• Sunday, July 14, 2024
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BusinessDay

We train our students to be leaders complete in spirit, mind and body -Idahosa

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 Q: BIU is one of the pioneer private universities in the country. What has been your growth path?

A: As one of Nigeria’s elite private universities, we have been blessed to be able to maintain a steady path of growth since we began operations in 1994. My father, (the late Archbishop Benson Idahosa) started it out as an Institute of Continuous Learning in affiliation with a Federal and a State university. By 2002, we received our licence to operate as a private University from the National Universities Commission and that was when we started fully as a University. Since then, we have maintained a measured steady growth, as a leading world class, research-driven University. We’ve had good management in place and worked hard to keep the vision of the founder alive.

Q: What is your current student population?

A: Our current student population is about 2500. And that’s a number we have chosen to maintain. Not because we can’t go higher, but because we try to keep our standard very high with a good student to staff ratio. One of the best ways to maintain that is to keep our student population within a manageable number. Also, we maintain our carrying capacity given to us by the National Universities Commission (NUC). It would be easy for us to go on and take in more students without consideration for our facilities or staff, like some public universities do, especially, as that would translate to more money for us via tuitions; but we don’t want to do that. We are quite careful about our standards, and efficiencies. We want to keep our eyes on our facilities for laboratory research, and for spacious classrooms and hostels at a level that would make for quality student output. So, that’s why we have decided to keep our student population at the steady number.

However, as we move to our permanent site within the next year, we are likely going to add more students, because there we will have bigger spaces and more facilities. The expansion though, will be strictly based on our facilities and our planned and projected growth, so that the high standards we began with are not compromised.

Q: Today, there are many private universities offering various courses and programmes. What can you say is your area of strength? 

A: It’s true there are many private universities in the country today, but even when they are added to the public universities, that is Federal and state-owned, we still will not be able to absorb the growing demand for university education in Nigeria. So, we really need more universities in the country.

BIU has several strong academic programs. Our Law programme is one of the best in the country today. Our students graduate from BIU and continue to excel after they leave. We’ve had one of our students who made a First Class at the Law School after leaving BIU. Our Accounting Department is also very strong. The Department is structured in such a way that allows us to take advantage of our partnership with ICAN; our students finish their academic work and graduate from BIU with their degrees and their ICAN Part 1. Our next strong area is Computer Science. All our programmes are very good but I would say these three are our flagship ones. For instance, our students graduate from Computer Science and would have already received their certification with CISCO, Microsoft by the end of their 4-year program.

Q: Today, there are about 23 private universities in Nigeria, why should a typical parent send their child/ children to Benson Idahosa University?

A: I like that question. First of all, Benson Idahosa University is noted for very high teaching standards. Our University was ranked among the top three private universities in Nigeria by the National Universities Commission (NUC) at their last official accreditation. With all our programmes fully accredited, admission into a quality university is assured and a parent’s investment will be well served. Our professors are some of Nigeria’s best and are nationally known, having come from great universities both within and outside Nigeria. And because we have deliberately kept our student population at a smaller size, we are selective in our admissions, so that we can continue to keep with our well-known high standards. Also, because of our Christian background, we have very high moral character, and maintain Christian ethic.

Our University has a vision to train our students to be entrepreneurs, academics and professionals. Any student coming to BIU would come out to become a leader in one of these three critical areas: entrepreneurs are the ones who make a nation’s economy grow through their creative investments; professionals are the ones who control the way a nation feels, these are your doctors, lawyers, scientists, and accountants. And finally, the academics are the ones who control the way a nation thinks; these are your writers (authors), your lecturers, and researchers who come out with new innovations.

And then, we strive to raise them as leaders who are complete in their spirits, minds and bodies. We have a strong track record as a University that builds students into leaders. In the last eight years, we have graduated students who are now bank managers, pastors, company directors, CEO’s of their own companies, the list goes on. Some are in the entertainment industry, and others in different fields of endeavour; but the thing that stands out is that they are leaders in these sectors. We have been keeping records of our graduates since 2006 and they are doing well. So if you, as a parent, wants your child to become a true leader in his/ her field of study, then Benson Idahosa University is the right place to send him/ her.

