‘We Train Our Students to Be Employers of Labour’
In this interview with Adekunbi Ero, executive editor, Edna Mogekwu, Rector, Delta State University, Ogwashi-Uku, and management expert, lauds the encouragement and support of the state government which she says have enhanced and placed the three state polytechnics at the forefront such that they “can compete effectively with any polytechnic.” She says the establishment of four more polytechnics will take more youths off the streets.
Delta State Polytechnic is one of the three existing polytechnics in the state. Four others are being established to bring the number to seven. Is it not more than a mouthful?
It is, but they have not taken off. You can propose; I am not aware they have taken off because really, if they are to take off, the state will be disadvantaged at the federal level. At the federal level, we are entitled to accessing TETFund (Tertiary Education Trust Fund) every year, but if we now have additional four, it means like my institution, we will be accessing it every seven years while other states will be accessing it every year. You can imagine; but we have to share. We got one in 2012, so we won’t get another until 2015, that is Ogwashi-Uku, Otefe and Ozoro. If you add any more, that means… because the federal government did not prepare for that number; the budget is for one per state so, whatever they have, they give, we share it. And it will also affect the subventions. It may come down especially if the revenue is not going up. That is the negative aspect of it. Positively, they will take the youths off the streets and we will have more educated people in the state. You find out that many universities are not taking Deltans for one reason or the other. If that is the case, then it is better you provide for your people. I think that is the angle His Excellency is looking at. Instead of having the youths on the streets, why not have them in the classes. And you see that he has also introduced the EduMarshall to get the children off the streets into primary and secondary schools.
How will you assess the growth of the three existing polytechnics?
They are doing well, considering their ages. And they are advantaged more than the older polytechnics. Most of them, especially the polytechnics at Ozoro and Otefe, what they are having now, in terms of structures, are quite impressive. If you have structures on ground, you can move forward; you can compete, you are better placed to introduce more programmes. Similarly, Ogwashi-Uku is also doing well. The three polytechnics are advantaged; they are doing very well.
What is the quality of infrastructure?
We are accessing the TETFund. It is helping us to move forward. For instance, this polytechnic, by courtesy of the federal government’s TETFund, we are accessing two special interventions which include 40 offices in one of them, one two-storey building. Then in the second intervention, we are going to have 500-capacity convocation arena, including 400-capacity sitting auditorium for lectures. And we also have a normal intervention which will also have a 500-capacity sitting auditorium for lecture halls. And you can see that if we have these going on, it will give us the opportunity to introduce more departments, more programmes, that is more courses that are relevant to the state and to the nation.
Most of the time, programmes that are not popular are introduced in many institutions and that doesn’t help the society. What I mean by popular programmes are programmes that people are eager to go into where they feel that they bring out the best of their potential. And that is our focus in this polytechnic. We want a situation where we will go round, see what the popular programme for Delta is and mount them with the permission of the National Board for Technical Education. If you mount them, they will sell, and the students will come out well skilled. In technical education, the focus is for the students to come out and be able to be independent job-wise; that is the major aim – skilled labour. They are not supposed to be looking for jobs. And I want to take our polytechnic as a case study. We train our students to be employers of labour. We don’t train them to come out and begin to search for jobs; we train them to be seriously skilled.
You’ve said so much about the contribution of the federal government. How has the state impacted on the development of this polytechnic?
Very much; the state government is doing its best. Like I told you, they have a lot to handle. They are giving us subvention and they are also morally encouraging us. Most importantly, I want to commend His Excellency for having trust in the kind of chief executives that he has placed in the tertiary institutions. That is why the institutions are coming up and being rated high, meeting all the federal government’s academic standards. The credit goes to the state government. Then there is no interference or distraction on the part of the state government. Ogwashi-Uku again is a case in point. If there had been interference here, we won’t be where we are now. We’ve got maximum freedom to do what is right. For that reason, I can tell you boldly that we are in the forefront; we can compete effectively with any polytechnic and we can hold our heads high because all our programmes are accredited by the National Board for Technical Education, about 25 of them, and I think this is basic, and this is as a result of encouragement and support from the state government.
