NOUN Student Enrolment Hits 254,000- Prof Abdalla Adamu
Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu, is the Vice- Chancellor of the National Open University of Nigeria(NOUN). He holds double professorships in Science Education (1997) and Media and Cultural Communication (2012) from Bayero University Kano, Nigeria. He specializes also in Ethnoscience, Research Methodologies, Management Information Systems and Translations. In this interview with our Managing Editor of the Economic Confidential, Ewache Ajefu, the erudite Professor bares his mind on how he has embarked on the programme of making NOUN a center of excellence apart from being an envy of all Universities in the country. Excerpts:
EC: Can you let us into your University Programme accreditation?
First of all the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) is Open Distance Learning(ODL) institution. The idea is that you can stay anywhere and study, whether your home or office and earn your degree. And we are fully accredited by the National Universities Commission(NUC). They have come and accredited all our programmes. There are programmes that are full accreditation, and there are others that interim accreditation, that is, you are good but you could be better and there are some that are denied accreditation, and there is also resource verified accreditation, meaning that the NUC will come and check all the resources you have, namely, laboratories, equipment, instruments, technicians and so forth. If they check and you have them, then they give you interim accreditation. After a gap of two years, they (NUC) will come back to be sure that what they checked are still there. After two years again they come back to check. After this verification, they will now give you full accreditation. So you are kept on your toes in order to make sure that you do the right thing.
EC: How was the situation when you came in?
When I came in March last year, I discovered that some of our programmes do not have accreditation. They have not been resource verified. So I asked why will some of our programmes not have accreditation from the NUC and I was told that they had an “understanding” with the Commission. I said there is no way we can run these programme. Now I have been part of accreditation team of NUC sent to many universities in time past and for so many years. I have written a book on the history of NUC and the accreditation process and therefore cannot be heading an institution with programmes not accredited, because I know much better. Apart from that I am a Professor of Curriculum Studies. So to me, accreditation is not just an administrative activity but also a functional activity. So we sat down to separate those programmes that have full accreditation and fish out others with interim accreditation, those that have been resource verified, and those that are denied accreditation. Any programme that NUC had not given approval were cut out completely. And we flushed out as many as forty nine(49) programmes after this process. They range from B.Sc, M.Sc and postgraduate programmes. We took all these programmes to the NUC and told them that we have suspended admission into these programmes until we sort ourselves out. We are not interested in the money but the quality of programmes dished out.
EC: Have you announced the suspension of the said programmes?
Yes. When we created an admission administration portal, we discovered that these same suspended 49 programmes still resurfaced and repeated and students had started applying and even paying too. We stopped it and reversed the payments to all those involved. But we asked the NUC that could you allow us to graduate these, even they are not approved but we want due process to be followed. So that when approval to run the programme is received, we can now activate.
EC: How did you handle the law programmes?
When we discovered that the Council for Legal Education refused us accreditation, we suspended further admission into the law programme, until we sorted ourselves out and allow the current students to graduate. We don’t want to create chaos. In fact I can tell you that we are more NUC than NUC as far as accreditation is concerned. We believe in following the regulator, because at the end of the day you end up creating weird and crazy programmes that are not viable. They may look beautiful theoretically but not in practice. For Example, you can create a programme on Terrorism Studies but when they graduate, how will they get jobs. But when you create a progamme on Security studies, they may end up in Police, Immigration and others.
EC: When next is NUC coming?
Now NUC will be coming in May this year on accreditation. What we have done is to put up a mock accreditation by forming a team to go to the faculties. They will include experts even from NUC themselves in order to prepare ourselves for their coming. This will go through a simulation process of the actual accreditation. This will allow us to prepare ahead of their coming. They conduct their accreditation both in May and November each year.
EC: What is your ranking among Nigerian Universities?
Well so far nobody has been able to come out with an effective test instruments to measure our rankings for now. You keep hearing this University is high and other low. Frankly I have not seen an independent, objective, rationally, applicable instruments for now. But I do know rankings are based from citations from staff of such universities and the frequency of such citations from parts of the world. If a person is doing a research either in China, Japan, England and even America and each of these researchers are quoting from that same university, then that is a basis for ranking. Which is the most frequently cited university among others determine the rankings. Most of our publications are not available probably in the internet like others do. It may be a reason for not being ranked. And this is because we have not reached a level of international consciousness in Nigeria where we can frequently be cited. Of course there are many of us who have international exposure. They also publish in A1 journals, but to be fair to you I cannot tell you that NOUN is the best. But we are doing our best.
EC: How many study Centers do you have and also the student population?
