Christopher Odetunde, Professor of Aeronautical and Mechanical Engineering, is a top research scholar, teacher, author and facilitator of entrepreneurial skills. A native of Oro town in Irepodun Local Government Area of Kwara State, the astute administrator attended St. John’s College, Kaduna from 1964-1968, where he majored in the “Arts”. His switch to pure science subjects came at his A’Levels, which he passed with distinction between 1969 and 1972. He had his undergraduate and postgraduate training in the United States of America. His academic qualifications include a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering, a Master of Science in Aeronautical/Mechanical Engineering and in Project Management as well and a Doctoral degree in Aerospace Engineering acquired respectively from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Florida; Iowa State University, Texas; A& M University and Southeastern Institute of Technology, Alabama in the United States of America. A thoroughbred academic, he has many professional attainments and inventions to his credit in the course of his career. Prior to his appointment as Vice Chancellor of Augustine University, Ilara Epe, about four weeks ago, this high-flying intellectual was the Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at the Kwara State University, Malete. In this interview with the Acting Editor, NETA NWOSU, Professor Christopher Odetunde outlines his vision for accreditation of programs, research, funding, increasing IGR, infrastructural development, enrollment, recruitment, diaspora connections, entrepreneurship and how the University can make its mark.
Congratulations on your recent appointment as the Vice Chancellor of Augustine University, Ilara-Epe. Nigeria recently celebrated its 60th Independence anniversary, kindly assess the country’s development in the educational sector. What is the way forward amid its myriad of problems that includes poor funding and thus poor educational infrastructure, corruption, politicization of education, poor parenting and guidance, unstable curriculum and a host of others?
It has been 60 years of independence in Nigeria, to the best of my recollection, the education sector has been regressing. For far too long, Nigerians believed in alternative universe, that only external persons/countries can develop Nigeria but herself. It is time to change the paradigm and believe in Nigeria’s ingenuity. First, the curriculum of our education is stale and not in line with 21st century educational needs of a developing nation.
Those that got the best of education in Nigeria are the most visceral impeding agents of progress of education. Unfortunately also, our students’ education as a learning process needed for advancement of our nation, but as a certificate acquiring exercise. Students who are too young and immature are forced on lecturers that often do not have requisite experience and unfortunately, almost everyone is title conscious. Parents are partially to be blamed. Instead of parents to take active part in engaging their children/wards, they are busy buying grades and fighting credible lecturers for not giving good grades to their children. Grades are to be earned not given; Lecturers with less than 5 year post Ph.D. experience are becoming Professors by moving from one university to another in search of an institution that will award them Professors but with minimal skills and research experience.
This type of Professorial shunting also degrades our students’ ability to acquire necessary skills and knowledge to think outside the box; With respect to corruption, we often fixate our search light on politicians. There is a lot of corruption in the educational system, some of them are firstly, abuse of students; secondly, student handouts fees; thirdly, collecting fees from students for the service already paid for; fourthly, sometimes changing grades for students for a fee; and lastly, plagiarism. Educators must clean the stable to have the moral justification to accuse politicians.
I am not supporting corrupt politicians here but let us clean the education system from inside out and give our students moral and spiritual uplift first in order for them to become good citizens. There is a need to reduce cost of governance radically and concentrate on developing the nation through education and encouraging Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) research; Government and private institutions must improve institution’s infrastructural needs by increasing educational budgetary allocation for the benefit and comfort of their students; In some public universities, politicians dictate who to promote and who will become Professors.
This process degrades the efficacy of lecture delivery, hence, lecturers become susceptible to control by politicians and their wards; and I believe that both private and public universities ought to be able to access TETFUND and PTF for research advancement and infrastructural development. After all, Nigerian companies are contributing to the growth of such funds. These funds are meant for all Nigerians and not some special segment of students and institutions.
Nigeria at 60 is faced with numerous problems. In just a few words, what solutions would you proffer?
Education plays an integral role in nation building, hence, In light of the above synthesis, there is a need to: • Revisit programmes and BMAS provided to universities by NUC. The new programs must be tailored to address growth and development of Nigeria. For instance, we have been producing engineers, and no government has ever challenged these engineers to take on a project to completion. In the 60s, President Kennedy challenged Americans and his nation to not ask what the country can do for them but what they can do for the country.
