Government should support private universities  ̶  Chrisland University VC, Professor Babalola

Chrisland University is one of the 75 private universities that have been licenced by the Government of Nigeria. The University was established in 2015 and is located in Abeokuta, Ogun State. The current Vice Chancellor of the institution is Professor Chinedum Peace Babalola, a pharmaceutical chemist. Professor Babalola is an uncommon achiever, being the recipient of over 25 fellowships, awards, and grants across the globe. The Chronicle of Education recently had the opportunity of an exclusive interview with this versatile academic and administrator. The full text of the interview, conducted by our higher education reporter, Anu Oyeleye, is reproduced below.

Could you please introduce yourself?

My name is Chinedu Peace Babalola. I am a Pharmacist, Professor of Pharmaceutical Chemistry and the current Vice Chancellor of Chrisland University. I am also a Professor at the University of Ibadan and the immediate past Dean of the Faculty of Pharmacy. I took over as the Vice Chancellor of Chrisland University in November, 2017.

Evidently, women are still in the minority in terms of leadership positions. What will you regard as the cause of this?

I believe women are coming up. However, let’s face it, women are still in the minority in terms of leadership positions because women are always regarded as home-makers, home-builders while men are seen to be bread winners. Although that is changing, we cannot remove the fact that there are societal assigned roles.  Married women, for instance, will have children, they have to take care of their family and that tends to slow them down in their career. And, it is just like in nature. There is no vacuum, every vacuum would be filled somehow which is why men occupy many of these positions. When you assess some women, you would find that it is not as if they cannot do great things, but they are hindered because their children are probably too young and as working mothers, they always have to do extra duties. Women multi-task but men are usually one way focused. So it’s only naturally that the growth will not be at the same level. Using my own example, I had planned that by the age of 25, I wanted to have completed my PHD and by age 35 to become a professor but it didn’t happen. It can happen easily for a man but while doing my post graduate and PhD, I got married and due to childbearing, I had almost 10 years added to my plans.  if probably I am a man I would have achieved that at the timeframe that I had set.

You moved through the ranks, did you encounter any gender-related challenges before getting where you are now?

I have never faced any gender-related challenges.  Maybe because I don’t think that way. There are two things I don’t really think of: one, is tribe and the gender bias, I grew up to become a detribalized person, i see everybody as one. I live my life as if these two elements don’t exist. When it is time for me to do anything, I got to do it. When I want to get a thing, I put in my all and if I am qualified, I get it.  If not, I don’t allow myself to think it’s because I am a woman. That’s how I reason and it has helped my psychology. I have channelled my thought away from feminism.

However, one thing I can say affected me is what I have mentioned earlier, the roles and responsibilities of being a woman. That affected me in my research, decision making and so many things. There are times I had opportunities to take one fellowship or the other. I remember one fellowship. Fullbright. It would have taken me to the US for one or two years. I set it aside. Another one I really desired, a big fellowship to go to Germany for two to three years but when i thought about my family, I said no. I don’t want to go for too long. If I had gone for these fellowships, I would have gone quite far in my career at an early stage.

What steps should women take in order to rise above societal and workplace prejudices that tend to hinder the actualization of their potentials?

Hard work: I can say that over and over again. You just have to work because those challenges are there. Work hard, plan very well. What are your values? Evaluate your values and determine your goals? What are your ambitions? I am not that ambitious but I work hard. I have goals. You have to be target driven and work at it even when others are sleeping. I remember my daughter saying to my friend, “my mother does not sleep, before we go to bed she is working and when we wake up we see her working”. If God gives you that grace and good health, you need to maximise what he has given you. I am focused when I want to achieve anything.  When I have a target I pursue it. If I fail, well fine but I feel guilty when I don’t make any effort. I do make great effort and I take risks.

