Okebukola awards LASU B+ in overall performance

Peter Okebukola, outstanding Professor of Science Education, former Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC) and former Acting Vice Chancellor of the
Lagos State University (LASU) has been famously referred as LASU’s brightest star.

An astute scholar of international repute, he shared his thoughts with The Intellectual about
the university and its future in an exclusive interview.

Excerpts:

It’s been 31 years since the Lagos State University was established. As its former Acting Vice Chancellor, do you think LASU has justified the purposes for its establishment?

Substantially yes. Having worked in LASU for the 31 years of its existence (I was employed as a Senior Lecturer when the University opened its doors in November 1984), I conclude that the university has earned an overall B+ in terms of meeting the objectives set by its founding fathers. My personal score sheet for LASU can be summarised as follows:

Objectives of LASU and My Rating of Performance

  1. To form the apex of the educational system of the state. Score =A
  2. To provide innovative educational programmes of high standard and relevance for state and national development. Score =A
  3. To serve as a creative custodian, promoter, and propagator of the state’s social and cultural heritage and resources. Score =B
  4. To act as a vehicle of national development in general and in particular, to act as an instrument to effectively-stimulate the development of the state through continuing education, applied research, technical assistance, direct consultation, informational services and internship programmes. Score =B
  5. To provide innovative educational programmes of high standard, regardless of the -nature of the degree being pursued, as long as this has importance and relevance for state and national development. Score =B
  6. To provide ready access for citizens of the state in particular, to higher education regardless of social origin or income. Score =A
  7. To meet the specific manpower needs of the state. Score=B

What were the achievements that give you the most satisfaction when you recall them during your tenure as Acting Vice Chancellor?

I initially worked as Deputy Vice-Chancellor to Professor Enitan Bababunmi, one of the most outstanding Vice-Chancellors LASU has ever had and when he left, I assumed office as Acting Vice-Chancellor from 1996-1997. Some of the numerous giant strides of LASU during the period were internationalisation of the University, take-off of the Epe Campus, take-off of postgraduate programmes, increase in the subvention to the University by the Lagos State Government under General Marwa and entrenchment of the culture of high-level scholarship.

It was during the period that LASU stamped its feet on the global map of university education. We had LASU imprimatur in the United States, United Kingdom, Finland, Ghana and South Africa. We had staff and student exchange programmes that worked, not just on paper. We had LASU staff literally “shake the world” in international conferences, as staff were sponsored as a formidable block to international conferences.

We also opened up the Epe Campus and started new programmes there. We had the LASU MBA take-off at such an enviable pace and quality that in a very short time, it became a threat to well-established programmes in other universities in Nigeria and Africa. The culture of scholarship took deep root and LASU academic staff were frequently cited in high-impact scholarly journals in various disciplines.

The University has been embroiled in several crises, involving the unions over the years. What do you think can be done to make LASU crisis-free?

Let me approach this question from the lens of service as Executive Secretary, NUC, where I was able to see the entire Nigerian university system.

The friction with unions is essentially induced by a lowering of entitlements, relating to welfare. In turn, the lowering is triggered by the inability of university management to muster financial resources to service such welfare needs. If we decompose all welfare needs, including allowances or issues relating to promotion, they will come to just one factor – funding.

Pushing back the blame game one step upstream, university management is unable to meet the financial demands of unions because the proprietor is unable to subvent the university appropriately. As Executive Secretary, NUC, we had enough financial muscle to pay all staff in the federal university system, hence the index of staff union tension was low. Every month, I sign a cheque of about N5 billion to the University of Ibadan alone, for staff entitlements.

State universities have the poorest record among federal, state and private universities in funding in the Nigerian university system. Most state universities are given between 50-60 per cent of their funding needs for staff emoluments. When you add the token intake from tuition and other user charges, you end up with about 80 per cent of what the university needs to “make the staff happy”.

Some state universities turn to obnoxious paths of bridging the gap between what they need and what comes in as total income by running all manner of poor-quality sandwich and outreach programmes, which end up demeaning the quality of the certificates issued by the university.

Other factors that contribute to union agitations all over the Nigerian university system are high-handedness on the part of university managers, intolerance on the part of union leaders, failure to objectively and dispassionately apply the rules and regulations governing the university and underlying political forces to harm university management. All these factors have interplayed in the LASU story since 1986.

Indeed, LASU is witnessing its calm season by way of union agitations. Those new-comers in LASU, who feel things are not as smooth today should wait for my LASU memoirs, which will be published God willing next February (2016), when I will be 65 and will retire from the University.

In the light of the foregoing and other considerations, two things can be done to make LASU crisis free. First, provide enough funding for the University to be able to discharge its academic and social responsibilities to staff and students. Second, require management and unions to explore dialogue to the fullest in conflict resolution.

With your immense experiences, especially as a former Executive Secretary of the NUC what needs to be done to make LASU a world class university?

My answer takes off from the previous. Improve funding and match the improved funding with accountability, probity and transparency. Soften the “omo Eko” syndrome since this inhibits world-class status. Strengthen a few programmes where LASU has comparative national and global advantage to be centres of excellence. Ensure that only high-grade students and staff are members of the LASU community.

Finally sir, what is your dream for LASU and what do you foresee in the next 15 to 20 years?

The LASU of my dream in the next 20 years should have students of different nationalities – Americans, British, Chinese, Ghanaians, South Africans and others enrolled in different programmes; scholars of different nationalities live and work in LASU; office, laboratory and workshop facilities matching those of a 21-century university; at least 30 per cent of LASU staff publishing in the top-10 journals in the world in their disciplines (not in roadside online journals); a LASU staff nominated for a Nobel Prize in science, economics or literature; power supply is uninterrupted all day and all year round; safety of lives and property is guaranteed; and with LASU in the league of the top 100 universities in the world.

These are not unattainable dreams. Examples are replete in the world where universities achieved the foregoing in 10 years.

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