academic visits and the exchange of faculty members. However, we have taken a step further to establish a partnership with Tampere University, Finland, in Europe, for the purposes of peer review and research collaboration. Our student hostels are built with modern facilities to provide ultimate comfort and leisure, and security. The rooms are en-suite to accord our students with self-dignity, privacy, comfort, and the security they deserve as mature students. Our security architecture is difficult to bridge and violated. Every staff and student obtains specific security codes, which are engraved as electronic chips on individual personal IDs.

Do you think private institutions should benefit from TETFund grants?

The public tertiary institutions across the country have received trillions of naira as statutory allocations from the federal government through TETfund over the years. Through this intervention, a number of public tertiary institutions have been able to expand their infrastructures and implement a number of capital projects, thereby helping to improve teaching and research facilities and the quality of education overall. This opportunity has helped position the public tertiary institutions at an undue and competitive advantage over the private tertiary institutions in Nigeria. I sincerely advocate for a more inclusive approach, in which the private tertiary institutions can equally benefit from similar funds allocation. The right legislation in this regard will provide immediate financial relief for many private universities and the resources to build and expand their infrastructures and teaching and research facilities.

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