Many Parents Who Can’t Pay Children’s Fees Abroad Now Come to Us – Prof Ademola Tayo 'Babcock VC'

Prof Ademola Tayo, Babcock VC

The Vice Chancellor of Babcock University, Prof. Ademola Tayo, talks about issues in the education sector in the country and some of the achievements of the school in this interview with FOLASHADE ADEBAYO and JESUSEGUN ALAGBE
We’ve not been witnessing groundbreaking inventions coming from products of our university system. What do you think is responsible for this and what is the solution?
I think it may be unfair to say there haven’t  been groundbreaking inventions or researches, but what I will say is that they have been under-reported. However, we should try as much as possible to upgrade Internet infrastructure so that these researches will be more visible and all those inventions that are coming from our universities will be reported to the outside world so that we may indeed know there are scientists in Nigeria who are doing something very tangible.
Since you assumed office, what are the things you’ve introduced into the university?
First, we have tried to raise the bar of our Internet facility because we believe for a university to run well in this 21st century, the Internet is the backbone of researches and all kinds of activities going on in the system. So right now, we’ve been able to introduce an Information and Communications Technology system that is strong. In fact, if you walk around our campus, you will see that the fibre optic is being laid everywhere, which will be fully operational in the next one month such that the whole of the campus will be Wi-Fi-connected and through that, both the staff and students will be able to have access to the Internet and will be able to download and access knowledge that will enable them to move to the next level. Second, in the area of electricity supply, we have been working aggressively to make sure that we have our own Independent Power Project completed. It is about 75 per cent completed now and when it is 100 per cent completed, we are going to have 24-hour uninterrupted power supply. As a matter of fact, the Memorandum of Understanding we signed with the company handling it is drafted in such a way that if there is just a one-second outage, the company will pay collateral damage for anything that may happen because we want our laboratories to be fully functional and we want to do things in a way that we will be able to provide value for money for our students. Third, in the area of collaboration, we are moving forward. About two months ago, we were in Zimbabwe on the invitation of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, London. One of the eight-point agenda of the present administration is to move closer to the industry so that our curriculum will be able to integrate with what is expected in the world of work so that our graduates will not be strangers when they get to the workplace and this we have been doing very well with professional bodies. We want to have a curriculum that is responsive and relevant to the needs out there so that our graduates will be on top of their job when they get out there.
You said your university has been involved in a lot of researches. Are there some of your research works that are already in the market?
Yes. Just a few weeks ago, our students went and did what is called needs assessment or environment scanning of a neighbourhood to see the problem that was peculiar to them and they discovered that in that particular vicinity, there is no electricity. Some of the dwellers are using stove, but they don’t have access to kerosene. The students then went to the laboratory so that they would be able to come up with fuel made from water and cassava and now the product has been introduced into the community and within a month, the impact of the research is now being felt in the lives of the people there. We did another research on sweet potato by making flour from it. So now we have sweet potato flour, which is a substitute for cassava flour that is commonly known. The same thing we did to cocoyam and now there is cocoyam flour. In our medical school, there are a lot of open heart surgeries going on there and these are the things that have been impacting our community in a very positive way.
One would wonder why a university like yours would ban the eating of meat and drinking of carbonated drinks like Coca-Cola among students, who should perhaps be made to take decisions on their own and not be forced to stop eating and drinking what they want. We understand it’s a religious issue…
 No, it’s not a matter of religion; it’s a matter of lifestyle.
 But why enforce the lifestyle on the students?
 It’s not by force. It’s the policy of the university. For example, Coca-Cola has a lot of caffeine content which is harmful to anyone who takes it and we want a situation whereby we will be able to live healthy lives because we deal with holistic education. When one part suffers, the other sympathises. We want our students and staff to be in a good mental state of health such that they will be able to work properly. When they are out of the campus, they are free to do whatever they want to do.
Are you saying your staff members are also forbidden from eating meat and drinking Coca-Cola?