Q: Recently your University reportedly sacked some staff. What actually happened? 

A: The issue was not so much that we wanted to sack staff. It was more of an issue of trying to streamline our operations, in keeping with maintaining NUC standards. At the last NUC accreditation visit to our University, one of their recommendations was to streamline our operations, so that we would be more efficient. So, in order to keep with the NUC’s usually high standards, we had to relieve those staff whose presence would not help us achieve that goal. The whole essence was in line with NUC regulations and what we want to achieve in the long run, which is quality standard; to have a more efficient university with the right kind of people doing the right things. Only a few staff were involved.

Q: What was the number?

A: I read in the press that the number was as high as 150 and 200. That would be over half of our total staff population and we don’t have that many staff in the first place. It was a lot less than that. I think not even up to 50 were involved at the end of the process. What we did was we went through a needs-assessment exercise and unfortunately we had some staff that did not count for our system when put up against NUC requirements.

Q: Instead of streamline staff, using your word, why not your management encourage the less-qualified staff to go for Continuous Professional Development (CPD)?

A: That, we have been doing. Benson Idahosa University invests several million Naira annually on training for staff to move from bachelors to Masters, and from Masters to PhD. Sometimes we move staff to different areas where we think they would perform better. It is not our intention to put people out of work, but to help people develop themselves to become better individuals for the nation, for the university. One of our core values is “People Matter” and we believe that in the long run, when they succeed, we succeed.

Q: There is the criticism that, most faith-based universities, at the point of starting-off they task their Church members to contribute cash to build the university; and after it has taken off, the charges are so high that they go beyond the reach of thousands of the Church members, who are the primary stakeholders of the institution. Do you have such practice in your University, and if you do, what are doing to correct it? 

A: Unfortunately, this talk is a myth that has been going round Nigeria for a long time, that Church-based universities task their members to build the institution, only to turn back and charge exorbitant fees. I can’t speak for most private universities, but I can for Benson Idahosa University. My father, (the late Archbishop Benson Idahosa) actually put in his blood, sweat and tears to build the University. He had a vision from God to build Nigeria’s first Christian University in 1978. He did not task our Church members; he did a lot of missionary travel overseas and did a lot of work here in Nigeria, to raise a lot of money himself to build this University. His vision was that people are supposed to go school when they want to. Because he did not receive a formal education until he was almost 18 years old, and yet was able to eventually attain a PhD. He was convinced that school should not be made too expensive for his people. For that reason, he made sure that we charged fees that are quite low. Today, I can tell you that we charge low fees compared to many other private universities, and ours are very much in the middle of the range. Apart from that, we give our Church members large discounts in fees for their children at BIU. We give scholarships and stipends to many of our members. There are many programmes in our University where our Church members don’t pay more than N100,000. People are shocked to hear that, but that’s what we do. At the same time though, we do have to charge some reasonable fees because we have to run the University effectively and efficiently since we are not getting any subvention from the government. We balance things out eventually, so that we take care of our staff and our students.

Q: But your fees are high. I saw on your website some figures like N680,000, for 100 level students; N597,000 plus, and so on. Do you think an average CGM member can afford this? 

A: Those figures are for one particular course, Law, and it is the most expensive one at BIU, but it cannot be said to be the average cost of a course. We charge far lower than what some private universities charge in this country. I don’t want to mention names. Besides, like I said earlier, that, our Church members get rock bottom discounts that are unmatchable anywhere in this country. The truth is we must pay our lecturers and professors well, at par with what obtains in the educational industry. We have to maintain our facilities to the world-class standard they have been, and all these require money. One of the things that help us is that we are working on other avenues of income besides school fees.

Q: Talking about students discipline, it is said that there is no art to judge the mind’s construction in the face; meaning that it’s impossible to know if a student is bad by mere looking at him/ her. How have you been able to deal with student indiscipline? 

