From Judex Okoro, Calabar
Provost, Federal College of Education (FCE), Obudu, Cross River State, Prof James Bassey Ejue, has lamented the low enrolment of students into colleges of education in the country. He blamed it on the proliferation of licensed private polytechnics, schools of health technology and colleges of education. He spoke further with Education Report.
Since you assumed office, how far has the vision of the college been achieved?
Over the years, the Federal College of Education, Obudu, has diligently pursued its mandate from the Federal Government. The mandate requires the college to produce highly trained teachers who would be committed to quality teacher education, enhance the core values of the society and promote the socio-economic development of the nation.
Since 1985, therefore, the college has continued to produce graduates who are adequately prepared and are now contributing to national development. The college has remained on this path as the management has always strived to continue with its pragmatic approach, which ensures the sustainability of the aforementioned achievements.
Within the ranks of the colleges in the country, the Federal College of Education, Obudu, has always remained the first choice. However, from 2002, the college started witnessing a gradual decline in its fortunes. This wasn’t easily noticed at a time because the pace was just slow and steady, but it continued until everybody was nearly consumed.
To further purse the college’s vision, I announced to the college community on assumption of office in 2016, it was my top priority to establish the Department of Technical Education and people wondered if that was achievable. Today, I am proud to inform you that through the intervention of Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETfund), the construction and equipment of technical education workshops and offices at Bebi campus would be completed in a couple of months. This will surely fill the technical manpower gap in the country.
FCE Obudu awards degrees in some courses. How has it been able to meet up with students’ enrolment?
The college became a degree awarding institution in 2011 as a result of its affiliation with the University of Calabar. Apparently, this seemed to portray a measure of palpable success as the college gained the National Universities Commission’s (NUC) accreditation to mount its 13 programmes, but only two of the programmes received full accreditation at inception. The other 11 were given interim accreditation.
At the time the present administration took off, the grace period allowed by the commission to run programmes with interim accreditation had elapsed. The entire degree programme of the college was, therefore, under serious threat of imminent closure.
In spite of the limited resources, management mobilised all stakeholders, planned and put machinery in motion and hosted the NUC accreditation team in 2017. As at today, all the 13-degree programmes have received full accreditation.
Since then the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) has been allocating admission quota to FCE Obudu. Our current environment is in accordance with our quota. However, we have approached the University of Calabar, where our degree programmes are affiliated, for approval of more programmes. This will surely shore up our enrolment.
Stakeholders are agitating that FCE Obudu be fully upgraded to Federal University of Education. What is your view on this?
You cannot suppress an idea whose time has come. The issue of upgrading to University of Education is in the offing. You may recall that the Bill to grant dual mode to colleges of education is before the National Assembly. When passed, the colleges of education will run both NCE and degree programmes of their own and then compete as well as contribute its quota to national development.
What efforts have you put in place to partner with some corporate bodies and individuals in providing infrastructure in the college?
We have made concerted efforts right from the inception of my administration to attract support from public-spirited individuals and the organised private sector. The dividends of these efforts are manifesting already in the college.
We have partnered with Sir Emeka Offor Foundation, which donated about 1,000 volumes of books to FCE Obudu. Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe facilitated the supply of furniture and office equipment to the college, during the preparation to host NICEGA games, Chief Felix Akiga renovated various courts in the college. A private partner is currently renovating students hostels in the main campus, an IT firm has been engaged under PPP to provide a robust IT infrastructure in the college, among others.
What do you suggest should be done to solve the perennial problem of strikes in tertiary institutions?
Workers’ strikes have become ubiquitous in Nigeria and this has a telling effect on the educational sector. To stem the tide, I suggest that a mechanism be put in place for automatic wage adjustment after every five years because most of the strikes border on wages. Then the unions, on the other hand, should not see themselves as alternate governments but partners in progress.
How are you coping in terms of funds, IGR and infrastructural problems?
Like every other government-owned institution, lack of adequate funding has always posed a major challenge generally. Besides, we were faced with accumulation of debts even as my administration has off-set a lot but much still stands against the college; payments for out-sourced services and peculiar allowances to staff and staff’s work attitude.
Ordinarily, the management would have maximised the potential of the IGR that would have accrued to the college through the payment of student’s fees. But, the college was faced with the issue of low enrolment of students into colleges of education generally, as students are required to obtain same entry qualification for universities and other higher institutions. As a result, most students prefer to go to the universities rather than other tertiary institutions.
Again, there has been proliferation of a number of private higher institutions both in Obudu and its environs. Some of these institutions are licensed as polytechnics, schools of health technology and even colleges of education. It, therefore, became a major competition between these private institutions and our college to struggle for students from the same catchment area.
The obvious implications are the drastic reduction in enrolment and poor IGR. The above situation, no doubt, had a spiral effect on the entire gamut of administration in the college. Sometimes, the college lacks the capacity to execute some of its statutory obligations.
The most disturbing, however, was the inability to pay crucial staff allowances and incentives as at when due, thereby pitching the unions against the management and subsequently increasing the tempo of restiveness among the staff.
Furthermore, this administration inherited a distraught workforce, unstable teaching and learning environment and a restive student population. The general morale in the college was at its lowest ebb, which ordinarily would have overwhelmed even the most courageous person, but we needed to blend courage with administrative sagacity to resolve the myriad of problems and to move the college forward.
What would you be remembered for?
My vision for the college was shared on assumption of office and I am glad that I am leaving the college better than I met it. This is with regard to staff welfare, delivery of core mandate of teaching and learning, and massive infrastructural development. However, in spite of the problems, we were able to restore the confidence of prospective students in order to increase enrolment. The backlogs of certificates since 2005 were signed by the Executive Secretary of National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE); we offset shortfall in the salaries of staff.
The academic calendar also became more stable as there was complete reduction of threats for strikes or agitations by the unions just as we were able to mobilize the first set of the degree students for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and the third set of students are currently serving their fatherland in various parts of the country.
Infrastructure wise, our administration embarked on the renovation of the earth road and refurbished the classroom desks at the EB block for the School of Arts and Social Sciences located at Bebi campus; renovated the pre-NCE and the Demonstration Secondary School blocks. At the main campus, we embarked on the simultaneous renovation of two lecture blocks, chief lecturers and the ETF blocks.
With regard to staff improvement, we encouraged the academic staff to exploit the opportunity provided by TETfund to obtain higher degrees in their areas. As a result, approvals and sponsorship have been given to quite a number of staff to go for postgraduate and PhD studies both within and outside the country.
On the part of the non-teaching staff, generous approvals and sponsorship have equally been made for conferences and workshops. This has helped to increase productivity and efficiency in the workplace.
It is important to state that the great task of rebuilding the college is a collective one. Although the management occupies a per-eminent position in the chain of administration, every individual officer, no matter how lowly placed has a role to play. The college is definitely bigger than any individual. It may not be a perfect system, but it must continue to evolve until it gets to its destination.