In just about eight years of existence, Edo State University, Uzairue has proved that with the right management and staff, quality education is possible in Nigeria. The university, under the visionary leadership of its Vice-Chancellor, Professor Emmanuel Aluyor, a Professor of Chemical Engineering, has recorded numerous milestones. In this interview with a team of The Nigerian Observer journalists comprising the Acting Managing Director/Managing Editor, Osa Victor Obayagbona, Acting Editor, Chuks Oluigbo, and Education Correspondent, Omi Omage, Professor Aluyor discusses some of these milestones, what makes Edo State University, Uzairue tick, and his outlook for the university in the medium to long term. Below are excerpts:

As the pioneer Vice Chancellor of Edo State University, Uzairue, what is your mandate and to what extent have you fulfilled this mandate?

Thank you very much. As you know, I was appointed the Acting Vice Chancellor on 15th of February 2016. And then, two and a half years later, His Excellency, Mr. Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki, appointed me as the substantive Vice Chancellor.

The mandate as at the time the university was being opened was to challenge the ‘japa’ syndrome of Nigerians who want to undergo undergraduate studies, and to see how we could stem the tide of Nigerians going abroad in search of quality education. The idea was that in Nigeria we could have universities that would be of comparable standard with universities in the foreign countries where Nigerians would want to go to.

I think that across the last eight years, we’ve tried our best, we’ve achieved several milestones, and I would just give a few examples. The anatomage table which the Edo State University acquired, being the first university in West Africa to acquire such, is the most advanced digital tool that is available for training of medical students in the field of Anatomy, partly Physiology; and we have power laboratories, we have SimMan 3G advanced mannequin. We have tried to implement outcome-based education particularly in Engineering, where we were one of the first four universities that were selected by the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN), based on merit, based on what we have in our Engineering programmes, to pilot the introduction of outcome-based engineering education, student-centred learning in Nigeria. Our curriculum in Medicine and Surgery, when we started, it was only the University of Ibadan and two other universities starting at that time that were skills-based. We have tried to challenge the status quo and I think that, looking at the reviews that we have been having, we have tried our best. For example, in the ranking that was done by the National Universities Commission (NUC) two years ago, Edo State University had the privilege of being ranked as the tenth best university in Nigeria, the best university in the South-South geopolitical zone, and the second best state university in Nigeria. Those who may not have ranked as high as we ranked had several issues to drag with us, but I have taken you round our university, and you can see that the ranking was not a fluke.

Talking about the staff we have in the university, particularly when we started, we took time to select quality staff. At inception, we didn’t employ any staff who did not have a PhD or already at an advanced stage of acquiring a PhD. Now we take training positions and we insist on quality even at that level. Now, to tell you how good some of our staff are, in the last ranking that was done by SciVal looking at Nigerian scientists, the second best published scientist in Nigeria in the last five years is a staff of Edo State University, and out of the first 500 scientists, Edo State University has nothing less than 10 persons in that ranking, looking at the present staff or staff who have been here in the last eight years. That is to say that our academic staff are doing well; we encourage research, we encourage quality publication. Particularly when we introduced student-centred learning, we had to train our academic staff, because we note that you may be the best in your field, that does not imply that you will be good at passing across knowledge to the coming generation. Teaching is a skill, we recognise that, hence on a yearly basis, we train and retrain our staff, particularly because we know that new additions are made to the staff every year. We have smart bots in all our classrooms, we have multimedia projectors, and, of course, because we want the students to be comfortable, we have temperature-controlled environment in all our classrooms. So, we encourage our students to be the best in whatever endeavour they lay their hands on. Of course, even though we may not call our university an entrepreneurial university, we have not taken that tag, but in Edo State University, every single student undergoes eight units of entrepreneurial training before they graduate, and at graduation, we have instituted a N5 million prize for the best entrepreneurial idea. Again, the idea is that if you pass through Edo State University, if you do not get paid employment, you can set up your own business and be an employer of labour. Only one person will win the N5 million prize, but en-route to winning that prize, every single student in the university, if he is serious, would have developed an entrepreneurial idea which can feed him even if he doesn’t win the N5 million prize. For us, that is the benefit we want to take out of the challenge to win the N5 million prize, so it’s not the winning of the prize but what you get en-route to competing to win the prize. We’ve tried to do many things, but this is just a summary of some of the things we have tried to do.

