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We will produce first set of medical doctors in next two years – Rhema University VC

We will produce first set of medical doctors in next two years – Rhema University VC

Ogbonnaya Onwudike, a professor of Animal Nutrition and Biochemistry, is the vice chancellor of Rhema University, a faith-based university, in Aba, the commercial hub of Abia State. In this interview with GODFREY OFURUM, he spoke on the need for government to support private universities in the country to continue to produce quality graduates that will serve the nation. He also spoke on the challenges of private universities, the benefit of the university to its host community, among other relevant issues. Excerpts:

How have you been able to sustain the University since its inception?

As a private University, we are not expecting any subvention from the government and that is the reason we try to make the best use of the little resources available to us. The Church has been trying and we started from a Primary School to a Secondary School and now to a university.

I’m sure you’ve looked at our facilities, as modest as they are, but those facilities are comparatively what you can find in other good universities. However, from outside you may not know that a lot is happening inside the school, but by God’s grace we will continue to move forward.

How many colleges did you start with and how many do you have now?

We started with Colleges of Applied Science and the College of Management and Social Sciences and later on, we added the School of Medical Sciences.

Our medical students are in their fourth year now and our Department of Nursing is in the fifth year.

So, the idea of getting you to look around here is for us to partner with you and let the public know what is happening in this place, because some people come here and tell us that they don’t know we have such an institution here. Some even think that we run a Bible School, because it is under the ministry, but by the grace of God, we have graduated eight sets of students and in the next two years or three, we will be able to produce our first set of Medical Doctors, as well.

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How comfortable are you with the School of Medicine in terms of accreditation, capacity to run such a course and how ready are you to produce the first set of graduates from that college?

We have the facilities to produce the first set of medical doctors in the next two years. Apart from having the facilities, which you can attest to, because you have gone round and you have seen what we have put on ground to teach our students.

You can see that we have some facilities that are not available in many universities, like the plastinated bodies. When we started, we had a discussion with a professor in one of the leading universities in the United States of America (USA), and the discussion centered on the possibility of getting Cadaver bodies for our medical school. The proprietor said okay, let us go and see what is happening and we went to the US, myself, the proprietor and the medical director of Rhema University Teaching Hospital. We invited the company that produces Cadaver bodies to meet with us and they briefed us on what they are doing. Although it was expensive, we acquired it.

So, we have what it takes to run a medical school.

You came on board in 2009 with your vision and mission and looking at that now, do you think that you have been able to make appreciable impact and what is your projection in the next five years?

The University was licensed in 2009 and the first set of students were admitted in 2010. And when you consider the fact that we started with few students, (I don’t think that they were up to 13) and with just two colleges at that time-the College of Basic Applied Science and the College of Management and Social Sciences and we continued to expand and added the College of Medicine and graduated a number of students, as I said, about eight sets and I will say that God has helped us to make a lot of impact in the area of education. What is important for us is to train people with sound morals, who will come into society to help society. You can achieve so many PhDs, but if you go out there and don’t exhibit good morals, it doesn’t really help the society.

If you train people and they lack integrity and morals, it doesn’t benefit society in anyway. And so, we try to inculcate into our students academic excellence and in terms of been good citizens, well behaved with the fear of God, to show integrity in what they do. That is what is important to us, not just academic excellence.

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Part of the snag in Private Universities is the perception of the public that some of them don’t have accreditation for some of the courses they offer. How true is that?

In terms of accreditation, whether you are private or public, you face the same accreditation, organised by the same Nigeria University Commission (NUC). You don’t have two standards. So, NUC sets up panel of inquiry to look at your facilities and tell you at the end of the exercise whether you are qualified for accreditation or not.

So, in terms of accreditation, most of our courses are accredited. In fact, we hosted about eight teams from NUC that visited our school in 2023 for accreditation.

What happens is that when you have full accreditation, and you go on for five years, after five years, NUC must come back to make sure that you are still maintaining that standard.

If you have interim accreditation, they’ll come back after two years, to make sure that you have improved.

From October 26, 2023, two panels came, while we hosted another six teams between November 12 to November 26, 2023.

We have full accreditation for all these courses, so they are revisiting to know whether we are keeping up with the standards.

Having seen the facilities, you have put in place, can you tell us about your challenges and also is the school affordable to children of the poor, who are also members of the Church?

You will expect financial challenges, because government does not extend facilities to private Universities, especially TETFUND. We have argued about this so many times, but they don’t seem to understand our plight. We are all producing for the same market and so, if there is such money, it should also be made available to the private universities, so that we can also improve our facilities for the training of those students, who will also serve the society.

Of course, you can see that our campus is not that large, and initially we planned to have that campus somewhere else, but changed our plans for some reasons that I don’t want to divulge here. But the proprietor is working hard to find a new place and the idea is that the whole of our present location will be a medical school, while every other faculty moves out of this place to a new campus. That’s one of the challenges that we have, but we are trying to solve it.

What the Church does is that a number of people, who are well to do offer scholarship to indigent students.

And the students sometimes may not even know who is paying their fees. For example, we had four children from a family (the Usmans), all graduated from this school on scholarship. And they all made first class.

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How affordable is your school?

In terms of affordability, we allow people sometimes to pay by installment, so that if you don’t have money to pay at once, we can tell you to pay three times; so, that reduces the pressure on the sponsor of that student.

You made mention of not getting funding from the government. How do you intend to sustain this University. Do you have other revenue sources apart from tuition fee?

We work by faith. When the University was about to start after the Church got the licence, the Chancellor called the chief medical director of the Teaching Hospital, to do the ground breaking ceremony for the University and he told him that he was travelling and he was confused and asked where is the money to start a university. But he has been giving an instruction to go and do the grand breaking ceremony for the University to start.

But he had to obey. He called some elders of the Church, they prayed and he did the ground breaking ceremony. So, many would have thought it won’t take off, but see where we are now. So, faith is number one and God has been helping us.

What is your relationship with your host community?

We relate well with them. Many of them work here. Apart from providing them with employment, we also give them free medical care. Sometimes, they come to our hospital and they don’t have money to pay for services, we allow them to go.

The Teaching Hospital offers huge service to members of this community. You need to see the traffic of people from this village, who access our services. Rhema University Teaching Hospital is our core facility for our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

This is a faith-based University, but have you ever had cases of social vices, like exam malpractice, cultism and the likes on your campus?

Yes, you should expect that. You don’t expect that everybody will embrace that discipline. People come from different backgrounds, so they come in with different traces, but you have to continue to help them to adjust to become better citizens. But when we try and it didn’t work, we take appropriate action.

How do you intend to make Aba residents and Nigerians to realise that Rhema University is here to provide quality and all-round education to them?

First of all, we are trying to set up certificate programmes, which some people can come for, not basically degree programmes, to cater for those who want to do a little accounting course or book-keeping. We are working towards establishing that so that such people can come at weekends or evenings, to help them improve their businesses.