When they are on campus, yes. They cannot bring them in. When they are outside the campus, they are at liberty to eat whatever they want. It is not force, but they are being encouraged to live healthily. That is why I’m over 50 and I still look like a 20-year-old because I want to live a life of moderation and I want to live up to 90 and still be agile. So it’s an encouragement, not a forceful thing. The level of cholesterol in meat is dangerous. It is better to live on green vegetables than on fat, especially the one that is saturated. So it’s not a matter of religion, but that of lifestyle and this has been attested to by many scholars. Eating saturated fat has been found to be linked to many heart-related diseases. We promote healthy living. As we increase in knowledge and wisdom, we should also increase in physical wellness. We also encourage doing exercise every morning and that’s why it’s in our curriculum, we have what is called Health Education. We encourage our students to eat wholesomely so that they will be able to be in a good frame of mind to be able to attend classes. We don’t want any of them to drop out in the middle of the semester because of sickness. However, like I said, we are not being rigid or forceful about this. When they go out or get to their various homes, they can eat whatever they want, even though we still encourage them that while they are out there, they should try and eat responsibly so that they can live healthy lives. Even science encourages the Mediterranean diet all over the world, which means doing away with animal protein. Apart from these reasons, we have roughly 10,000 students on our campus and we feed them about three times a day. There could be carelessness in the handling of the animals by the people who prepare meat. Just eating the meat of one infected cow can wreak health havoc among the students. Meanwhile, we have animal protein substitutes for them, for example, soy bean, tofu, etc. There was a study carried out in a community in South California in the United States, where they picked Adventists and other residents and it was confirmed, by non-Adventists, that the Adventists’ lifestyle is the healthiest.
 Must you be an Adventist to work in the institution?
No. Working at Babcock University is open to everyone. For instance, we have a Muslim Head of Department. It’s only that if you are in Rome, be like the Romans. The opportunity to work in the school is open to anyone who is willing to adopt the culture of the university and live harmoniously so that we can have a common goal, which is to raise the bar of education in the country. There are pastors of other denominations who are working with us. During the Ramadan, we always have a special package for our Muslim students. We instruct our cafeteria staff to have shifts so they can prepare food for them because they eat early in the morning during fasting. In fact, we deliberately make their food better and we allow them to go to the mosque (outside the campus) to pray. On Fridays, we close by 1pm and it is because we want to provide opportunity for our Muslim brothers and sisters to go for Juma’at. One of the tenets of the Adventist Mission is religious liberty: live and let other people live. If in Nigeria today we are able to imbibe this, we will be able to live with one another without any problem. I may not like you, but I should be able to respect your point of view. If we are able to do that, there will be love, peace and progress in our country.
There is a sharp difference in the way someone who graduates with an excellent academic result is celebrated from the way the winner of a dance or song competition is in our society today. The former could get just a laptop and a handshake while the latter could go home with a brand new SUV and some cash. What do you think is responsible for this?
I think we are having our values upturned. We should be able to celebrate people who have tangible things to deliver. I’m not saying artistes do not have something to deliver, but we often look down on inventors, people who have substance. But people who don’t produce something tangible to inject into the society are the ones who are celebrated and I think we need to have a rethink on this so that our researchers and inventors are also celebrated such as it is being done in other parts of the world. It is a question of our value system and it has to change if we want to move to the next level as a country.
 Talking about value system, the previous administration in Nigeria introduced a programme whereby first-class graduates competed for scholarship slots to study abroad, but this administration seems to have stopped the programme. It seems no one is talking about this…
It’s very wrong, if this is true. I am not a politician, but I will say what should be done. I think such programme should be sustained. In fact, when I learned about this scheme then, I celebrated it because the first-class graduates would be exposed to new ways of doing things and would be able to come back to their fatherland to impact our country positively. The programme should continue because in the long-run, training brings more innovations. I don’t believe in inbreeding alone; there should be a cross-pollination of ideas. When our students go out there, they will see how things are being done and they will be able to come back with ideas and replicate them here. Take China, for example. China is where it is today because when they see someone who has a promising future in the country, they will sponsor the person to go and study for free in the U.S., UK, Germany, etc. — on the condition that the person will come back and plough back all the knowledge he/she has acquired into China. That is why when you see an innovation in the U.S. today, the following day, it’s up there in China and I think we should learn from this. Sentiment should not becloud our judgement, but rather, best practice of what we believe is going to move us to the next level. I want to appeal that this scheme should continue and let our talented youths be exposed outside and let them come back to improve our lot in the country.
 About 10 per cent of the budget of universities is dedicated to research. Would you support the call for private universities to benefit from the Tertiary Education Trust Fund?
 It is an Act of Parliament that private universities should not benefit from the fund, but I feel that the government should have a rethink on this position because if private universities are churning out graduates, they are not for the private community, but for the public, and so we should be able to have access to opportunities that will help us produce graduates who will be able to help our country move forward.