From the list of the faculties in the university, it seems there is a deliberate effort to focus more on the sciences than other disciplines like Arts and Management. Is that so?

No, that’s not correct. We have the Faculty of Arts and Communications, we have the Faculty of Management and Social Sciences, we have the Faculty of Law, Faculty of Engineering, the College of Medical Sciences. Of course, in the College of Medical Sciences there are three faculties – Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences, Faculty of Clinical Sciences, and Faculty of Basic Clinical Sciences. That’s by the rule set by the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN). Those three faculties are actually for one set. They have a few programmes there, like Physiology, Anatomy as degree courses, but the basic programme in that faculty is Medicine and Surgery. We also have the Faculty Applied Health Sciences, where we have Nursing and Medical Laboratory Science. We’ve also just got approval to divide that faculty so you have the Faculty of Nursing Science and the Faculty of Medical Laboratory Science. We’re transitioning in that process.

To the point you made, yes, you may not be too far from the truth when you say that we are probably doing best in the sciences. Now, you’ll find the average Nigerian is more tuned towards wanting to pay for professional courses like Medicine, Medical Lab Science, Nursing, Engineering. When you come to the Arts and Social Sciences, probably Mass Communication; Law is on its own, but we have the full range.

During our tour round the university, we saw TETFund inscribed on some projects. What’s the relationship between the university and TETFund in terms of drawing funds to develop projects?

We have a very good relationship with TETFund. As you know, TETFund exists as an interventionist agency to fund public universities. Edo State University is fully owned by the Edo State Government. Consequently in 2020, TETFund had its first intervention in the university. Maybe it is the prime place we have given to those projects that has made them visible, but otherwise, we have ongoing projects being funded directly by the university, and we have projects that are being funded by TETFund. Again, maybe it’s our judicious use of the funds that TETFund has given to us, and we are very grateful to TETFund. There was an intervention in 2020, and there was another intervention in 2022; those are the two projects that you have referred to, but we have ongoing projects as I speak to you. We have a N3 billion high impact intervention project by TETFund, which Governor Obaseki did the groundbreaking on November 4th last year when we had our 5th convocation ceremony. We are very grateful to TETFund. TETFund is a partner that we are proud of.

We want to know, what’s the relationship between the university and the host community, and what are you doing specifically to impact your host community?

We have a very good and cordial relationship with our host community. Even in terms of research, some of our staff have some ongoing research interventions in our host community. But taking it a little beyond our direct host community, to get full accreditation for our medical programmes by the MDCN, one of the requirements was that the university must have a teaching hospital. We have a world-class teaching hospital project going on inside the university which is not yet completed, but apart from that, we have the Auchi General Hospital converted to a teaching hospital. That teaching hospital owned by the Edo State Government, under the umbrella of Edo State University, Uzairue, is the first teaching hospital owned by Edo State Government in Edo State, and that is the only teaching hospital in Edo North. We’ve had very immense support from His Excellency, the Governor of Edo State. He has continued to spur us on. But for the fact that that hospital was converted, we would have failed in our contract with our students to graduate them as and when due. When we graduated our first set of medical students, I was apologizing to the students because they had spent extra two weeks to complete six years, and we had promised that they would graduate as and when due. But again, I’m immensely grateful to the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, because they gave us all the support, and even at short notice, they were willing to come again and again to advise us, to look at what we were doing, and they played their role to ensure that we could keep our promise to graduate our students as and when due. So, we’ve kept that mandate. People will ask, ‘What’s the big deal if somebody spends a few extra months?’, but for us, we want to ensure that if we give you a promise, we will try to keep the promise. That has been the only time, and as I said, in the nick of time, His Excellency intervened and we got a teaching hospital; he assisted us with funds and we passed our full and final accreditation from the MDCN, and we graduated our first set and have since graduated our second set, and by later this year, God willing, we will be graduating our third set.

For the Faculty of Law, we’ve had the NUC accreditation, and we met all the requirements for the Council for Legal Education accreditation, and our second set of students have just gone to Law School.

Talking about funding, that’s one of the issues that universities in Nigeria grapple with. This is a state-owned university. We have talked about TETFund, and we have talked about the State Government. In what other ways does the university generate funds to do all of the big projects that you’re doing?

Well, the university charges commercial fees. We have the permission of the State Government to charge fees that we think are appropriate, and as much as we have tried to be humane in the fees that we charge, what is good costs money. As our people say, ‘Soup wey sweet, na money kill am’. So, we do recognise that.