A: We have an Honour Code, which every student signs to upon resuming at Benson Idahosa University. This Code impresses on every student to maintain high Christian morals always throughout their stay on campus, and even after graduating. And our students sign and comply. But if a student is found misbehaving, like cheating in an exam, or is involved in cult activities, he/ she can be withdrawn from school but not completely sent away. We give them the option of enrolling in a rehabilitation programme at our Character Management Centre. After that, he/ she can still return to BIU to complete his/her education. We believe people, especially young people can be groomed to become good citizens of this country and make a difference in the world. That’s the message of Jesus Christ: getting the sinner to change. We also give our students leadership lectures. We have had in top Nigerian professionals like Donald Duke, former Cross River State governor; Professor Dora Akunyili, and many others. We tell them that, as the leaders of Nigeria, they cannot afford to mess up by joining cults or cheat in exams.

Q: Looking into the future, as you said you are moving to your permanent site, how do you visualise your University’s future?

A: We are very optimistic about our future. We have so many things we’re doing right now that are preparing us for a great future. For instance, we are currently increasing our research capacity. Our Vice Chancellor, Professor Ernest Izevbigie, is a member of the U.S National Inventors Association (NIA). He holds a United States patent for a capsule, called Edotide, which helps to reduce blood sugar by 50%; it also has a second formulation that helps to suppress, kill or delay cancerous cells in breast and prostate cancer. This was made possible from him finding that active ingredient from an extract of bitter-leaf.

We are in the process of building a multi disciplinary core research lab. In this lab, we will be able to conduct DNA testing, do fingerprint matching, and other forensic science applications.

These are some the things that show that we blazing a trail in research. We look forward to a time in future when our research brings benefits to Nigeria and mankind.

We are also working hard on our movement of our programmes and campus, within the next year, to our permanent site. The permanent campus will be built in the form of a city, the kinds that are called College Towns in the US and UK; it will comprise of the University at the centre, and around the university will be built a city that serves the University and its environment. This City will be one that we can be proud of, comparable to Abuja, Boston, Austin Texas (in USA), Cambridge and Sussex (in UK). We want to make our University’s environment an example for Nigeria. By God’s grace we will do it.

Q: You go by the title President of Benson Idahosa University, which is a semblance of an American University system. Why not run American model so that your students can easily integrate into the US system when they leave BIU?

A: Since we are in Nigeria, we are in the process of changing our nomenclature to resemble our system here. The name change is in line with NUC recommendations. There are parts of our system that resemble the American and UK university models because we are developing strong partnerships with US and UK universities that allow our students finish their first degrees at BIU, and go ahead to do their Masters and PhDs with our partner schools. Currently, over 60% of our graduates have been accepted into programs the US and UK to further their university studies. What is key is the quality of our graduates and how they are able to measure up with their contemporaries globally. This is largely attributed to the fact that we have globally acclaimed professors and lecturers that can hold their own within and outside Nigeria.

Q: The notion about falling standard of education, do you agree with it? What is your take on that?

It’s true to an extent, but the NUC is working hard to get universities up the proper standards, and if we all comply with the NUC, Nigeria can regain her lost glory. It’s not a lost cause. Nigeria is an emerging educational market.

Q: But, currently no Nigerian university is ranked among World’s top 1000 universities, while only few are ranked in Africa’s top 500 universities. How do you explain that, and how can we get out of the problem?

A: The issue is multi-causal. First, most of the rating bodies use classification systems and ranking methods that we do not practice yet in Nigeria. Not that we are so backward. For instance, when they describe the webometric rankings, they deal with how many of a university’s activities are captured online; things like in-links (what come into the university from outside) and out-links (what goes out from the university). Other ranking bodies like the Times of London Educational Supplement give high weight to university reputation among their peers. If we’re not published or known internationally, our reputation scores will be low. If your professors conduct research, how much of it can be read online? How many of our papers are referenced by other academics? How many are published in peer-reviewed journals? For now, the majority of our research is still just published locally not overseas, and much of it isn’t available online. So, the ranking agencies are not sure of how much research comes out of Nigeria. These parameters unfortunately give us low scores on the rankings. But with what the NUC is doing now, re-accrediting universities in the country, recommending to them what they should do to catch-up with their peers around the world, I think in a little time our country’s universities will feature prominently in the world universities rankings; especially if we change our categorisations and measurement standards; if we get our Nigerians in diaspora to return and work with our universities in teaching and research; while some of current lecturers upgrade their research capabilities and journal writing.