C.K. Tedam University of Technology and Applied Sciences (CK-UTAS) is located in the Kassena-Nankana Municipal of the Upper East Region. It was formerly Navrongo campus of the University for Development Studies (UDS). The university is named after Clement Kubindiwor Tedam, a prominent native of the municipality.
The Ghanaian Times had a conversation with the first Vice-Chancellor of the university, Professor Eric Magnus Wilmot, in his office at Navrongo last Thursday (Nov 4)excerpts of which are provided below:
Question: Prof Wilmot, congratulations on your appointment as the first VC of the university. Please, could you take us through how the university came into being?
Ans: Thank you.The quest to convert this place to an autonomous university has history. It was not just now, even during former President John Mahama's time, there were attempts, a number of things were done, the then Wa campus was also included. My impression was that the pressure for it came more from Wa than here. Eventually in 2019, the Act of Parliament (Act 1000) was passed, but when the act was passed, implementation did not take place till last year, around May, when the University Council was put in place and principal officers were appointed: VC, the Registrar and Director of Finance. I was not even around at the time; I was in the US when my appointment came. We had to work remotely because of COVID-19. It was until around July, before I came and by the time I got here, it was August. So that was what happened. The then campus of UDS has changed and because UDS has put this place together as an applied science campus, I believe that is part of the reason we assumed that name. I was not around when the decisions were taken so I could just guess. My other guess was that maybe the government was looking at the experiment with Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST). Remember at independence, KNUST was constructed because the thinking was that we needed the university that would train the engineers to lead our industrialisation. I think generally that experiment has proved profitable for this country. And my other thinking is that the government was using that as a basis.If our plan is to give every region a university, it is better we don't dismantle the structures there, but remodel something that looks like KNUST to be the engine of growth for the northern sector. So, for me, those may be the two [factors] that got us to that, but if you look at it, they have been very careful to make it in such a way that people don't confuse it with KNUST, but essentially it is the same thing. There are sciences and technology. Those were brilliant ideas to get this to start. That is the starting point; that is why we are here today.
Ques: A new university needs the financial muscle to start with, do you have the seed capital from the government?
Ans: Interesting; the answer is no! All the new universities that came up, none of us has been given seed money. Government did well though to provide vehicles for the principal officers. But I am not sure that all the efforts are in vain; we are still talking and I know that the government will come to our aid at the right time. COVID-19 has pushed several nations, including even the mighty US, which is suffering some of these things. Therefore, I don't complain much. My motivation is that you give me the most difficult situation, just give me the resources to work and I will find a way of working; and we will find a way of working. I know government support will come.
Ques: You have been appointed at the most difficult time in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. How are you going around it? Has it disrupted academic work or your plans?
Ans: Yes COVID-19 has affected us but I wouldn't say it has completely disrupted us, things would have moved faster if COVID-19 was not a factor. Our science and maths education master's programme had to be shifted online. The students only come here for practicals. We have finished one batch online. We even shifted some of our activities online but we are largely back to face-to-face lectures.
Ques: The university is a little over one year of existence, any landmark achievements?
Ques: We have restructured the place, we came to meet faculties of mathematics, applied sciences and earth and environmental sciences. As of now, we have restructured our programmes into 11 schools; some have taken shape, others we are still working on to get accreditation. Some programmes have been developed and sent to professional bodies to look at before accreditation. For instance, we have the School of Nursing and Midwifery which has been looked at by the Nursing and Midwifery Council, the legal entity responsible for nursing and midwifery. If they say yes, then we can send for accreditation.
The medical school curriculum has been completed and sent to key people to look into it after which we will send it to the Ministry of Health and Ghana Health Service.
Computer Science was under School of Mathematical Sciences and we have given them complete autonomy. What used to be earth and environmental sciences have been reorganised and brought under different schools.
We are bringing on school of modern languages as we have a French language centre and after engaging the French Embassy, they have agreed to run the programme in such a way that Francophone countries can come and take our programmes if we have a strong language programme and change the centre into a modern language centre.
As we speak now, we have been admitted to the Association of French Universities in Africa, the only university in Ghana that is a member. They have even donated a magnetic stirrer, a machine that automatically mixes chemicals and materials to perfection.
We are going to open a School of Public Health, and the nursing programme will start with programmes in adult nursing, public health, paediatrics, and midwifery. Before now, the paediatric program had been post-basic programme but after meeting with the Nursing and Midwifery Council, they agreed to make it a basic program.
There are public health programme and the school of public health; one is to train public health nurses and the other is to train public health doctors so we are bringing that. Of course, we are going to roll out agriculture programme next year, and we want to start it as a Centre of Integrated Irrigation and Aquaculture. If we have farmers all around, all these irrigation companies, I don't see why we cannot tap into that to run a programmes that will benefit them. We came to meet the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Programme, we will keep the centre running.
We plan to run a centre for teaching, different from the educational faculty that will brainstorm on innovative ways of teaching at the tertiary level and use it to support every department in the university. While the educational faculty is training the teachers for the secondary level, these people will be doing research and come and give workshops, and that this is what I think you must be teaching at tertiary level.