What is the population of students here?
A minimum of 10,000; we had to cut down for proficiency; we had to cut down for standard. Every student has a comfortable seat. You don’t have to rush; the classes are just normal, not crowded. The classes are very comfortable. Like I always tell my colleagues, I read in a very comfortable environment, so I think it is my own duty to make sure that the students under me also read in a comfortable environment. So, the lecturers are not supposed to be over-worked if they must give their best.
What are your fees like?
Very, very minimal, if you consider what we are giving to the students. In fact, from the statistics available to me, many private secondary schools are paying higher than our students, which is a little bit funny to me. On the average, they pay from N25,000 to may be N35,000. What can you do with that? It’s almost like free education and that is again one of the contributions of the state government. They don’t want it so high so that many people can have access to the tertiary education system. But I think it is time for the state government to review the school fees because the burden on the state government is also increasing, especially if they are going to mount four more polytechnics, so that they can survive.
So, apart from what you get from the state and federal government, do you have internal sources of revenue generation?
Yes, we are trying very hard and we have the Poly Consult Limited. When I came, actually, it was moribund but I tried with my management team to revive it. So, right now, we have rental services – chairs, canopies. We are into processing of water and there are many other services that we offer so we are getting our IGR (internally generated revenue) from there. And then, we have community development skill centre. We introduced some programmes there. We also have Poly Farms Limited; we expect again to get a lot of IGR there. But for now, our major source of IGR is the school fees which I told you earlier are minimal. We use it to run the school; we don’t pay it into government coffers. But what is sustaining us is management proficiency; that is, we make sure we work strictly within our budget and no fraud. There are other ventures we are working on. We want to be producing cement blocks for the neighbourhood.
How are you tackling the twin evils of examination malpractice and cultism in the school?
Many things are responsible for exam malpractices and we are trying to tackle them. Most times, parents encourage exam malpractice and to tackle that, they are more interested in their children getting very beautiful grades or results without weighing the grades with the quality of their children. To tackle that aspect, we have introduced parents/polytechnic forum. We want to first educate parents that if you really want to get something out of your investment in your children, you should be asking for their results; you should be paying them impromptu visits.
Another problem is having these children off-campus; most of them are too young to be left on their own – 17 years, 18 years – and so many of them are not under the control of anybody after lectures. For that reason, many of them don’t read. The attractions of the town are there, partying, drinking and travelling to where they should not travel to. That is why hostels are very important to capture them young. So, we are trying our best educating them on the evils of exam malpractices. But most importantly, we want to appeal to parents to monitor their children.
Another aspect of the causes is a set of ill-equipped academic staff. If an academic staff is not well-learned, what can he teach? What can he offer to students? These things, we are tackling them. For instance, TETFund sent us some training funds and all our academic staff that so applied are in school now; some are in the US, Malaysia and various parts of the world studying for higher degrees – PhD, MSc. Some are in Nigerian universities. And then, cultism; it’s fading. It’s getting weaker but it’s still there. One interesting thing is we don’t see them. When I came, we were seeing them. I’m told they operate outside. That’s all right, but not on campus. But it has to be a gradual process. We have to win them over to solve the problem of cultism. We have had cause to expel some students for examination malpractices.
‘The state government is doing its best. Like I told you, they have a lot to handle. They are giving us subvention and they are also morally encouraging us. Most importantly, I want to commend His Excellency for having trust in the kind of chief executives that he has placed in the tertiary institutions’
‘From the statistics available to me, many private secondary schools are paying higher than our students… they pay from N25,000 to may be N35,000. What can you do with that? It’s almost like free education and that is again one of the contributions of the state government. They don’t want it so high so that many people can have access to the tertiary education system’