By Lawrence Enyoghasu
Prof. Abdullahi Bala is the Vice-Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Minna, inaugurated as the seventh CEO of the university early this month.
He spoke to The Education Reports on his vision for the institution.
How did you feel when you got the news of your appointment as VC of FUT Minna?
My initial reaction to the news of the appointment was that of elation and gratitude to Allah for honouring me with this responsibility. With the passage of time and the flurry of visits, phone calls, e-mails and text messages of congratulations, goodwill and prayers, I felt humbled and, at some point, was overwhelmed with emotion, considering that there would be only 20 people that would have the honour of being appointed VC of this University within the next 100 years.
I feel gratified that people are happy with the process because it not only confers legitimacy and acceptability of the candidate that emerges winner of the process, it also engenders a peaceful atmosphere devoid of rancour and enhances the esteem of the university and its Governing Council.
Being the Vice Chancellor of a university comes with numerous challenges; how prepared are you for the challenges and what plans do you have for the university in creating academic discipline and good management?
In terms of preparation, I have been a staff of the university for 27 years and have occupied many positions of responsibility within and outside the university including being the Deputy Vice-Chancellor in charge of Administration and later Academics. Therefore, I have sufficient administrative experience and knowledge of the university that have prepared me for the job.
Regarding plans for the university, my goal is to ensure that FUT Minna continues to be a leading university both in Nigeria and Africa. To achieve this, we have to ensure that we vigorously pursue the university’s core mandate of teaching, research and community service. Effective learning is often hampered by massive students’ enrolment and inadequate classroom and laboratory space. We intend to address this by the provision of additional lecture theatres equipped with state of the art multimedia facilities.
Part of the measures we need to take to enhance our research capacity and accomplishments will include the provision of requisite equipment and supporting both staff and students to publish their research findings in internationally reputable journals and conferences. A Technology Transfer Office will also be established to promote the patenting and commercialization of research results. Additionally, we need to challenge every department to identify and form a functional partnership with a player in industry that will lead to staff and students exchange. An effective use of technology requires adequate supply of electricity. Hence, we shall work towards the diversification of our energy source by the infusion of renewal sources. The university is about 35 years old and there is the need for us to improve the visibility of our service to the community. To this effect, we intend to challenge all departments to establish one programme or activity that directly impacts positively on the host community. We are cognizant of the fact that no meaningful progress can be made with industrial harmony on the campus. Therefore we consider all staff and student unions as partners in progress and shall be in regular consultation and constructive engagement with them.
The economic situation in the country calls for prudent management of resources, how do you intend to broaden the internally-generated revenue base of the university during your tenure?
We intend to improve the revenue base of the university through three approaches: Take measures to enhance the existing revenue inflows, create new sources of revenue and put in effective expenditure control measures to minimise financial leakages. We plan to restructure the FUTMIN Ventures, which has of recent become a sinkhole, to once again be profit-oriented such that substantial cash inflows can be generated.
Loss making enterprises will need to be evaluated and where necessary closed down. We shall take advantage of the vast land mass of the GidanKwano Campus by ramping up the activities of the University’s Commercial Farm and working with other value chain players on public-private partnership arrangement. We shall be introducing innovative ICT solutions for crowd funding sources targeting friends and other stakeholders of the university especially the alumni.
Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) has brought a lot of laudable interventions to tertiary institutions in Nigeria, including FUTMINNA; what is your impression of TETFUND in FUTMINNA over the years and other areas do the university require further interventions?
TETFund has no doubt transformed the physical landscape of most higher institutions in this country and it is my opinion that most institutions would have been bereft of any meaningful capital projects had TETFund not existed. So we have every reason to appreciate and give kudos to the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) for conceptualising the idea for such a Fund and the federal government for providing the structures and support for its operations.
FUT Minna has had its share of projects funded by TETFund; nonetheless, we are often at the receiving end regarding special interventions by the agency. There is what is called ‘High Impact Intervention’ which is a special fund allocated to one university per each geo-political zone annually. Based on the criteria for accessing that fund, FUTMinna should have been a beneficiary since 2012. As I am speaking to you now, all the second and third generation universities in the North Central Zone have benefited from the fund except us. We shall work with Council of the university to see how we can draw from the Fund as soon as it is practically possible.
In terms of the normal Intervention, we also have some fund still not accessed as a result of some delays in the procurement process and breaches by some contractors to complete projects in time. We shall also do the needful to ensure this is also effectively addressed. We have a number of infrastructure that need to be put in place as quickly as possible in order to address promote effective learning environment. Chief among these is the provision of office and classroom complexes in order to allow for the relocation of some schools from the Bosso Campus to the Main Site at GidanKwano. We also intend to establish a 4000 capacity auditorium, a Central Research Laboratory and a Central Teaching Laboratory among others.
Technology is not just all about “saying” it is also about “doing”; what efforts would you put in place to ensure that there is blend between what is taught in the classroom and what is obtainable in the field?
It is indeed in cognisance of this that we want to deploy and mainstream the use of technology in every aspect of the university as well as task the departments to form partnerships with industry players. The ‘One Programme One Product’ initiative is also consistent with our desire to not only generate technology but to also promote its practical applications in our day to lives. As an agriculturist, I am often concerned at the low level adoption of technology among farmers in our immediate host community in spite of the array of technology developed by our staff and students that are gathering dusts on shelves. The Central Teaching Laboratory we are planning to establish is to enable us provide adequate laboratory space and equipment for students to be effectively exposed to the practical aspects of their curricular. We also intend to restructure our Entrepreneurship Centre and the Industrial Liaison Office (ILO) to synergise towards ensuring that students before, during and after SIWES are exposed to real practical experience.