A visionary leader must do no less; Give universities total autonomy but provide targets for the universities to meet; • Not to encourage brain and capital flight by making sure politicians’ children attend Nigerian Universities and engage in nation building; • Massively increase educational funding so that Nigerian students can compete favorably in the world; • Parents must again entrust their wards to universities and only interject whenever there are abuses on social level but not on academic level. Parents cannot continue to bully lecturers for small issues that can be resolved in-house; • Reduce strikes in public universities by government not politicizing situations and for university unions to solve issues of welfare among its rank and file amicably; • Engage the minds of students and provide physical exercises so that they are not idle. An idle mind is devil’s workshop. This will cut down on cult activities; and • To eliminate politicizing promotion because such action debases the very essence of our ivory towers.
Augustine University is five years this year. Do you think it has fared well considering the realization of its mission, vision and goals? Has it actually done well at five compared to its contemporaries of same years of existence?
Augustine University has actually done very well with respect to infrastructural development, students’ moral upbringing and in terms of camaraderie among faculty and staff. I must say that many parents are happy with this and are actually participating in the development of AUI. Although, efforts have been made at increasing student enrollment, it has not been easy in the past. Instead of complaining about this, the new administration is using the past to advance the future development and increase enrollment by: Introducing new courses that can impact national development; Bringing onboard lecturers and Professors that can add value to AUI; and Developing strategies to increase AUI IGR so as not to be a permanent burden on Lagos Archdiocese.
Excerpts of the University’s welcome statement on its website read: ‘The University upholds the noble tradition of Catholic Higher Education of achieving intellectual, cultural and moral excellence by preparing students for leadership and enterprise. What does the institution mean by ‘noble tradition of Catholic Higher Education’?
Having gone through Catholic education at St. Andrew Catholic Primary School, Oro and St. John’s College, now Rimi College, Kaduna, ‘noble tradition of Catholic Higher Education’ implies a tradition that provides a holistic education of intellectual development, cultural imperative and spiritual or moral preparedness in the world students may find themselves. I am an example of such holistic learning.
You have an enviable scholastic portfolio of academic credentials in Aeronautical Engineering, all acquired in Ivory towers in the United States backed by years of experience and expertise as well as an administrative acumen. What do these extraordinary qualities and values portend for Augustine University?
Thank you for the recognition of my professional development. In all my managerial positions, I always sought to work with intelligent people of high moral and high industry. When we work together in shared responsibility, we are all winners. With these experiences, I hope to tap into my myriad of experiences for AUI by increasing AUI‘s enrollment from nationally and internationally view point. There are children of Nigerians in diaspora that can be convinced to study in AUI because
i) This will reduce financial stress on the Diaspora parents by reducing educational cost;
ii) It will provide interactions of these students with their peers in Nigeria,
iii) improve cultural awareness, interaction with their grandpa and grandmas in Nigeria,
iv) lessen student loan indebtedness when they get back to their bases and
v) join work force effortlessly in UK or US; bringing highly qualified Professors either as full time or as on-line lecturers; bringing Professor and lecturers that have records of grantsmanship. This will help to increase AUI’s IGR; bringing Professors and lecturers that are prolific in publishing of high impact articles that are Scopus indexed; improving AUI’s portal for high visibility; making sure AUI’s faculty and staff work efficiently because, time is money; ensuring linkages with both local and oversea universities; and encouraging and engaging Staff in development for their own benefit and benefit of AUI.
Please tell us what successes you intend to bring to the five-year old institution.
• Making sure AUI’s programs are all 100% accredited;
• Increasing enrollment to a reasonable level beyond what I inherited;
• Improving on the University’s relationship with parents and students;
• Creating an Incubation hub where ideas can be developed by both students and faculty;
• Encouraging academic interaction, development between staff and even engaging serious students in the process;
• Making sure that AUI produces more than fifty world-class publications for each year spent;
• Looking for donors to take on some of AUI’s infrastructural needs;
• Building up strong and formidable Alumni group that will be proud of their institution and who will be ready to support AUI by meeting their spiritual, moral and educational needs while at AUI; and
• Creating a career office that students can visit to seek available employment through employers that would have indicated their needs to this office.
The University’s vision is ‘to be a leading global provider of career-oriented educational services.’ To what extent has this vision been realized? What opportunities are there for Augustine University to operate on the global stage?
