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MY GREATEST CHALLENGE IS TO IMPROVE OAU'S WORLD RANKING

By NBF News



Prof. Michael Faborode

The Vice Chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Professor Michael Faborode has given an account of his stewardship in the last four years with a promise to ensure that his legacies are sustained.  Faborode told Daily Sun recently in his office that his administration made some landmark achievements. He also revealed how he tackled students unrest and what he intends to achieve in the remaining one year of his tenure.

The Journey so far
You know I have spent four years and a year to go. Thanks to God that we have been able to achieve what can be considered to be significant and obvious. These can be divided into two. Firstly, are the things we have done in terms of what are physical and can be seen. We also have some subtle and much more fundamental which the naked eyes may not be able to see but have impacted very much on the state of the university.

Landmark achievements recorded since your appointment four years ago

One would like to look back to the time of our engagement vis a vis the state of the university then in terms of public perception of the institution in terms of stability. Programmes were not run on time and there were some notoriety trends. There were instability and turmoil which largely had to do with the perception of the students union at that time. A few of the leadership of the students union at that time who felt that they could supplant good conduct with subscription to violent ways of looking at things by overstepping their bounds in terms of discipline, usurping some of the normal statutory functions of the university. And the first thing we did was to try and remove this tendency and normalize student activism and that has been the major success that has impacted on the ambience of the university.

Physical development recorded by your administration

The signs of the new times are very obvious. People can see a number of physical structures going on in the campus. But what may not be readily discernible and what people should know is that even this engagement is based on the deep understanding of what the university is facing at that time. One is that over the years, we have maintained the facilities we have and in a way, we didn't quite realize the shortage of lecture theatres and teaching places, whereas the student population has more than doubled. On assumption of office in 2006, there were over 12 abandoned projects, some abandoned since the 80s which we have since re-constructed and completed. The Natural History Museum is another very good example of a building that was abandoned but is now turning out to be the most beautiful architectural edifice on campus. The Agricultural Engineering building is now being constructed.

The Senate building is another one, the final phase of work is going on now having been able to complete the two phases that were abandoned since the 80s. We have been able to leverage on the goodwill and support from the various sectors of the economy particularly the OAU alumni that have been very supportive. The alumni centre is there and the hostel built by the alumni is also there. The First Bank building is a lecture theatre with classroom and office facility for staff. In terms of additional lecture theatre, we have the 1000seater, another 100 seater, and another 500 seater with wings for offices, a new lecture theatre is also up behind the Post Graduate building that is coming from the regular ETF fund. We have also secured a new ETF intervention fund of N3billion and that is to be expended within the next 12months.

The Post graduate building is on, courtesy of Barrister Jimoh Ibrahim who is also an alumnus. Faculty of Agriculture building is wearing a new look entirely. Those buildings are the first set of buildings on campus and it is very depressing and worrying that how can this building be in such a shabby situation but an alumnus, the MD of Mutual Assurance group has undertaken the renovation and repainting of the whole 3 buildings of the faculty of Agriculture. The Faculty of Science that we normally call the White House as at today is still nearly brown but renovation and painting has also started. The Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) was used to equip our laboratories, procure computers to make our geological programme one of the best in the country.

Having achieved so much within four years, can you say eureka!

The best is yet to come because the intervention fund of ETF worth N3billion that we just secured will bring a major development to transform the university. We have been able to keep our facilities and infrastructure well maintained. For example, the Oduduwa hall was built in the 60's but it is still as new as when it was built. We are overwhelmed by the rate at which people outside the country want to partner with OAU because the global goodwill enjoyed by the university is enormous. The Carnegie Corporation of New York started with us in 2003 before I became the VC but we got a renewal in 2006 and we have also got a renewal in 2009 and would continue till 2012. We got $2.5billion each for the second and the third tranches. We also have Carter Foundation in community health development for training of medical doctors. We also have the World Bank step B programme fund worth 500,000dollars and the way it was judiciously used had made us to be designated centre for software engineering and that has given us another grant of $7million. That is why OAU graduates are never found wanting. All these have influenced our ranking by remaining number One up till now.

Are there things you have not done?
I will put them in two major dimensions; we have made efforts to generate resources to sustain the university. But there is still a backlog of a number of issues that are still crying for funding support and that is why we are not relenting in looking for additional resources here and there. The rot that bedeviled the university system in the last 10 to 15 years did so much colossal damage that we still require the injection of enormous resources to be able to turn things around. We still have a big gap to fill and we don't just want to be local champions. We want to improve on our World ranking and because we are not there yet, shows we are still lacking in terms of resources to be able to develop the university. For me, that is the greatest challenge that we are not yet where we want to be. We want to be the best in Africa and to be counted among the best in the World.

But in the last one year, we have seen a lot of distractions arising from unnecessary agitations by some staff who without adequate understanding, have decided to give wrong impressions about the university finances in terms of the pension fund and so on. And so this has turned out to be an unnecessary irritation, unnecessary distraction. The fact that the university was able to survive the onslaught is part of the resilience the system has. At the end of the day, it doesn't benefit the system and it gives wrong signals. I think there are more corporate challenges that should curry the attention of the university system and if we channel all of our energies to the growth of the university, I think it would be better. With few more adjustments we would normalize the academic calendar and I think that is what the students, staff and the larger public want to see.

How were you able to check student's unrest?
We have deep understanding of the system. A number of us including myself also passed through this system, so we are not strangers to understanding the context in which the university operates. Every university has its own uniqueness. So, that is the experience we have used. There wasn't any magic wand about it. It is just sensitization and providing students with the right perspective about life, about university function and what they must hope for in life. Part of it has to do with some form of hopelessness that have pervaded the youths for long time. Some may come to the university and enjoy staying for 6 to 10 years and pretend to be working for the students' union, creating problems. So, you have people with very poor performance leading the students union and we said this has to change. So the first thing was to bring a minimum level of academic qualification for people to take part in student unionism.

We settled for a Grade Point of 2.5 so what that means is that we allowed only people who have good standing and who have the credentials to be in leadership and they are not likely to want the system to derail unlike those who just managed to put their GP above 1.0 so that they can have their legs in. So, that was the major strategy in addition to developing our counseling unit so that students can have access to counselors. We also got good support from the alumni. We were able to restore the dignity of student unionism. Today what we have in Ife is Student Union. It is not Student Union Government because that is the way it has always been in the past. We realize it is one of the things that give wrong impression. When you say it is another government, it creates something else and we hope the kind of revolution we have created here will permeate the entire university system so that we create a normalcy of positive engagement that have been the hallmark of Nigerian students in the past. As far as Ife is concerned, violence has disappeared completely from the language of our students.

Your projections for the remaining one year in office

One major goal of the university in the strategic plan is to establish the university as a vessel for National Development and that is very important. Universities are established to be the conscience of the society and to change society to be instrument to instigating development of communities and indeed the global community. OAU in its 48years of existence has contributed a lot to the society but we cannot say that we have done the ultimate. We want to reposition this university to be the technological hub of the country.

That does not mean that we are not going to be involved in culture but we want OAU to be noted as being in the forefront of science and technological development of the country.  We want to establish knowledge pack that would make a difference nationally and globally. A lot of people are working in that direction and we want to establish a solid foundation for its emergence. The ETF intervention has made things easier for us and we would surely achieve the goals we have set for ourselves. We shall make sure OAU remains relevant and be among the top ten in Africa. After my tenure, I will remain an academic, that is, go back to my department and continue to do what I enjoyed doing most by teaching and research.