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Professor Mkpa Agu Mkpa, Vice-Chancellor of Abia State University has achieved great successes in his vocation as a scholar and an adminisrator.
Professor Mkpa Agu Mkpa, Vice-Chancellor of Abia State University has achieved great successes in his vocation as a scholar and an adminisrator.
The university he heads will this weekend hold its 18th Convocation where some personalities, including the state governor, Chief Theodore Ahamaefula Orji will receive honorary awards. The university authorities say the governorís award will be in recognition of his contribution towards elevating the university so far.
Prof. Mkpa discussed a number of issues bordering on the university system in Nigeria, the suty of Nigerian graduates in nation building, funding of university education, infrastructure problems, the menace of cultism, discipline etcetera among students and workers and many others.
University education has crashed
I believe that the quality of university education dropped from about the mid 80s and has not really recovered till the present. Students who were in schools in those days before the decline did study hard. Examinations were very competitive. Universities were fewer. Today, we have a proliferation of universities. We have above 90 universities today with private universities out numbering both state and federal universities. In those days, they were fewer and those who went in there competed on merit. But today, you see people coming to lobby for their chuldrenís admission. My father never went talking about admission for me. These things did not happen. I did not see my Vice Chancellor for more than two occasions Ė during the matriculation and convocation ceremonies. The standard is so low today that entry qualifications are lower than they used to be. Even the quality of performance is another case. Second class upper of those days is more than three first classes of today put together because the standards were reasonably high. Employers of labour will attest to what I am saying. So, in that regard, the standard, of tertiary education will appear to be falling.
At ABSU, we target improvement
But here in Abia State University, we cannot say that it is marvellously different but I have tried within the period of two years that I have been here as the Vice Chancellor to ensure that the standard is improved upon.
One of the things we have done is to improve the quality of the content of our general study programmes - the GST courses, so that our students by first, second year could take examinations equivalent to the international exams that are taken as bases for admission. The TOEFL, GRE, STAT aptitude tests. We have built them into the curriculum of GST courses so that on graduation, they can compete favorably with any other caliber of student anywhere in the world. Again, what you find in many universities where students approach lecturers to pay to get good result that does not exist here in Abia State University.
When I came on board, I had to change the examination system. It used to be a pre-ponderance of essay type in which students will go to liase with the lecturers, pay some money, determine what scores they were going to get. But on coming here, I knew that was not the kind of education I obtained and that was not really what parents were out for in sending their children to school. We introduced the multiple choice test item which exposes the students to broad reading and then a lecturer has to set a hundred and fifty questions from where an examination committee outside of the lecturer selects eighty questions. These questions are prepared and administered to students to write to fill the answers in the OMR sheet of or MAP reader of the paper and the computer does the scoring.
So, no lecturer marks any scripts anymore. This is done because of the possibility of abuse. When the computer brings out the score, it is infallible. Even if my child is in my class, I canít help him. If my enemy student is there I canít fail him or her. And there is no question of any lecturer taking advantage of any student as basis for influencing the mark. Whatever a student merits, of course, that is what he merits, there is nothing like undue influence. I think that our students are doing well. Last year, the Nigerian Stock Exchange organized essay competitions for all the Universities, Polytechnics, Colleges of Education. The overall best in that essay was a student of Abia State University. That was the star prize. Interestingly, the overall second best student was also our student. And when they isolated the State Universities, the overall best also came from the Abia State University.
The first prize got a hundred thousand naira worth of shares from Access Bank and also had an automatic employment on graduation. The second prize got eighty thousand naira while the third and the 1st in the state universities assessment had thirty thousand naira worth of shares all from Abia State University. This fellow who came first was a fourth year student of Medicine and Surgery. The second person was a second year student of Medicine and Surgery also. At the State level best performance came from a student of Economics. That gives me the indication that Abia State University students are not bad at all. They are doing very-very well at least comparatively. It gives me the impression that yes standard may be falling but some institutions are trying their best to make the high standards.
ABSU skills acquisition centre
There has to be a policy put in place that takes away much of the emphasis on government employment. We must begin to encourage private investment - entrepreneurship. We must begin to preach the gospel of dignity of labour so that no person feels that any kind of job is dehumanizing. There is no kind of job that yields money that anybody should look down upon. And let us also encourage every school leaver to take a skill in addition to the professional course that an individual would have to come to the university to study. That is why Abia State University has ďCentre for Entrepreneurial StudiesĒ.