There is a research that no Nigerian university is offering any of the courses related to the top 100 professions of the future. As a university, what are you doing to ensure that the graduates you produce are relevant in the future?
This is the area where the National Universities Commission needs to look into critically. There is something called the Benchmark Minimum Academic Standard for programmes to be run in universities and many times, the NUC would say if the programme you want to run is not in that standard, you cannot run it. To me, I think that is being too straitjacketed. Universities comprise of eggheads and many of our professors have gone to other parts of the world where they see innovations and programmes that should be run here too. But if the NUC says that only so-and-so programmes should be run, we are going to stiffen the university and we will not allow them to use their innovations to have programmes that will be very impactful to our society and this is why I feel the NUC should be more flexible. I’m not saying it should allow a university to run any course they want because it could be bastardised, but at the same time, it should work with universities that are creative and innovative so that there will be academic programmes that will meet the changing societal needs. If you go to the US today, there are lots of new programmes and creative ideas coming out based upon the needs of that society. But if we say only the programmes we have now and nothing else, this could be detrimental to our development and we should not be too parochial that we will not be open to emerging knowledge that is coming up in the world today.
Who develops curriculum for universities?
Curriculum starts from the grass roots — from the department to the faculty, from the faculty to the Senate, but even at that, there are some benchmarks that have been laid down as a must. There are laid-down standards and there is nothing you can do to deviate from them. There is an example at Babcock; we repackaged Library Science to Information Resource Management because the world has moved away from card catalogue. But when the NUC comes for accreditation, they come with a bible, the Benchmark Minimum Academic Standard. It’s rather an unfortunate situation.
 But the Vice Chancellors of universities have an association. What is the association doing to correct this anomaly?
They have been talking about this seriously now that the BMAS should be dynamic such that the curriculum will not be full of what has been done over many years that are still being carried forward. It should be reviewed so we can meet the needs of our dynamic society today or else we will stay at one point. For instance, they are still saying the office of a VC should have a typist, typewriter and all those old things. The benchmark standards must be dynamic, responsive and relevant to the emerging situation in our country. But in fairness to the NUC, when a benchmark minimum academic standard is to be reviewed, scholars are invited, but the review should be constant because almost on a yearly basis, there are revolutions in knowledge.
 If the scholars have been doing the right thing, so many redundant courses shouldn’t be there anymore…
To give you an example, Babcock professors came together and rebranded Library Science, but the NUC refused to accredit it. This year, we couldn’t advertise for IRM in the newspapers. They still want us to be using card. We are not being confrontational, but the issue is that we should try to be dynamic in our world so that we will not keep recycling programmes that are obsolete in the society because if we keep doing that, we will not be able to catch up with the world. If you hear of some courses in the US, you would wonder how they were able to c ome up with them, but it’s because of the dynamics of their environment. That’s why they are moving ahead and we too should be open to what is going on, especially in this age of the Internet. We should catch up.
 What advice do you have for the scholars who do the review?
My advice is that we should be at the forefront of information and knowledge in our various fields so that we will be able to inject that into the benchmark minimum academic standards and it will be good for our country.
 How does the university get forex to pay some of its staff who are foreign-based or is it that you don’t pay in dollars?
We do pay. It’s a Herculean task because as a law-abiding institution, we don’t do anything that will contravene the stipulations of the law. So the problem that any Nigerian faces, we also face. But the only advantage we have is that Babcock belongs to a network of 127 universities run by the Seventh Day Adventist Church all over the world and so we have linkages whereby there could be transfer of papers in order to be able to meet some of our needs. Nevertheless, it is still challenging.
What’s your stance on inter-varsity admission?
What we look out for is the transcript of record and be sure that we can see the equivalents of all the courses of the foreign university in our own as well as in the benchmark minimum academic standards because we don’t want a situation whereby we will contravene the laid-down rules.
So how do you handle the issue of JAMB?
That’s why we also go to JAMB because before we can say yes totally, we must get an endorsement from the body because some of the students coming in may not be Nigerians. JAMB and NUC work together and if there is a situation whereby a student does not have a JAMB code, when he gets out of the university, they will not be mobilised for the National Youth Service Corps programme. We frequent JAMB to get clarifications, but usually the students are those who have not gone far in their studies because there is a policy on the minimum residency rule in the university you’re coming into, which is either 100 or 200 Level. JAMB still accepts people who are coming into 200 Level and such can still have JAMB code.
