The Vice-Chancellor of Modibbo Adama University of Technology (MAUTECH), Yola, Adamawa State, Prof. Mohammed Kyari, speaks on issues affecting the university system in this interview with HINDI LIVINUS
Why do you insist that MAUTECH should be allowed to run management courses and function as a conventional university?
The best universities of science and technology in the world all run management courses. We thought that ours should not be an exception. We are not trying to run this university as a university of management, far from it. All we are saying is that technology itself needs to be managed. Therefore there is a demand for management courses, the faculty of management is one of our biggest faculties. So, I appeal to government to allow us to run management courses.
The communities in which the universities are established have also been disadvantaged. So, if the best way of providing access to education is to allow us to run and become a conventional university, so be it. We are not insisting, but whatever it is that will provide admission access to the vast majority of our students, particularly in the North-East, which has been ravaged by insurgency, we will accept.
Are you saying that you want to expand because the institution has fulfilled its core mandate?
No, we don’t see any contradiction between what the core mandate of the university is and what we are doing. It is a matter of interpretation. Our own interpretation of our core mandate is that we can run management courses because we reckon that all universities of technology around the world offer management courses. We didn’t go to the extent of saying we want to offer law or the arts.
We also wondered how come the founding fathers of these universities started with management, if management is not relevant to science and technology. Because we believe that science and technology itself needs to be managed and domesticated before it will be useful to society. You can produce engineers and technologists who cannot manage even what they are going to do. Remember government is now saying our graduates should be employable, we should teach them entrepreneurial skills. What is entrepreneurial skill? It is just management.
Our argument is that science, technology and engineering graduates will also need some level of knowledge of management, which we teach them. It’s not as if we have met our mandate. Our mandate is continuous. We will continue to improve on our science technology, engineering and mathematics. That is our focus. Whatever the name of the university, our focus is going to be on science and technology. But should we also do the other courses that are relevant to the communities. That is our main push. In all universities across the world, courses are plotted by the universities, not by governments.
There has been an outcry over the falling standard of education in the country and this has been linked to funding. What is your take on this?
Funding is key to any organisation, not only to education. But the Federal Government’s policy is that there should be no tuition fees in the public universities and we abide by it. But then, if you say there’s no tuition fees, who is going to pay the cost? The cost will have to be borne by the government. So there is a gap between not paying fees, which is the policy and the inability of government to fund universities to the optimum. That’s the bottom line.
It is either parents or the students will have to pay or government will have to pay up so that you get the quality education you require. If that does not happen then you cannot get the optimum. But somehow we are surviving under very difficult circumstances. But, remember that government is paying 100 per cent of our personnel costs, which is huge. For this university, it is above N3bn per annum. So by the time government pays N3bn on personnel alone, then there isn’t much left for the purpose of teaching and research, as well as for buying equipment and reagents in the laboratories. So government will have to come up with a form of a sustainable way of having to fund the university system.
Is inadequate funding the reason why Nigeria universities are poorly ranked?
The annual budgets of some foreign universities, such as Yale or Harvard, are more than the annual budget of Nigeria. So funding is key and education is capital intensive. Unless we solve the funding challenge we cannot look at any other thing else. There’s no way you can compete when you can’t provide the (university) cutting edge technology, the cutting edge equipment and the required labs.
In other parts of the world, labs are not only university labs. Labs are regional. In a place like Yola, the government can say look we are going to specialise on space technology. So any university that wants to do the space thing can come to Yola and do its research and then go away. The government can go to a university like Ibadan and say we want the university to have specialty in nuclear physics. So the government sets up laboratory facilities and they are in billions of US dollars.
You can’t compete because the university is universal. Nigerians excel when they go out to other countries of the world because the facilities are there. Nigerians have the brains but no matter your intelligence quotient you cannot do it when you do not have the facilities.
Do you think Nigerian universities have been creative enough to survive the difficult environment stifled by poor funding?
How creative can they be and what else can they do? Nigerian Universities literally have become business outlets. Universities are selling table water, running bakeries and commercial bus services or guest house services. This is no way to run a university. It can never fund universities. The bottom line is that as long as universities are not sufficiently funded to do basic teaching and research, they cannot function.
Creativity will be constrained because you cannot be creative when you don’t have the resources. Sometimes we switch off electricity because we can’t pay for electricity. There would be public electricity supply, but we’ll have to switch off simply because we cannot afford the cost. We require about N20m per month to maintain the university on public power supply. But, whatever government gives me may be sufficient for only three months of the year, not for 12 months. So you have to creative. But creativity is in how to run the university within limited resources.