• Monday, June 17, 2024
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Oyinlola’s impactful lecture on strategies for great universities

Oyinlola’s impactful lecture on strategies for great universities

By Ayo Oyoze Baje

The recent well-articulated, informative and thought-provoking lecture that was brilliantly delivered by Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, to mark the 8th Annual Registry Lecture of Nigeria’s first private University of Technology, popularly called BellsTech, Ota, touched tellingly on the key ingredients for the establishment of a world-class university.

Titled: ‘Foundational Strategies For Establishing Great Universities: The UNIOSUN Example’, it highlighted such critical and facilitating factors as having the right vision, kick-starting the process with adequate and sustainable funding strategies, obtaining approval from the National Universities Commission (NUC), and getting accreditation for the programmes. Important also is putting the right people on board to brainstorm; cross-pollinate ideas to bring up the Preliminary Paper. But that is not all.

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Other significant factors include ones that would act as the catalysts to having a stable and uninterrupted academic calendar, mustering the rare capacity to envision the likely hitches and hurdles along the path to progress, and putting in place solid measures to scale over them. Also important is the need to adequately prepare for criticisms-both credible and malicious-and envision what the future would hold for the university.

Good enough, according to Prince Olagunsoye, who the highly resourceful and futuristic-thinking Vice-Chancellor, Professor Jeremiah Ojediran refers to as “a man of high integrity” and ”a detribalised Nigerian” there are ample empirical evidences from the University of Osun (UNIOSUN) which came as his brain-child, to bolster his treatise. But the million-naira question is, what really is a great university?

The answer is not far-fetched. According to him, “This refers to a University with a rare blend of capacity for resource attraction, resource generation and excellent resource management. It is a university with a solid reputation for a very good governance system and a sustained, sustainable academic rigor. Global brands such as Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard easily fall into this club of great universities.”

“A university is like a tree; its fruits tell the story of its wellness.”-Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola (former governor of Osun State)

He recalled announcing the establishment of Osun State University on October 1, 2006. But “that announcement was only the christening of a baby that had been conceived and nurtured for years in silence.”

The noble motive behind it was to cater for thousands of tertiary education-seeking youths. It would also play a critical role, especially in community capacity building and all- round development of the state.

“We set out to be different and be excellent in all we were going to do. Our university must be globally competitive and nationally relevant…we came out with a university concept that was unique and different from all that had been since 1948,” he said.

That position runs in sync with the thoughts of Steve Jobs (of blessed memory), the co-founder of Apple Inc; on the importance of having a thorough, thinking through process at the beginning of every project.

Worthy of note, he was visionary enough to assemble a group of well-bred academicians with the requisite wealth of experience to drive his dream. That began of course, with the erudite Professor Peter Okebukola, then the Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC) in June 2006. He advised that the governor should get certain key matters right.

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To prepare the Preliminary Paper there were other 11 great minds including Professor Oye Ibidapo-Obe, then Vice Chancellor University of Lagos; Professor Moses Oyeleke Fawole, Director of Academic Planning, Bowen University, Iwo; Professor Olu Aina, former Registrar, NABTEB, and Chairman of Council, Igbinedion University, Okada.

With regards to funding, he stressed the need for sufficient initial capital, which is key to the take-off and eventual sustenance of the running of the university. As he rightly amplified:” A university that starts with robust financial health is not likely to succumb easily to shocks and turbulence that may soon come its way.”

With that in place, academic excellence is achievable through deliberate recruitment of renowned scholars and promising researchers. Recruiting them is not enough; you have to retain them.

To emphasise the importance of preparedness, it took only six weeks after the announcement (October) to get NUC’s approval (on December 15). That remains a commendable feat!

Another unique feature of the university was its location in six campuses. As he pointed out:” I picked the six locations which I believed nobody – even with politics – could say did not meet the criteria for their selection. Our guiding principle that all parts of the state, not just the state capital must grow together, economically and socially.” That is another lesson for others to take a cue from.

Yet, another factor that contributed to the success of the take –off of the university was, as he confessed that: “I made sure the committee was given a very free hand to operate. I did not impose any contractor on them and did not allow any operative of government to do so.” This is indeed inspiring.

On the all-important issue of getting the courses accredited, the level of preparedness resulted in the fascinating fact that: “At inception, all courses, including medicine and law, which are always the difficult ones, were approved. Everything worked according to our strategy and plans.”

That became a source of surprise to the team that was to accredit the law programme. While they were expecting to see a converted secondary school, they met the College of Law built on virgin land in Ifetedo. They then said we should add a hostel to what we had there. We quickly did that.”

With the take-off, as the wise ones say, the morning shows the day: “When we called for admission applications, the website crashed about three times because of the huge traffic to the website. Somebody called me and said, ‘What is happening?” In fact,” at the end of the day, I think we had about 100,410 applications. As of that time, the highest number of applications to UNILAG was 56,000.”

Worthy of note was that all the applicants went through a rigorous screening process, based on the competence in disciplinary subject matter; good command of written and spoken English. Others included exemplary comportment and low potential to participate in social vices, particularly cultism.

To ensure stable academic calendar, workers were made to sign undertakings that there would be no strike during the teaching years of the school. “The quality of teaching staff was also carefully controlled in such a way that no academic staff was below the rank of lecturer II while PhD holders were given preference.”

Though the University was initially criticised for two decisions such as the supposedly high school fees charged and the multi-campus set-up, it has since overcome them.

With regards to the future, it is gratifying to note that the University, according to Oyinlola remains the greatest of the physical legacies he left in the administration. With about 1000 academic and non-academic staff who earn their living there, he is overjoyed.

Unfortunately, his dreams were nearly truncated to what he refers to as, “A very hostile government” which refused “to share both the enthusiasm and the vision with which we conceived and birthed that institution.”

This brings to the public sphere, the importance of sustainability of people-friendly policies no matter which political party is in power. That was what the Bells University Bursar, Mr. Sina Adepoju highlighted during the question-and-answer session. That is what good governance is all about.

All said, Oyinlola, aptly described by the capable Registrar, Mr. LamidiTafa as “a distinguished Nigerian” has provided a tested template on the nitty-gritty of establishing top-notch universities. We should all learn from it.

Kudos again to the Vice Chancellor, the able management team, the registry with inputs from Ademola Agiri of Bells University of Technology, Ota for a job well done.