Currently we have about 77 study centers scattered across the length and breadth of this country. That means that some states have more than one or two study centers depending of course by demand. Like in Abuja we have about 8 centers. Some organizations come to us and ask for study centers and we call them specialized centers, notably Police Immigration or the Nigerian Prison Service. Some states have community study centers. The buildings belonging to the defunct National Republican Convention (NRC) and Social Democratic Party (SDP) headquarters were the ones given to us when we started in 2003.
In some cases these accommodations have been utilized by the states and in other cases abandoned. But if they are not available, the states provide us with accommodation. At the beginning there were misgivings and mistrust about National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN). People do not look at it as credible.
EC: What is the attraction to NOUN compare to conventional universities?
The pressure of students to get admission to conventional universities were increasing by the day as almost one million students want to gain admission into universities yearly through Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board(JAMB). And there are cases of students trying two to three times and not getting the admissions. These development arouse their consciousness and they started thinking about NOUN where they can still work and study at the same time. These created a massive influx of applicants wanting to gain admission to NOUN. These influx has become so enormous that the state study centers can no more cope with the population. That gave rise to requests for community study centers by some states and these requests to be honest with were mostly from the southern parts of the country. However, our mandate says we should create study centers in all the states of the federation and local government areas. But these centers are difficult to run because they involve heavy costs. But we have decided that any center to be created must have about one thousand students. So it does not make sense in having a study center perhaps in Gwarinpa and have another one in Gwagwalada when we cannot run them. So the total number of registered active students in the NOUN is 254,000 (Two hundred and fifty four thousand).
EC: When can successful students start the programme?
Successful students can start at any time and also finish anytime, even though we also have semesters, but we have two examinations in a year. But in between you can come in and go out if you like. If you are ready for the examinations, you can come, but if you are not ready, you can still defer until you have time for it. Sometimes the figures fluctuate depending on the students themselves. It is flexible and that is why we have so much influx of students.
EC: What about your portal? We understand that consultants were solely in charge. How much have you been able to save after doing away with the consultants?
Well as for how much I have saved for doing away with consultants, I would not tell you that because that is our secret. When I took over, I saw that the entire Information Technology infrastructure were outsourced to two companies. One was called Cyberspace and the other called Emerging Platforms. They were the ones running the entire system. As an ICT person myself because I spent about 15 years teaching System Analysis at Masters Degree level in Bayero University, Kano. Now how can I have a department of Computer Science, and the Dean of that department was the immediate Vice-President of Nigerian Computer Society, a professor of Robotics and other talents in ICT in these university, and yet still outsourcing all these to another agency, I said no it cannot happen!
EC: How did you resolve the issue of management of the portal with the contractors?
So the first thing I did was to look at the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between us and the two organizations. Of course they paid us the usual courtesy call so that they can remain relevant. We sat down and looked at the MOU and found out that in one of them the MOU stipulates 70 percent profit and the other 85 percent of the revenue as profit because they provide all the skills, technology including examinations portal. I said this is not acceptable. So we assembled a team and asked ourselves whether we can do this. So they said they can. Then I said go and design it and we decided to shut out the two companies and all kinds of legal battles started, stating that they have signed the contract for five years and cannot be terminated. I told them that within the MOU we can give each other one month notice to terminate such contracts and so I have the powers to do so. You can imagine when the students pay this money, one company gets 70 percent of such payments and the other gets 85 percent! I said that has stopped, and any money coming to us would now be ours henceforth. Now with the revenue coming, we are able to provide needs of the study centers and equally too train them at conferences to increase their efficiency. This money is also used in paying for those writing course materials for the university and we are contented because we do not request government to provide such monies. Because of revenue being generated through the payment of tuition by students, we are now able to push out quality materials for students and we are now planning to shoot this into tablets, so that we have what we call “I-NOUN”. So this I-NOUN will be a complete package of courses. So we cut out these outsources and created our own services and it is working. So the key to sustainability in any Open Distance Learning (ODL) is independence. So you can see that the situation is likened to a Professor of Mechanical Engineering who has given his car to a road side mechanic to fix, when he can do it himself. So if the Professor can fix it himself, then there will be nothing like outsourcing again. We are hoping that other agency like JAMB, NECO and others can get rid of their outsourcing and become independent.
EC: What is your budget for 2016 and the proposal for 2017?