To actualize one’s potentials, I would say that it is good to have a role model. I have both male and female role models (Professor Falusi and Professor Olaniyi) who contributed significantly to my life. We work closely in the area of research and so many other things. I learnt a lot from them and we’ve benefited from each other. There was a time when my female role model was one of UNESCO laurel award winner. That motivated me and I aspired to be like her. I love to mentor people. A lot of my mentees are married women, old women struggling with their PhD and so on. I use my experience to mentor them. Mentoring is important. It is beyond supervision. Women should consciously mentor other women because they go through family, work and other societal issues. You can use your own life to mentor them. And for single women, it is important that you marry the man that believes in you, that is supportive. Many women have dropped because their husbands didn’t support them. Let us use our lives to mentor others.

What is your strategic plan for achieving the vison of Chrisland University?

Chrisland has its own mission and vision and based on that I developed my own. The vision of Chrisland University is to become a world class university, renowned for intellectual freedom, ethical standard, research, community service and outstanding training of new generations of leaders. My mission is to create a learning environment that nurtures a sound moral and intellectual culture, attracts an excellent blend of faculty from across the world and resources to educate the total person. Chrisland University has a pedigree because we have Chrisland group of schools that has been in operation for over forty years. They have done very well in the education sector and 40 years survival is a positive indication of who the founders are. They’ve setup a university, they definitely mean business. I’ve had the privilege of going round their schools and I am highly impressed. I rate them high globally. Since I have being in the education sector, almost all my adult life, I believe in the vision and mission of the University. One of my driving factors is excellence. Excellence in knowledge, character, innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership. My mission is to create an enabling environment that will provide rounded education for the total person and to produce graduates that will improve the quality of life of people in their generation. I also have my core values and goals, to build the foundation of academic excellence, to provide the platform for enriching student standards, to create platform that will increase students’ to enhance teaching and learning skills, to promote leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship among staff and students. To promote extra curricula among staff and students. To promote extra curricula and life building skills in sport, music, debate, speech etc. to create and consolidate a culture of participatory governance for campus progress, harmony and peace. To promote staff and student welfare, to engage in strategic resource mobilization and continued increment of internally generated revenue. To setup plans for private-public partnership, to develop academic programme that will prepare the institution for post graduate programmes and to develop ethical polices that will guide staff and student conduct. Basically, I put my strategies into seven: staff activities, student recruitment, resource mobilization, research, innovation and service, student conduct and welfare. Some of these I have started working on. I coined what I called “Innovate-Chrisland” where we will give prizes to both students and staff who have been remarkable in research. We have started staff development. Almost 80% of the teachers have been supported for one conference or the other, some fully and some partly, so that they can be exposed to things happening elsewhere, outside the University. Some of them are young researchers. We have spent over a million on that. We are on curriculum review already. We have four new programmes that have been added since I came in. We are reviewing so that the curriculum can address contemporary issues and meet NUC benchmark. We have set up a committee on that.

Also, we are working on the present curricula. There have been changes but we want to make sure that all changes are captured and approved by the Senate.

How would you describe the quality of teaching, learning and research today at Chrisland University?

Teaching and learning are very key to me, although teaching and learning have changed. We now have interactive-based learning, team-based learning, online learning, e-resources. But in Nigeria, many lecturers are trained in didactic way and they are teaching students who are IT-savvy. So there is now the situation that teachers are teaching digital students. On assumption of office, I felt we needed to bring up our teachers to be able to adopt digital methods in teaching and learning. What we did was to send some of our teachers for a training in Zambia on teaching and learning. Upon their arrival, they taught others. We are still going to have more workshops. We have got an Information and Communication Technology (ICT) centre ready. With ICT, students can submit materials online, results can be checked online, assignments can also be submitted and so on. We’ve set up the structure and we are still working on it to make it perfect. We have electronic board in every classroom but some people don’t know how to use it. So we are trying to train them on the proper usage. We have done some training and we would still do more. In Chrisland University, teaching and learning is now dynamic. It is changing from didactic to digital.

How do you intend to grow institutional resources and, in particular, address the challenge of funding?