We have changed the way students were assessed; continuous assessment for 70% and end of semester for 30 per cent. This is to ensure that students will be serious from the beginning and they will attend classes,why because a single shot of exams for two or three hours should not be given too much precedence over 13 weeks of hard work from the students. If you do that, the students do not learn; they wait till the last two weeks, cram your notes, come and get the'A' they want but then, at the end of the day, you have not trained the type of scientists that must work the way you want. We want to turn it around to get the student to be serious right from the beginning,knowing that every work that they do will contribute to their training. We hope that if anybody that goes through it for four years will come out differently from the one trained in the previous arrangement. A lot have changed; we are continuing to do that.
I can say with pride that of all the new universities, we are the first to have doneour statutes; within one year we have been able to come out with it.
There are a lot of things we are doing. Of all the public universities in Ghana, we are the only public university that does not charge for admission forms. There is an online platform where students can just go and apply for free, that is our website. And for the second time running. I know the economy of Navrongo is not like the economy of Cape Coast, Accra or Kumasi. I want to think, first with the people around here in my mind. The reason is that the person who does not have enough should be able to apply and even for those who apply for government scholarship, they need admission letter. How can such a person apply when he or she did not get the GHc200-GHc250 to buy the admission form? So, if they can apply without paying, then it makes it easier for them to get admission letters so that they can also apply for the available scholarships.
Secondly, universities are selling forms; you know you have vacancies for let's say 10,000 students and you have sold forms to 30,000 students. We think it is not proper if you won't give the person admission, don't sell the form to him... If there is anything, you can find a way of letting them pay some small processing fee so that the poor man's child will also have the hope of access to tertiary education. We think that those in the south maybe better off because the companies are there, but those around here who are mainly farmers, we have to take some of these decisions. Of course, including those who don't need to benefit, but that is how it should be. We don't have money though;we're not saying that selling the forms to get money is not a good idea, but I don't think it serves the people the way we want to serve them.
Internally, we have streamlined promotions and more than 28 staff members have been promoted; some have been employed since 2010.
Ques: How are you going to run a medical school without a strong teaching hospital as the Navrongo War Memorial Hospital is not up to standard?
Ans: This is not an excuse! I was in Cape Coast and we started a medical school there before the Cape Coast Regional Hospital became a teaching hospital. When Tamale started the medical school, they sent their students to Kumasi, so it is doable and maybe it will pull the teaching hospital here faster. We have entered into an informal discussion with KNUST; they are ready to support us in any way possible, even including when we bring our engineering school on board. So, I think it is doable and the Regional Health Directorate is in support of it. They are trying to mop up the health facilities around. Once the teaching hospital is not there, it may be something that we may have to do outside. We are willing to do that.
Ques: What are some of your challenges?
Ans: Hostel facilities and office spaces.I am talking to investors and the government, and soon they will start responding to our needs. Some workers are sharing offices. Also, our roads are bad. It was given to a contractor but since I came in, I have not met the contractor.
A new library is being constructed, a new science complex is also being constructed.
We came to meet the small facilities that need huge maintenance and the money we got is not enough andbecause we did not get the initial seed money, we had to use the school fees to do it and we are still lagging behind. The staff we are employing, the Navrongo economy, sometimes I'm afraid we will not be able to host all of them. But I believe that as we move on, we will get over it.
We have an initial collaboration with the Navrongo Health Research Centre. The University had a clinic that closed down and we have revived it but the structure needs rehabilitation, but for now it has started.
Ques: How is it like being a Vice Chancellor of a rural university?
Ans: I'm not sure it's a problem. If the university is resourced, I prefer to be a VC of 'rural university' to a 'city university' because the impact would be felt. I have in my plan the VC's intervention for the communities and we will be doing it. Sometimes being in the rural area is advantageous because you can touch the people better, but the only problem is inadequate resources.Also, we don't have a VC lodge. I did not come here for luxury; I came here to work. I came here to help establish a university; if I can get the basic things to live and then move on from there, by the time I leave,this university will be on its feet.
Ques: What legacy will you like to be remembered for?
Ans: The first thing I want to change, and leave is a change of attitude of the people I came to meet. The place was being run as a campus of a university butthe processes were done not in an approved manner, not in a manner that the mother university wanted. Changing that mentality is one of the most urgent things for me. The future of the university will depend on the personnel.
I hope that these restructuring will be the legacy that I will leave. These things rolling will be whatI will leave behind.
This university is the only university cut into two by a public road. I would construct a gate, a number of hostels and offices. I am determined to do that.
I'm lucky since I came we have been holding meetings. I keep telling them that we can't give sitting allowance; so far people have agreed, so we save a lot of money to do maintenance. These are hard decisions not many management staff members will take, but I'm ready to take them.
Ques: How are you getting along with your staff, since you are relatively new to the environment?
Ans: I have not had any serious challenges. I know that as a human institution, it will have some people not being happy that they have served for many years and then I have been brought from nowhere to be on them. I'm conscious of that.I try to relate to everybody professionally. I don't know of any direct bad relationship, but I am also conscious that some people may have that motive in their mind. But I won't look out for them; it's normal.
Ques: Do you have any other message?
Ans: I think for those of you in the media and are from this place, one of the things you can do to help us is to promote us. I'm glad you came today. Anytime you come around, some of these interactions that we have, you can put out some news about us. It will be useful because it will sell the university and some of the good things we are doing. I'm very grateful that you found time to come. I hope that if we continue, things will move in the right direction.
We appreciate your time, Thank you so much VC