We cut our coat according to our cloth. We know the current economic situation is such that we have to bear with government. But I can assure you that no Vice- Chancellor will tell you he receives quite a lot and always in need of money. So the little we get we maximize it with our internally generated revenue. whatever we save will go to servicing the students, while going with the current administration’s change mantra of accountability and transparency in all we do. When I took my budget recently to management on convocation, they were shocked, because it was drastically reduced. Take for instance a 2-hour live programme on the television on the convocation which will gulp N10 million. I can bet you that viewers would be watching their favorite clubs of Manchester United or Chelsea and would not have time for my heavily packed talks. That to me is a waste and so cannot afford that.
EC: Do you have specific projects for 2017?
Of course so many of them. We are hoping that three sources of funding will be available for us to take the projects for this year. One of them is Needs Assessment, allocation from Tetfund, and there are people who are coming to meet us for buying-in- on some specific projects. Since we are not spending any money, anywhere they get the fund and execute is entirely their responsibility. But for now NOUN has eight Faculties. The faculty of Agriculture is in Kaduna. It was moved from Lagos because they have about five hectares of land where they will do all their agricultural experimentation and research. One of the projects is the production of bio-friendly drink called NOUNI, which is facilitated from our laboratory in Kaduna and that laboratory is headed by the former Vice-Chancellor. And NOUNI is a commercially viable product and it’s being sold all over the market place though costly, because the tree is very rare and it takes about seventy years to germinate. So we are going to tell the world what we have been able to achieve. So we have so much large space with many cattles to look after costing us about One million Naira to maintain.
EC: How are the Faculties spread between Lagos and Abuja?
The other seven faculties were in Lagos when I took over. I was told there is a campus here. I did not know about that. It was during the handover I was told there is a building here and I said we should take a look at it and was shocked to see all these. And I asked when can we move in since it’s all ready. So we moved in on the March 29th 2016 and we moved four faculties from Lagos to Abuja and so leaving about three faculties there. The Faculties of Arts, Science, Social Sciences and the faculty of Basic Health Sciences are now with us here in Abuja. And the empty spaces in Lagos are now used for study centers. That building is still ours and we will keep it. My project for this year is to bring the remaining faculties here. In fact four faculties, namely, Education, Law, Management Sciences and Postgraduate School. We want to create a printing press here, so we can do all our printing jobs ourselves, especially our study course materials because that is what we do instead of outsourcing them. That is our next target because we spend millions in printing our course materials. We are going to create our own Library complex and the printing press will be tied down to the Library. We also hope to create a full multimedia Radio studio. But at the moment we will not be able to transmit from here until we change our license. We also want to establish a large auditorium, where we can hold our public lectures, inaugural lectures. At the moment we all those things at the communication square outside. Sometimes it can be uncomfortable outside there because of heat. We are grateful to the National Universities Commission for the use of their hall several times without payment when we call on them. We are entering into a Public Private Partnership (PPP) with some organizations to establish banks, eateries or restaurants, a min- market like shopping mall. But my focus is to create a stable rock-solid university so that when someone says I am from NOUN, he or she will say it aloud and not in low tone.
EC: When you moved all these faculties from Lagos what happens to the building?
In fact nothing happens. Even the eleven-storey building is not enough. In Lagos, we have centers in Mcarthy Street and another in Mushin each one managing about 15,000 students. All we need to do is to shift them to the 11-storey building because these ones are rented. We will remodel it to become a mega-centre. We will break part of the wall to build bigger and larger halls for examinations. If you take a look at the student population in NOUN, you will discover that 90 percent of them are in the southern part of Nigeria. Very very few of them are in the north. In order to address imbalance in the enrolment of students, by April this year, we will carry out aggressive campaign targeted at the northern part of Nigeria because there is already awareness down south. My problem is that every day I am being inundated with requests for community centers in the south. Take Delta state for instance. They already have a study center and two community centers but more requests are still pouring in. As we speak, Delta has about twenty thousand students apart from five conventional universities in the state. Even the entire population in Delta is not up to half of Kano state. So we will address the imbalance through the up-coming campaign. Apart from that we will translate NOUN in local languages especially Hausa.
EC: What about your scholarship programme either for less privileged or prisoners?
When I came on board I was told that 50 percent discount was being provided for prisoners. I said why 50 percent? These are people who are locked up and there is no way to make money. It is even surprising that they are able to pay the 50 percent fees. So I said remove the 50 percent and make it free as long as you are in prison. But the moment you get out of the prison you will have to pay. One of the prisoners finished his Master Degree in last convocation. He graduated around 2015 and his certificate was delivered to him in prison. And we had a joke about it that the Vice Chancellor has gone to jail. He only went to deliver the prisoner’s certificate to him! So this is the scheme we have introduced and we will extend it to the juveniles also. Other companies and organizations attempted to support us in this direction but they failed. One even said they were ready to sponsor 1000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).