What we have tried to do to also ensure that the university is not just a place for only those who can afford it, we sought permission from the Edo State Government and the government has on offer 100 tuition-free scholarships for indigent students of Edo State origin every year. We’ve never been able to fill the number, but every year the numbers of those who take the scholarship are increasing. But aside from the 100 scholarships, we have five full scholarships for our best applicants. If you choose Edo State University as your first choice, and you score above 260 in JAMB, we gather all of the students who meet that requirement and give them an exam to select the best five. For the five scholarships, it doesn’t matter even if you’re a non-Nigerian, so long as you chose Edo State University as your first choice when you were going to write your JAMB, we give you that opportunity to fight for a space. We see those five people as our flagship, you know, as people who we can put in front as ambassadors for our university. Because they found Edo State University good enough to choose as their first choice and they did marvelously well, we want to encourage them. So every year, we choose five persons.

A number of universities in Nigeria do one or two things extra to generate funds. The University of Benin, for instance, has a sachet water factory. Does Edo State University do any of those things?

Well, we have a very thriving entrepreneurship unit, but we have not gone out of our way to invest the university funds in those businesses; rather, we have advertised for entrepreneurs to come and take up spaces to do those businesses. As I speak to you, we have an entrepreneur who is building a pure water factory right inside the university who would fly the brand, and we’ve given the conditions that we need to ensure that whatever quality of water that is produced in that factory is worthy to bear the brand, Edo State University Water. So, it’s the first one, but I want to say there are thoughts in that line. That’s where we are.

What’s your outlook for the university in, say, five to 10 years?

As I said at the beginning, our mandate was to establish a university that would make anybody who says that he is going outside Nigeria to look for quality education to be telling a lie. He can go for other reasons but to say there is no quality, that’s the reason you didn’t do it in Nigeria, no. That’s our mandate. And I think that, as much as we have to some extent achieved that, there is still a long way to go. So, looking at the next five to 10 years, I envision that Edo State University will be a prime place of destination for those who are looking for quality education in Nigeria, and not just in Nigeria; if not in Africa, then in the West African sub-region. We are looking beyond Nigeria, we are looking at the international market. We’ve had one or two international students, but we are not satisfied, and that’s the next stage. That’s why when we were the first to go and acquire an anatomage, when we were looking at competency-based curriculum for our medical programme, when we were looking at the kind of facilities, world-class studio and all that, those were the things at the back of our minds. And I think that but for some of the national societal issues that Nigeria has, we would have been far much ahead of where we are now. When we signed our collaboration agreement with the University of Sunderland, we insisted, if you want our students to go there, we inserted there that it should be an exchange programme, but we’ve not found takers. Sunderland University came to look at the facilities we have and they were quite impressed. We went to Sunderland and saw what they have.

So, our model is to challenge the international market. If you say in Nigeria today that you are looking for quality education, I want to tell you that you can come to Edo State University, both in terms of infrastructure, in terms of the facilities we have, in terms of the staffing we have, in terms of the delivery of content, Edo State University is the place to be. So, in the next five years, I want to be able to see that we would have moved on to that next stage, where it would not be Nigerians going out of Nigeria, it would be foreigners coming to Nigeria again as it used to be.

The students are the primary aim for all you do, from infrastructure to facilities and every thing; how do you prioritize their welfare on campus?

First of all, in Edo State University, every single undergraduate student is accommodated on campus; we don’t have students staying off campus yet. Every single hostel in Edo State University is en suite. In addition to having your bathroom and your toilet within your room, we have rooms that have kitchen, so if you want to do your cooking by yourself, you can do that. You know, competition brings down prices. We have several outlets, restaurants and things like that.

But there is the other aspect which we are very proud of. In Edo State University, we can beat our chest and tell you that there are no cults. Our level of discipline is topnotch. We insist on our degree being in character and in learning. If we find any student with hard drugs, the student, following due process, is expelled from the university. We don’t tolerate it. This is because we’ve done a little study to find that you cannot have cults without drugs, so if you can keep the drugs out, it means that every single student is with his clear eye, and with his clear eye he will not join bad gang. That is our own way of protecting what we have. We do an orientation programme every year; we also have a re-orientation for our old students on a yearly basis. The orientation programme will always take place a few days before our matriculation ceremony. So, we care about our students, and it’s always a thing of joy for me when I see a parent who commends what we are doing because they are the reason why we are here.