Professor Ayobami Salami is the first Vice-Chancellor of the First Technical University, Ibadan, Oyo State. He is a thorough-bred university manager as well as a renowned academic and environmental scientist whose experience span the domains of research, mentorship and environmental consultancy. In this interview, he pointed out various issues bordering on technical education. Excerpt:
What differentiates Technical University, Ibadan from other polytechnics or universities of technology?
Thank you very much. I’ve had to answer this question several times and we have to keep on explaining until the general public get to understand the main difference between us and other universities or polytechnics.
Let me start with the polytechnics. Polytechnics were supposed to be centres where people who have skills are trained, where you have technicians and technologists.
Universities are supposed to be centres where managers are trained. So, the polytechnic graduates are expected to have the skills but no so much on the theoretical or managerial abilities. They are supposed to work under managers and universities are supposed to have more of the theoretical and managerial ability with less of the skills.
But the Technical University is a university where we combine the two together, where the people who have the technical skills combine it with the theoretical and managerial skill. So that differentiates the product of the technical university and the product of a polytechnic.
We can interrogate that further when you look at the graduates from the polytechnics. People are asking if the polytechnic graduates really have the skills they are supposed to have. When you look at the graduates from the conventional university, people ask whether they can live up to the expectation of the society based on the certificate they possess.
I keep on saying that the issue in Nigeria is not all about the knowledge gap, it is about skills gap. We have the skills gap in Nigeria today that whether you go to the conventional university or you go to the polytechnic, at the end of the day when they graduate, they cannot serve as “plug and play” whether in an industry or in any organisation. The Technical University has come on board to ensure that we do not only address the issue of the knowledge gap but also address the issue of the skills gap in this country.
What informed the recent change of name from Tech University to First Tech University, knowing full well that people know it as Tech-U. Was it really necessary?
Recently, the bill or the act establishing the university was amended by the Oyo State House of Assembly based on the proposal that was sent to the assembly.
About the change of name, I don’t know whether it was really a change of name or just a modification. We used to be called Technical University now we insert the word ‘First’ before Technical University, so we are now First Technical University.
Let me explain the reason behind that. By the grace of God, what we have started in this place, in 10 to 15 years down the road, it is going to be a model that many government and many private sector will begin to replicate in several places.
Therefore from the word go, it is important to assert our position in history. Historically, we may have technical universities in other parts of Africa; such as Ghana, East Africa and South Africa. But you can go and cross check it, none of those universities started at the initial stage as technical universities. They started as polytechnics that eventually metamorphosed to technical universities.
Thus, you have colleges of education that are upgraded to degree-awarding institutions, but in the whole of West Africa, we were the first university that was conceived, established and operated from the word go as technical university. Just like when you hear First Bank, you don’t need to argue that it is the first bank on Nigerian territory. Therefore, First Technical University is to assert our place in history.
Besides, the amendment also allows the university to now fully operate on the Public-Private Partnership, PPP model so that we can now be an hybrid of both the public and private sector.
So we can combine the advantages of the public university and private university, eating our cake and having it at the same time. That allows us to enter into robust collaboration with the private sector in furtherance of the mission of this university to ensure that the laudable goals of this university are achieved.
Let’s face the facts, it is only when people want to play politics that they don’t want to really say the truth. The fact remains that we know that education is social responsibility but the reality on ground is that government has not been able to fully fund the technical or tertiary education in Nigeria to the level expected.
If the government is not ready to really pay the full bill and then we don’t want the parents to pay it, then definitely, there are going to be deficiencies on the part of the product.
Here is a university that has the support of the government of the public institution. We are allowed to also leverage on all the opportunities available within the private sector so that at the end of the day, we would be able to have the capacity to do what is expected of us and then there will not be problem in respect to the expected product.
There is public outcry about the high fees charged by your institution. Sir, I will like to know; at what point in time did you consider this PPP?
Let me say it now and clearly that the university is owned by the Oyo State Government. The First Technical University is fully 100 per cent owned by the Oyo State Government. What the government is doing is to allow the private sector to come and complement its efforts so that the burden will not rest squarely on government due to limited resources.
Government realises the fact that giving the competing demand and available resources, the government alone will not be able to shoulder the responsibility. So they are now giving a window for the private sector to come and complement the efforts of the government. It is not a profit- making venture for any private sector coming in. Let me tell you the type of investors we are having; one, we are looking for business partners.
Business partners can only operate within a limited space within the technical university. Example is building of hostel, beyond that, we are also looking for angel investors. Who are the angel investors?
They are people who see that this mission and objective is something they have been yearning and crying for but they don’t see the avenue or anybody who can approximate that vision.
They have the resources, they have the good mind of giving back to society but they don’t see anybody doing things they want; now, they see us doing it. Such persons don’t want to be known, they don’t want profit, that is why we call them angel investors.
They are not looking for name, returns and recognition. They just see a worthy cause. Within the first year we have operated, we’ve had angel investors in this university.
Those who gave us things uptil today are not mentioned, they are not looking for it and they are not getting any return. They just see that this is something that is good for this country and want to be part of it, that is why we call them angel investors.
Then, we also have legacy donors; they are also not looking for profit but they want to immortalise their name. They see a worthy cause, they want to say I am part of it and not that they are expecting anything.
Let me give you an example of the legacy donor we’ve had. AMNI International Petroleum Company. The CEO is Chief (Dr.) Tunde Afolabi. They, on their own, have decided to build AMNI International Institute in this university and that will cost over N1billion. That institute is going to be built, it is going to be named after AMNI but they are not expecting any profit, they are not looking for any reward or any returns but they just see that this is a mission that is worthy of supporting.