Have you been having students coming through this route, especially due to forex scarcity?
In fact, I’ve been receiving so many calls from parents who, because of this problem, are now bringing their children back home from abroad to study. They cannot afford to buy dollar again. But we are very careful. As a matter of fact, admission for students like that is going to be very minimal because we have to look at the stipulated laws so we don’t run foul of them, especially the issue with JAMB. We do check in with the body to be sure we are okay before we can admit such students into our campus.
 What is your enrolment for this year compared to last year?
We are still on it, so we may not be able to give a definite answer. Admission is going on right now. Screening is still on. We are not able to do Computer-Based Test because JAMB has outlawed that. What we do now is to have an interaction with the students and check that they have the requisite qualification.
 But the students still pay for the screening?
The amount that the Minister of Education says they should pay is N2, 500 and we accept N2, 000, the cheapest in the country. It was N6, 500 before. The reason for this fee is because some of our CBT centres are in Abuja and we take our staff all the way from here to the city, lodge them in a hotel and pay some other administrative charges. By the time you calculate how much has been paid by the students and how much we’ve spent, the margin is so thin.
 But why do you need to invite candidates for screening? Isn’t it possible for them to do it online?
 There is the need to have face-to-face interaction because at Babcock, we believe so much in redemption, but at the same time, we don’t want to open our gate to people that could corrupt other students. We have psychologists among the staff who interact with the students. For students who are coming in and we discover that they are drug addicts, definitely, we’d prefer they go and get rehabilitated first before they will come and cause problem for the innocent ones on the campus. This discovery cannot be made online, but when you meet with them and ask them some questions, you will be able to know who is who. You can perceive Indian hemp on some of them, and when our psychologists look at some of them, they know those whose condition is redeemable or not. For those redeemable students, we may still allow them, but those who we perceive will cause problem, we don’t allow them. To the glory of God, for the past 17 years we’ve been running as an institution, we’ve never had a one-day break in our calendar. At the point of matriculation, we tell parents the day of graduation of their children and it has been like this since 1999 and we are not looking forward to when this record will be broken as a result of “aluta” from people who are focussed on gate-crashing and disrupting the peace on the campus. That is why there is the need for face-to -face interaction. For instance, we’ve had cases of students who were rusticated from other institutions coming in after sitting for Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination afresh. Even if we will accept them, we have to watch them closely. We have a student’s support system that follows up on such students.
 Talking about the issue of drugs, we know that mission universities in Nigeria are doing all they can to curb it, but despite their efforts, there are still some students who take drugs. Do you have such cases and what do you do?
To be honest, there are cases like that. Babcock is an institution within a larger society and what happens within a larger society will be felt. This is why we have a solid student’s support centre where we have trained clinical and educational psychologists and social welfare officers. The moment we discover a case like that, they spring into action and if it is something that is beyond their powers, we refer them to a rehabilitation centre where the student will be. We do spot-check. We have equipment for psycho-social test because we know that this is a big problem in our country today, even in primary and secondary schools. It’s something that is pervasive in our society today and that is why we are investing so much in our students support system. We do seminars where we invite ex-drug addicts to talk about the dangers of drug use because if there is any problem we have been facing in the last two years, it is this issue of drug addiction. It can derail young people, hence our efforts at protecting our students from this hazard in our society.
 There was a time a private university conducted pregnancy test on their female students. What’s your opinion?
 I think that was unethical because that was an intrusion into the students’ privacy. It was demeaning. I think they should seek the consent of the student first and if she says yes, fine. But when you force a test of that nature on students, it is not good. In our own case, if a student is pregnant, we tell her to go home and deliver the child. If the person is not married, she will face suspension because we have zero tolerance to immorality. School is not a baby factory. We encourage our students to be focused, but if they are married in the course of their education, that is a given.
 If a female student is married, is she allowed to be pregnant?
 We have some students who are married and are even pregnant. There is a lady who has twins. We don’t stop them as long as it won’t affect their studies and they can cope. In the areas of religious liberty and human rights, we strongly believe in living and letting others live. We may not agree with other people’s beliefs, but we must respect them. There should be freedom of choice. Authority is not about shouting at and ordering people. It is about letting people know what is good and what is bad and why they should do what is good and avoid what is bad and let them decide intelligently, and finally, letting people face the consequences of their actions.

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