Easy going Vice Chancellor, National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), Prof. Vincent Ado Tenebe has been described by those who know him as focused and a very hardworking man whose passion for educational development is on the high side for he is one man whose dream is that of taking education to the doorsteps of majority of Nigerians. This of course may not be unconnected with his set target of capturing the total number of 500,000 students into the Open University system by the year 2015 before finally taking his bow. Presently, the enrolment level he said has risen to 308, 000 as against that of 16, 000 inherited from his predecessor in the year 2010 when he assumed office as the VC. Known to be a man of his words and all things being equal, many are of the conviction that he together with his able team hit the set target of 500,000 students. More departments he said already have swung into operation. In this interview, the fire brand university Don opens up on the uniqueness of the Open University system. Zainab Tanimu was there for Top Celebrity Magazine.
“Our system is flexible. We are the only system that democratizes education. We allow you to register this semester and next semester you might disappear only to appear in another semester and we will not question you because we have given you that liberty.”
Sir, this arrangement seems so easy. What is your student enrolment like?
When I took over as Vice Chancellor in 2010, the student population of National Open University of Nigeria dropped from 32,000 to 16,000, but when I took over it came to 16,000 and we went to the drawing board with my team and without waste of time the student population rose from `16,000 to 53,000 just in one semester. As I speak to you now I can just tell you total number of students admitted, because we admit everyday for it is the only university in Nigeria that matriculates twice a year and every semester we have a matriculation. Every semester we have student’s registration. We are flexible. We are the only university that democratizes education. We allow you to register this semester and next semester you might disappear only to appear in another semester and we will not question you because we have given you that liberty. My last assessment about two days ago of total students admitted in Open University now, stands at 308,000. We have just started semester registration. Already, 65,000 students are registered. The number of students will increase because Nigerians will wait until when they know that exam is coming and they will be looking for who to beg to allow them register when they have all the liberty to do it without begging but they will wait when it is very difficult that is when they will get letters from senators or members representing them, so that they will be helped when they had all the time in the world to do it without anybody to claim the credit of assisting you. So we can say we have moved the Open University to 308,000 students but the number of active students changes from semester to semester. We are still not happy because I set a target for myself that before I leave office, which will be 2015, God willing, I want to see the population of the university to hit 500,000. But the target set for this university is to ensure that at least we have 1.5 million students in our enrolment and we can manage that. That is the only way we can reach out to Nigerians which population is already 170 million.
Sir, the National Open University of Nigeria’s (NOUN) activities are mostly online. What efforts are you making to checkmate Cyber fraud?
Yes. Some of our activities are online, like admission, registration and even accessing some of our materials. But because we know the kind of environment we are, being in Africa where we have some technological challenges, we also utilize other technologies, such as print media or even sometimes using the radio and television and recorded programmes to reach out to our students. Sometimes we do have challenges in network. When we look organizations that base their operation on online, like the banks, security, even the mass media, sometimes, you want to carry out operation, you get network failure that is one aspect of technology we have to cope with. I want you to know that this network failure is not only peculiar to Nigeria. It also happens to advanced countries. We do experience that sometime and we have to cope with it. As regards cyber fraud, we have not experienced that yet because we have strategies to deal with it and those strategies I will not disclose because that is in the interest of safe guarding the university. The same applies to cyber crash.
What is the position on the credibility and acceptability of your graduates for the National Youth Service Corps scheme (NYSC)?
