Tech-U: Breaking Out Of The Old Order, Setting New Pace In Tertiary Education

Since it debuted only barely two years ago, the First Technical University (Tech-U), Ibadan, appears to be one institution determined to make a difference. From its array of innovative courses reflective of urgent societal needs, its radical model of entrepreneurship training, to its largely daring financing model, there are certainly useful lessons that many conventional Universities in the country may glean from this emerging giant.

The University took off in 2017 with the faculties of Engineering and Technology and Natural and Applied Sciences, setting smart goals to achieve its rather ambitious vision of a world-class centre of learning that is fully grounded in entrepreneurial practices and sustainability science.

Tech-U has pioneered a Public Private Partnership (PPP) model as a means of self-sustainability. For the two years of its existence, the university has been financially-independent in terms of salaries and overhead expenses, despite being wholly owned by Oyo State government. Its innovative approach to attracting funding and support and its transparency has been highly commended by boardroom gurus and this is attracting more support in form of scholarships, donations and endowments.

Not only this, the University has introduced a commendable student financing scheme, a scholarship pool, now worth over a billion Naira. This has created opportunity for brilliant but indigent students to keep up in their studies. One of the scholarships is the Josephus Foundation Scholarship, graciously endowed by Chief Tunde Afolabi, the Chancellor of the University. This is a partial annual scholarship to the tune of N650,000 per beneficiary and covers tuition, accommodation and some other fees. To enjoy the privilege till graduation, beneficiaries are expected to maintain a cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) of 3.5. It is therefore a means of stimulating academic excellence among the students.

Also, it is crossing the frontier into self-sustenance, at a time most public institutions are plagued by underfunding.

Driven by mercurial administrators, the university has a total of 15 academic programmes approved by the National Universities Commission (NUC). Some of these programmes include Mechatronics Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, Food Science and Technology, Cyber Security, Computer Science, Software Engineering, Physics with Electronics, Petroleum Engineering, Industrial Chemistry and Statistics.

To keep the tempo of excellence, the university employs a mix of first-rate teaching and experienced non-teaching staff, with modern classrooms fitted with air-conditioners to make learning enjoyable.

It parades list of brilliant administrators, led by the chancellor, Chief Tunde Afolabi MFR, who has over 40 years’ experience in business management, entrepreneurship and international finance and currently the chairman of AMNI International Petroleum Development Company Limited, a leading petroleum exploration and production company.

The Pro Chancellor and Chairman, Governing Council of Tech-U, Professor OyewusiIbidapo-Obe, was a former Vice Chancellor of University of Lagos. He is an outstanding professor of system engineering with an impressive track record as a research leader. Members of the governing council are also outstanding professionals: Mrs.IbukunAwosika, chairman, FirstBank Plc.; Professor TunjiOlaopa, an accomplished public administration scholar; Mr Jacob Ajekiigbe, notable entrepreneur and former Managing Director of FirstBank Plc., and a host of other leading industry minds.

Professor Ayobami Salami, the pioneer Vice Chancellor of Tech-U, is a renowned academic and environmental scientist whose experience spans the domains of research, mentorship, and environmental consultancy. A product of the prestigious Lagelu Grammar School, Ibadan, obtained his B.Sc (Geography) with Second Class Upper Division from the University of Ife (now ObafemiAwolowo University) in 1986. He holds a Ph.D degree with specialisation in Space Applications and Land Use/Natural Resources Management (1996). Aside his many academic exploration, he had a brief stint in the private sector as the Senior Research Adviser on Environmental Assessment, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC).

Speaking on the uniqueness of the institution at the last matriculation ceremony, the Vice Chancellor, Professor Salami, said: “As Nigeria’s first and only technical university, we are very proud of our position. This is because we realise that to bring about the sort of development that Nigeria, and indeed the rest of Africa needs to navigate the peculiar labyrinth of under-development, what is required is a new, bold and positively disruptive model of education that not only emphasises creative interrogation of theoretical frameworks, but one that constantly seeks to create enduring solutions and alternative developmental paradigms for confronting societal problems.”

The drive, as espoused by Professor Salami, has kept the university going. The university has continued to take bold initiatives to stay afloat and impact the Nigerian economy. The institution has, thus, clearly positioned itself as a unique institution of higher learning cut out from the pack of Nigeria’s increasingly saturated tertiary education space. As a public institution, it seeks to equip its students with relevant skill-sets they require to stand-out among peers. For any student of the institution, it is mandatory to acquire an additional foreign language, get certified in at least two relevant vocations of choice and meet all conditions for the award of a diploma in entrepreneurship programme after series of interface with top-class industry experts who prepare them ready for the world of work.

The institution, though public-owned, has continued to enjoy stable academic calendar and it is also meeting its infrastructural requirements. It has continuously put in place new facilities that accommodate the expanding needs of the university, with regular power supply. The institution has recorded many other achievements. It has bridged the relationship between the town and gown. This engagement is aptly reflected in inclusive curriculum design and review, teaching opportunities for outstanding professionals across industry divides, sub-contracting of municipal services and development-oriented research for mutually beneficial impact.

The university also enjoys budding partnership with the organised private sector. This, for a start, culminated into a Curriculum Review session that had in attendance notable organisations as the Nigeria Employers Consultative Council (NECA), Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN), Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) and a host of other reputable industry leaders.

The benefit of the programme, according to the Vice Chancellor, Professor Salami, has been quite invaluable, as it enabled the university to benefit in no small measures from the critical input of these players in shaping the curriculum and preparing the students for the world of work.

“We are glad and excited that we already have on-board a number of these topflight professionals signed-up as our facilitators; with many more joining the growing list soon. Of course, it needs to be underscored, once again, that at Tech-U the balance of instruction is shared 60 to 40 per cent between our experienced academics and industry hands, respectively.

Its Technical, Vocational Entrepreneurship Training (TVET) empowerment programme, another feat of the university, is specifically directed at stemming the tide of rising youth unemployment in Nigeria, as it devotes the programme to equipping young people with skills acquisition and entrepreneurship training in carefully-selected areas of needs in the larger society. The target is to empower 1,000 Nigerian youths between January and December 2019. So far, 374 youths have been trained based on partnership with public-spirited individuals, non-governmental organisations, private sector and government agencies. Those already trained include 154 Niger Delta youths under the sponsorship of Federal Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs.

For those who desire and can afford it, the university also entered into agreements with foreign universities as a way of further expose its students to educational practices and opportunities elsewhere. To this end, the university has an agreement with Texas Technical University (TTU), Lubbok, United States and Girne American University, Cyprus (GAU). Students will be able to spend one year at Lubbok and transfer the credit back to earn Tech-U degree. This qualifies beneficiaries for direct admission to postgraduate studies at Lubbok. The partnership with GAU is a cost-sharing agreement that allows students to undergo part of their training at Tech-U and complete their studies and earn degree from GAU.

The inputs are, however, yielding as its modest effort attracted global attention, causing it to be listed as the 43rd out of 252 higher institutions ranked in the country as of February, 2019 by Webometric. Notably, Tech-U came atop of several first, second and third generation universities in Nigeria, an attestation to its promising outlook and unwavering commitment to changing the narrative in the Nigerian education landscape.

“Gradually, we are building a presence; we are creating a new hub of activities in this environment. We are still at the initial stage; in the next two to three years, you’d see our footprints boldly on ground,” Professor Salami asserted, while describing the initial success story as an eye-opener to the greater achievements still coming.