From Stanley Uzoaru, Owerri
Vice Chancellor, Claretian University (CUN), Nekede, Owerri, Imo State, Reverend Father Wenceslaus Madu, in this interview, spoke on the lingering strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and other sundry issues. Excerpts:
What do you think is the way out of the prolonged ASUU strike?
The ASUU strike is a bad omen. It has ridiculed the entire efforts in the education sector. It is true that the facilities for teaching and learning are not as they should be in our public institutions. At the same time, it is important to find ways of bridging those gaps.
I don’t believe that the only way to handle an issue like this is to create more shocks for the education sector. The hours and weeks spent at home will erode the quality of what we dish out and degrees. They remain more than five months at home, one month in the classroom without laboratories.
They would go and do alternative to practicals. They would graduate those ones who would not be able to compete with anyone in the world, neither with themselves or other countries.
The strike as a panacea for resolving conflicts is completely out of the way. I believe that the lecturers know better. They are the intellectual giants of our country. They should device other means, ways of handling this.
Until I am convinced by a superior argument, those who handle the admissions are lecturers. Those who handle accreditation of programmes through the National Universities Commission (NUC) are lecturers. Those who handle the economy of the country are drawn largely from graduates of universities. So, there is no reason, if there is a big shock in the education sector, there should be other ways of solving it.
Sometimes they said the problem is that the government said it wanted to pay through Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPS), the employees say no. You don’t have to do that. It is not the responsibility of employees to decide how they would be paid.
Another one, laboratories are not in order but you have the TETFund. If the money from there is not enough, let there be more allocations to address the paucity of our laboratories. They said the library is not well equipped. Yes it’s still the lecturers that handle the library. We can do a whole lot in the university.
What happened over time going to University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) in the 70s, I saw the autonomy the institutions enjoyed not politicised in the appointment of principal officers. They were appointed solely on merit. They went through same process in promotion until it has become fashionable to create visitors who would decide who would be appointed. This is the beginning of the problems of the universities.
ASUU needs to brace up. Some lecturers can’t do research only to collect salaries. They’re not known for academic delivery including contribution in community services.
If we trim those in the academic sector to the point where they will emulate lecturers in the past, people like Professors Anosike, Gabriel Umezuruike and Ubada. They taught in different departments and they spent their time teaching without minding driving their old rickety cars.
They should engage the government and be more pro-active. They should find out a befitting budget and go through the state or National Assembly for state or federal institutions and approve the budget. We can’t continue to say we have a budget and it is not tenable or available.
What makes CUN different from other citadels of learning?
CUN is a unique university for everyone, both rich and the poor. This university would be able to keep a stable academic calendar. We graduate people who are inbuilt with functional skills. It is also a theoretical basis for such skills to begin to function like entrepreneurs from the university.
They will do this through the various community services. That will expose the students from secretarial to library to agricultural production to business enterprises incubation development units among others. These will excite students and make them liable to be self-employed instead of looking for jobs after graduation.
These are the major things we are doing. We have arranged a curriculum of studies in such a way that they will address these important areas. This university will run its programmes with notes of excellence. It’s not going to be the same way that we ran.
If for instance, we’re running public health, our interest will be tropical health issues largely abandoned by European centric and America centric universities. This university will now look into the issues of public health.
It will then begin to harness what makes the society function well in the traditional African society before the advent of westernisation. It will create opportunity where food can become medicine depending on how it’s arranged and administered.
It is a university with a slant for the well being of the society and problems of the society. We will begin to address some of these social problems to the best of our ability through our quality research geared towards improving electricity, generation of water, food and other things.
The one in vogue now is the ICT related problems to produce students who would be able to write effectively running programmes that can rule the word. We would be able to also teach them software engineering, information technology, computer science.
We would be able to run the programmes targeting our elderly. When our aged ones get old, they are abandoned in the rural areas. But our physiotherapy will create new ways of assisting the elderlies and those whose lives need help. This is what is lacking in some places. We will also have physiotherapists and therapists for the management of bones that are ageing.