Prof. Taiwo Asaolu is the Vice-Chancellor of Ilesha University, Osun State. In this interview with Funmi Ogundare, the Professor of Accounting explained the different processes taken to ensure the successful upgrade and take-off of the university from a College of Education and why more universities must be established in the country considering the number of applicants seeking admission,among other issues.
What teething problems did you encounter as a new university when the institution was upgraded from a college of education to a university?
We were appointed on April 14, 2023, and the principal officers resumed office almost immediately. It used to be a college of education under the oversight of the National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE), the government agency that oversees colleges of education. So when we got upgraded to a university, we physically came to campus on the 15th. When we came in, we met the university in a deplorable state with a dilapidated structure, a dirty environment, and staff members who were disillusioned and disoriented. There was no motivation because they assumed that the college of education was winding up and the university was not going to take off. Everything was on a downturn. Almost all the vehicles that we met on campus were grounded. The only functional ones were the ones being used by the erstwhile principal officers of the university. In terms of security manpower, they had reduced to 20 and there were no patrol vehicles. To really secure the university, you need about 100 personnel. However, to the glory of God, his excellency, Governor Ademola Adeleke, lived up to his promises and appointed principal officers. When we came on board, we organised a training programme to reorientate members of staff that it is no longer a college of education but a university. We have had three such programmes and I am happy to report that the staff are yielding to training.
Did the training also include non-teaching staff?
The training we had was for members of management, deans, heads of departments (HODs), and directors of directorates, which cut across both teaching and non-teaching staff, but in the upper echelon of management. The one we just concluded recently is purely for academic staff, while another one has been scheduled for non-teaching staff. We have also had training on the use of computer software programmes.
How would you describe their morale since the training?
In terms of output on their jobs, they are improving, but then, we cannot stop the training. It has to be a continuous exercise. It is instructive to note that Governor Adeleke has been the sole financier of the institution. He approved the take-off grant and running cost for the university, as well as the National Universities Commission (NUC) resource verification exercise.
Have you started admitting new students now, and what happens to the former students of the college of education?
We are just in the process of admitting students. We have NCE students that we met on the ground. We created the Institute of Education and appointed a director. So anything that has to do with NCE examinations, graduation and transcript would be handled by the institute. So their identification cards bear the University of Ilesha Institute of Education, NCE programme and will last until the last of them is graduated in three years.
What is your view about the government’s establishment of new universities without adequately funding the existing ones?
I am not of the opinion that they are not being well funded. In the first instance, did you take into consideration the population of this country, the number of candidates seeking admission and the number of admission space available? You will see that we still need more universities. In my own opinion, I think individuals should do more in establishing private universities. When you have state or federal governments establishing universities, they will be centres of excellence known for a particular cutting-edge discipline. In OAU, Ife, for instance, it is known for computing and Computer Science, Pharmacy, among others. These are centres of excellence. The government can concentrate on such research institutes, while the issue of establishing universities should be left in the hands of private individuals. If you ask me, we need more universities taking into consideration the number of applicants and those admitted.
You commenced academic activities in September. How many programmes have been accredited by the NUC, and how many students are you expecting JAMB to send to you?
Students are first expected to change their institution because before now, the University of Ilesha did not appear on the JAMB portal and no student would have selected the university. But immediately, NUC gave us approval to commence running of programmes. The University of Ilesha appeared on the JAMB portal and the courses available appeared. Therefore, students can change their choice to the University of Ilesha and at the same time, pick courses. We were given approval in September. The university presented 32 programmes which have been given approval to commence. We were given Law, Medical Laboratory Science, Accounting, Nursing, Political Science, Public Health, Agric Science Education, Computer Science, and Cyber Security, among others. As it were, we are trying to put together our website and not make it susceptible to hackers. Already, we have 400 candidates who have already signified their intention to cross to the university. This is so because we have yet to advertise, nor are we on social media, to solicit for students. We want to get our act right. As we speak, 33 candidates have changed to read Law here, 142 have changed to Nursing, 16 to study History and International Studies, and 43 to read Medical Laboratory, among others. However, the Law programme cannot commence immediately because we have to go for the second round of resource verification by the Council of Legal Education. Also, the Council for Nursing and Midwifery in Nigeria will have to come and see what we are doing. The same thing also goes for Medical Laboratory Science. The council will have to come and verify if we have the capacity to do all these.
Your management has decided to make the institution an entrepreneurial-oriented university. Why the decision?
Entrepreneurship cuts across every sphere of life; agriculture and agric-business are part of it. It goes beyond taking students to studios or just learning different skills. We are talking about entrepreneurship mindset and changing the orientation of Nigerian students and graduates. For instance, you can bring together students studying Computer, Accounting, and Political Science and ask them to develop a business idea. That will be far better than taking someone to a cobbler or tailor’s shop to sew clothes or mend shoes. It is about the mindset and the students knowing how to prepare business proposals that can attract funds. That is what the University of Ilesha plans to do.
As a professor of Accounting and Finance, how do you intend to bring this course to bear to impact your students?
There will be no preferential treatment to any student. We have met the minimum academic standard, such as putting in place the accounting programmes, classroom facilities, lecturers, accounting software and studios to commence the programmes. The NUC will check the facilities and curriculum to see that it is adequate enough to prepare students for local and international markets. They will not grant approval for any course if they are not satisfied with your preparations. We met the criteria for other courses too. It is a rigorous process.
What do you think should be the hallmark of a well-run tertiary institution?
It is about excellence. In whatever you do, you must do it well and let people know you have the strength of character.
Where do you see the university in the next five years that you are going to be vice chancellor and what should be the way forward for education generally?
We should be ranking among the best state universities in Nigeria in terms of academic excellence, entrepreneurship and students exhibiting strength of character. The way forward for education is to evaluate, overhaul and reposition the education sector. You must have heard youths say that they don’t need education to become a millionaire. This is very prevalent among them. Truly speaking, there are many of them with flashy cars and easy access to money. They are not that educated. Even those who are teaching them are struggling. So where is the value in that?