Simply put, AUI must find a niche which students will crave for and which employers of labour will fall over themselves to pull staff from. This can be achieved in engineering, for instance, where employers are confident that students from AUI are equipped with the requisite skills to think outside of the box for solutions to problems. Similarly, if we develop our Aviation certification, nursing and law programs, we will be enviable in this corridor of Lagos. Let us realize that aviation is a global business. When I wake up every morning, I always ask myself, “were my actions of the previous day in line with the vision of our great university” and if not, can I do better? Along this vision, we plan to project our faculty members to world view of Aviation and make AUI relevant. More importantly, the Entrepreneurship Unit will be enhanced with the introduction of more skill programs such as auto-mechanics, painting, welding, shoe-making, etc. This will allow our graduates, in the short term, to be self-sufficient before they land the “big jobs” of their dreams.
What respective competitive edge does an Augustine University undergraduate and graduate have over their contemporaries?
Though AUI is located in Lagos, it is cut off from the distractions of Lagos, which fosters learning. The University also employs modern teaching and research tools. In addition, students are encouraged to experience the corporate world, during the holidays through the Voluntary Holiday Work Scheme. As a faith-based University, the students are morally groomed to take on challenges of the world and contribute to the growth of the country.
Few years ago, while you were the Head of Aeronautic and Astronautic Department, Faculty of Engineering, Kwara State University, the department designed and flew rockets, designed and tested drones for aerial photography and for agricultural use. Should we expect such groundbreaking research works and innovations soon from the Augustine University? Any plans yet for a Faculty of Engineering?
By God’s grace, the work done at KWASU will be duplicated and improved upon at AUI. Aerospace engineering is capital intensive and Augustine University will consider setting it up with a view to looking at the cost benefit of the program. But, my personal view for now is to approach the aviation issue via the incubation center I alluded to awhile ago. If you recall, the first aviators, the Wright Brothers were not originally aeronautical engineers but ordinary bicycle repair persons but then their innovation has made impact in satellite imagery; led to the growing of crystals in space; saved lives through the delivery of medical items to remote and dangerous environments with the use of drones; taken men to the moon and improved agriculture. In this citadel (AUI), scientists and even philosophers will think outside the box to create new computers, design new aircrafts, rockets and missiles in a bid to take on challenges of the world taking into account Nigeria’s needs. This will be AUI’s competitive edge over her contemporaries.
How is life generally in Augustine University?
If anyone ever visits Augustine University, he/she will find it to be a serene environment. It is neat and conducive environment for maximum learning. I believe in our students to do the right thing at all times and the faculty and staff be always eager and willing to help them achieve their lofty goals without any distractions.
How is the university carrying on with the parents of the students and are their expectations being met?
There is a robust parents’ forum which in the last five years has helped in building a strong relationship with parents of our students. The input of parents is always sought on issues affecting their children’s welfare, which translates to policy formulation for better student experience.
What do you consider to be the challenges facing Augustine University and how do you intend to resolve them?
All universities have their unique challenges such as cultism, and unruly behaviors by young adults experimenting on their newly acquired freedom. Thank God this is extremely minimal at AUI. Because this is a private University, funding can be challenging that is why we are embarking on seriously looking at how to increase AUI’s Internally Generated Revenues, IGR. We appreciate the efforts of the Archdiocese of Lagos as AUI struggles to be self sufficient. With respect to equipping our laboratories, we intend to lien on our Diaspora connections and other external universities for support by not cap in hand by using our strength in exchange for such requests.
How would you like your tenure as Vice-Chancellor to be viewed in one year’s time?
I am almost a month old in AUI and I am loving it because of the cooperation we are getting from staff, even our students, parents, University Council, BOT and the proprietor. I am hoping that in a year’s time, our strategies for growing our IGR would have materialized, our strategies for increasing student enrollment to this pristine, educationally conducive environment would begin to yield fruits and the plan to attract world-class globally renowned professors would be in view.
What are your plans for Alumni relations?
My vision is to make our students the best assets of the University. Students are like diamonds in the rough, which need to be polished; the alumni of a university is the gift that will keep on giving to ensure the progress of their alma mater, Hence, students must be treated with respect and dignity. This can only happen through holistic experience at a caring institution. There must, therefore, be a paradigm shift from just turning out graduates to turning out entrepreneurial builders of an egalitarian society. After AUI has improved on its enrollment, it can afford to retain some of our best and brightest to join in building AUI by engaging them in staff development. We will engage our Alumni at every level to get this bird called AUI soaring to its greatest height.