The best way of getting resources is from students’ school fees. The more students we get the more resources. I have a mandate from Council to develop activities that will increase revenue. I have presented several projects at Council meetings, including agribusiness and Council has adopted  agribusiness. We want to partner with other agribusiness so that it will be revenue yielding. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been signed. It’s just for the University to release the fund. We also have plans to do medical plants and pilot manufacturing in this area. We intend to collaborate with a private company to achieve that and we are in the process of signing  an MoU.

What would you describe as Chrisland’s niche areas and achievements?

The Chrisland family has a hospital and a pharmaceutical company and the University intends to work closely with the pharmaceutical company. Our strength would be in the area of health. The Founders run one of the biggest private hospital in Nigeria. Their businesses are sustainable: the hospital is over 50 years old and the pharmaceutical company is 39 years old. We are already working on establishing a College of Health Sciences and Pharmacy. The University already has radio and television studios for mass communication and we are going to have management courses very soon. We are currently expanding some programmes, like computer science, to accommodate courses like information science, cyber-crime technology, Information and communication technology and so on. Also, we can have physics with electronics and we are working on signing an MoU with the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) so that Chrisland can offer a Bachelor of Science degree in meteorological science.

Also, our strength is in the quality of graduates that we produce. Every student of Chrisland that graduates will have two certificates: the regular bachelor’s degree and the other a professional or vocational certificate. We are developing our entrepreneurship programme and we are bringing a lot of people to teach them skills that they can be certified in.

While Nigeria is struggling with the challenge of access, it is a known fact that many private universities are unable to attract an appreciable number of prospective students due to high fees. What is the way forward?

We don’t get enough students because of the fee but if parents can plan, especially the middle class they would be able to afford it. We need to let people know that with the right mind-set, it is achievable. However, the method we use for convenience is to allow parents to pay the school fees instalmentally.

But if Nigeria is going to solve the problem of access, the government must encourage private universities. If you go around public universities, you would see TETFund interventions, ETF buildings amongst others. In private universities, there is nothing of such despite the fact that it is difficult for the founders of private universities to make money.  It is easier to make money with primary and secondary schools. Anybody you see maximizing profit through private university in Nigeria is not being truthful. This is because establishing a private university is money consuming. It involves billions of naira. And so, I will appeal that the government should support private universities too. They should facilitate giving scholarships to students of private institutions. The government should do that so that we can solve the problem of access. Government alone cannot solve the problem of access. The more the institutions, the more effective the education system becomes.  I think the current system drains the Government because the students in the Government institutions don’t pay fees. Even in the State schools, the students pay little and the Government is subsidizing. Out of 170 universities in Nigeria, almost 50% are private. But if we analyse the number of students in tertiary institutions in Nigeria, you would find that private universities constitute less than 6% of the total  number of students, so it is lopsided. I know that the NUC is working hard so that students in private universities can access loans, thereby increasing the number of prospective students but Government should support in the area of scholarship and facilities.

What solutions do you expect the present government to introduce to improve the state of University education in Nigeria?

Nigerians are trying in the area of education: we have the good, the bad and the ugly. Nigerians love education but if the Government should also improve the resources in the public universities, it will help both schools and the students to do better. Better laboratories, teaching aids will improve standard, digitalizing education will also help. The major problem we have is low standard of education. I think it’s best to start with major changes at the primary and secondary level. At the university, it is difficult to change the child who has gone through bad way of learning. Government should look into areas of malpractices at all levels. They must prevent channels of leakage or anything that can lower the quality of our certificates. It is actually very unjust for people to work hard and someone who cut corners gets the same benefits.

Also, while open universities, part-time programmes and distance learning programmes are good ideas, it is important that we ensure that these institutions are delivering quality. There should be quality assurance parameters and regulatory bodies that will check malpractices and ensure that these programmes are fool proof. As much as possible, more regulatory activities should be focused on these programmes so that students from both conventional mode and distance learning mode can be of the same standard.

Thank you very much, Prof, for this exclusive interview.

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