You see, we are just not a degree awarding university, even though we have some aspect of our program that are degree based. Talking about degree, our university is a federal university accredited by the National Universities Commission like any other federal university in Nigeria. We have programs approved for students to study first degree in various areas, master degree including PHD level. (doctor of philosophy), The Open University has such schools as well as a post graduate school. We have such schools like, schools for social sciences, the schools of education, that of law, that of science and technology and school for post graduate studies which makes it six altogether. Of recent, we have added two more schools. That is , the school of agriculture and school of health sciences. When you go to our website, you find courses that range from mass communications, economics, social sciences, English, economics, just to mention a few. There is school for law and we have courses in legislative drafting. Also is the school for business administration, accounting and others. There are various courses that you can study in Open University. You know, because open and distance learning is new in Nigeria, people just assume that this is another ‘part time’ course. It is not a part time course. It is a full time course. One of the things we are trying to push forward is to make Nigerian people realize what we are talking about. Not the government. We are in a democracy and therefore we are the government. When you define democracy you say it is government of the people, by the people and for the people. So when you are talking about government you are talking about yourself. When you are pointing one finger at the government the rest are pointing at you. So graduates of Open University who are of NYSC age have no reason why they should be excluded from NYSC having gone through the same curriculum with other counterparts. They have no reason. The only reason why this is happening is that when the NYSC started in 1973, the Open University was not there but other conventional universities were there. It is left for you, myself and my colleagues to push the Nigerian people to say don’t deprive the youth who are of NYSC age from NYSC program. Those who are above the age should be exemption. Thank God we have used the system to the extent that NYSC is issuing exemption to all our graduates. But that is not good enough, I foresee a situation whereby in the very near future this might pose a problem.
As for our degrees or certificates, there is an English adage that says that the taste of the pudding is in the eating. Our certificates don’t just compete with others, go and look at our graduates and see what they can deliver and compare them with their counterparts. Give them job to accomplish and you know who to go for. We are not just marketing our graduates. Very soon in the next few years you will get reports from the public telling you that open university is the best place to hire employees. So the question of acceptability does not arise at all.
How can you assess the education policy of the present administration?
As far as I am concerned as participant in the educational sector of Nigeria, I can tell you that we are doing our best to ensure that we keep pace with other parts of the world. I can tell you I am not part of that group that keep telling people all over the world that educational standard of Nigeria has fallen. No. Educational standard has fallen all over the world, not only in Nigeria. Before you can convince me that educational standard has fallen, you need to bring Nigerian students or graduates with their counterparts all over the world and give them a test and see whether they will perform below average. I have always asked this question, how many Nigerians who graduated from Nigerian universities that have gone abroad for post graduate studies have you seen withdrawn because of poor performances? But the story we hear is that they always beat their counterparts abroad because here in Nigeria we learn through the hard way and when they go where technology is making things easier they just find it as a walk over. So, please you are the mouth piece of the people; do not give negative story to the world that will portray us in bad light. Our educational system is not bad, it is good. I don’t believe that we are not doing well.
Sir, what baffles me is that we still produce graduates when there are no jobs. Why? And what is the way out?
Well, what l want us to understand is that the primary aim of education and going to school is not for you to get a job. Being educated is to develop your mind. It is to expose you so that you can become an individual that can find his way out. You’re to be equipped and once that is done, and you graduate, then you find your way out. All over the world, there is no country that does not have unemployment issue. Unemployment will always be there. My advice is that the government should encourage open and distance learning. The reason being that through the open and distance learning you produce an individual that is creative, who can study on his own, and is self made. That is, an individual with minimal supervision. Once that person graduates, he is not going into the streets looking for an employer rather he becomes both an employer himself and of labour.
That is why in the Open University one of our recent developments is to create an advancement office, through which we are going to encourage entrepreneurship. The Open University has been able to acquire a micro finance bank to ensure that all students enrolled into the Open University who are not working but increasing alongside the working class students benefit. We’re going to use our micro finance banking and entrepreneur centre, to teach them how to use products that can allow our finance bank to empower them and in so doing we create jobs for them. While they are working they also study because our motto says, work and learn. Once an individual gets admission, and is empowered; and that individual is carrying out business either as a hair stylist, photography, or whatever business that individual does for the period of five years, and once the loan given to such a person is paid back as at when due by the time the individual graduates, he is not going for a job of N50,000 a month, because he would have become an employer. So I promise using the Open University to actual a actualize the promise of creating job for the Nigerian people. This is the way out. Thank you.