Prof. Abdullahi Bala, fellow of Soil Science Society of Nigeria and renowned scholar of international repute, is the vice chancellor, Federal University of Technology, Minna.
He speaks on his experience in the saddle, the university’s research direction, MoUs, the TETFund high impact fund and other vital issues.
How would you describe your experience as vice chancellor in the last 18 months?
So far, so good. We thank God for his mercy, for His guidance. There are some challenges but there have also been some successes. Overall, it is a very positive experience. I was lucky in the sense that I came in as an insider. I have been with the university for 30 years and during that time, I also occupied some positions: head of department, directors, DVC Administration and later DVC Academic, but I have also at different times been a member of Council. So, all of these experiences have contributed in helping me to hit the ground running. We didn’t have to say that we were waiting for the adjustment, we already had some background experience and it has helped in making sure that we started very quickly.
In your address at the last convocation ceremony, you spoke on series of moUs the university has with notable organizations; could you please share details and what the university stands to gain?
The MoUs we have been signing are geared towards providing platforms for us to operate jointly with different groups, most often, on public, private, partnership (PPP) basis and they address a whole range of issues, starting with the mandate of the university, which centres on teaching, research and community service as well as in areas of welfare for staff and students; and in terms of the university being able to generate income from other sources. To give you an example, when I came on board as vice chancellor, we knew that we had problem of deficit in students’ accommodation. In a population of about 23,000, we are only able to accommodate just about 4,000 students on campus. We are glad by the fact that we were able to quickly get partners in this respect. Urban Shelter Limited came in and signed an MoU with us to provide about 5,336 bed spaces within a period of four years, starting with about 1,344 for the first year and they have already mobilised to site.
We have also signed an MoU with another estate developer. They are providing about 960 bed spaces and they have also mobilised to site. That will increase the bed spaces by over 6,000. We will continue to also engage others. There are some other firms that will also come on board so that we can scale up in that respect.
We have been able to secure an approval by Huawei Technologies Limited, a Chinese multinational, in the area of communication and they have granted us ICT status. That is meant to train our students in terms of networking and giving them certification, so that as they are coming out, they are ready for the market. They have enhanced skills in the area of networking, especially with respect to equipment from Huawei. There is another set of MoUs we have signed in other to enhance access to university education to our youth. This is the affiliation programmes, where polytechnics and colleges of education that have the mandate of running Diploma and NCE programmes are able to link up with the university under the affiliation programme, so that they can begin to run degree programmes.
Since I came in, we have had approval from NUC for affiliation programmes with the Federal Polytechnic, Bida, Federal Polytechnic, Offa and Federal College of Education (Technical), Gusau.
Recently, the university got the TETFund high impact fund of N3 billion. What is the plan for this money?
We have a three-month window to decide and make proposal to TETFund. Very soon, we are going to have a meeting of the Physical Planning and Development Committee. It is a Committee of the Council that will look at proposals and then make proposal to Council and then Council will take a stand. But I think the ideas that are aggregating are coming from the retreat we had last year. We had a retreat on Transitional Committees and if you recall, one of the transitional committees was on infrastructure. Whatever decision we are going to do will largely be guided by that particular recommendation. If you recall, some of those priorities are relocation of the School of Life Sciences, School of Physical Sciences and getting a building for School of Entrepreneurship and Management Technology. Then, there is this 7.5 MVA step-down transformer and there was also the issue of an auditorium. So, all of these things will be looked at. We are going to be guided by those recommendations. But then, in giving us the high impact fund, there are also rules in accessing the money and TETFund expects that the money should be expended across a minimum of two faculties and a maximum of three faculties. So, we will look at it in that manner and see what are those faculties to be given priority in terms of what we are going to do.
How was the feeling like when University finally got this high impact fund which your predecessors made several attempts to get?
I was highly elated. You know this is something, as you said, is long overdue. Most of the other universities in the North Central zone have had this high impact fund at different times. Each time we thought the university would get it, another institution within the zone would get it instead. I have to thank the Chairman of Council, Prof. ‘Femi Odekunle and other members of the Council for their efforts. All of us really worked hard for the fund to be released to us. We felt a sense of fulfilment that at last, we are able to get it.
How would you say the university has fared under your stewardship in terms of research and development?
I think we have done well. In the last one year, we succeeded in getting the African Centre of Excellence for Mycotoxin and Food Safety. It is a World Bank funded programme. So, that guarantees a minimum of at least $4 million but likely rising to $6 million and that will go for about four to five years. So, that is a major achievement. Within this period also, the university got another N9 million grant from the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development for the geological assessment of metallic minerals and mapping within the North Central zone.
One of our staff also succeeded in getting a $12 thousand grant from the International Foundation of Science (IFS) just recently. We have a number of our staff at the verge of getting TETFund National Research Fund. They have already been given the letters just that there are some adjustments that need to be done. So at least, two will get that.
There is a team led by Prof. Z. D. Osunde that recently got a grant from the Raw Materials Research and Development Council. We have a team from Mechatronics also going to get a grant from Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). So, we have a number of grants coming in terms of research and development. We have also in the last one year, at least, applied for five of research and development products and many more are coming on board. So, I think we have done well in the areas of research and development. We have done very well.
What have your administration done in the last one year in the areas of staff training and development.
I think we have gone ahead to continue along the line of our predecessors in terms of staff training and development but I am happy to say that in the last one year, 48 of our staff were sent out for postgraduate training. Currently, we have about 118 of our staff undergoing various kinds of postgraduate training. We would have had more but we are beginning to have some problems in terms of accessing funds allocated to us by TETFund for staff training and development because of some of the strict conditionality. So, we are working to see how we can open up and increase access to the funds. I think we have close to $40 million dollars available to us to send our staff on training. We will continue to do that. We have also sent quite a number of people on conferences; as at the last count, about 117 or so within and outside the country. So, in that respect, we are doing well and there have been quite a number of people we have sent on short-term training and courses, both academic and non-teaching staff, to address areas of need.
Is there any other thing that you would like to tell us?
Well, just to say that the university is doing well. Thanks to the cooperation of both staff and students and also the kind of support we are getting from the Governing Council. The Council has been the most active and facilitating Council we have had in recent times. They have given us quite a chunk of not only their support but have gone out there in also trying to facilitate some projects and funds to the university. I believe we are doing well and I pray and hope that we will continue along this trajectory.