We are at the moment articulating varieties of curricular in the areas of skill acquisition. Ranging from those that are sophisticated like computer maintenance to those that you donít really need a lot of fund to start and which anybody can sit down in the village to make money with like how to make hats, beads, jewelry and all kinds of things. We have fishery i.e. if you want to develop a fishpond in addition to whatever you studied, growing of vegetables and other varieties of food crops. We have music for those who want to go into music, then film-making for actors and actresses. We also have poultry, piggery and the rest. The director of the centre told me that we had made up about sixteen curricular already. We are still developing more. We have acquired land where we will build a befitting centre. Some courses in the centre will be general like philosophy of entrepreneurship, how to source fund to get started and other guides.
Funding of the university is a major issue. The present administration of Chief T. A. Orji has been wonderful. I am not saying that we have everything that we need. But he meets our needs satisfactorily. I said this bearing in mind other competing needs of the state. When I came on board, we could not admit students into Economics, Government and Public Administration, Sociology, Architecture, Urban and Regional Planning, Estate Management, Building Technology. I was faced with the problems of recovering these programmes. Governor Orji Kalu helped in authorizing 40 additional lecturers and government said that we needed N323m to recover those programmes for re-accreditation. With the coming of T. A. Orji, he approved N120m towards accreditation. That is really a large sum. He personally interacted with the chief executive of the National Universities Commission. At this level, he had an insight on what ought to be done. We thank God that today, we have recovered those departments and we can now admit students into them. We are really thankful for this intervention.
The governor has done tremendously well. He has met a little above one-third of our need. My target is that we judiciously put to use what has given to us. More especially, we believe in the efficacy of prayer; we have really been praying hard. We are doing our best but we really need money in our Teaching Hospital in Aba. The governor has approved a faculty block to be built in Aba but the natives are saying that their shrine is and they need N2m to appease the shrine.
Convocation and awards
The convocation is rather the period of intellectual harvest of the university. We will be graduating over 4000 undergraduates and post graduates. There will be about 4000 undergraduate students and about sixty-post graduate students - masters and doctorate degrees. It holds today. It started yesterday with a pre-convocation lecture delivered by Chief Leo Stan Ekeh of the Zinox Computers. The highlight of the ceremony will be the installation of Chief T. A. Orji as the visitor. The governor as a tradition automatically becomes the visitor at inception of office. Also in recognition of all that he had done to encourage tertiary education in the State, some of those things are monitization policy he implemented, the grant of N120m towards our accreditation, a whole lot that he has done within the shortest time in office. We are also the beneficiaries of 15 percent salary increment. He has done so well to deserve the highest respect and honour in our university. As a result, Senate in its meeting unanimously inducted him as the sole awardee of this yearís Convocation. He will be receiving the University Honorary Doctorate Degree in Public Administration.
People are amazed at the rate of infrastructural development here. We are addressing erosion menace and the beautification of the campus. We had wild species of elephant grasses all over the place and people were committing all sorts of crime and dashing into the nearby bush. There were increased incidents of rape, stealing and vandalization of university properties. I saw that all these were there because the environment was supportive of such criminal activities. So, we embarked on massive policy of beautification of the environment. We had to uproot all the elephant grass around. We made a nursery of two hectares of carpet grass from where we are transplanting and replacing the wild species. We have also embarked on construction of new buildings. We have put up a new faculty of Engineering and Environmental Studies. We have put up the Law Faculty, which will be ready in the next 14 days and come into use immediately. We have just begun a new Faculty of Business Administration. The job had already started. I feel that rehabilitation of already existing ones and for that we have rehabilitated the dilapidated ones. Meanwhile, five different faculties have been rehabilitated in addition to the cafeteria, auditorium.
Doing more with less
The Senate building initially had some cracks here and there and we have amended them. We have checked erosions in a more scientific manner. People around me keep asking, do you receive more money than your predecessors? The answer is no! On the contrary, we receive less money. Less in the sense that before I became the Vice Chancellor, my predecessor could admit 5,100 students. By the time I became the VC, the NUC gave us a quota of 2,332 as our carrying capacity. This number is only about 45 percent of what my predecessor could admit. That is about 55 percent budget deficit. I liken the situation to what happened in the biblical miracle of feeding the multitude with five loaves of bread and two fishes. We have more profound development with less money. There is one secret. Government did not give me extra 10k. It happened that one student came to me to ask for a job to make some money to enable him pay his fees in his final year. I wondered, you mean that someone could have been studying for five years without school fees? I said to him, I would find you something to do. Meanwhile I said that the student probably was not alone on this. I alerted the bursar and we came out with a policy that all students should provide evidence of full payment of all fees throughout their duration in school. We put our feet down that they must pay all outstanding fees. The result was amazing. In 14 days, we raked in N100,000,800. This was money that was almost lost.
Cultism is a thing of the past now; the Association of Cyclists paid me a courtesy call. They said because the premises is clean, there is no more hiding place for the cultists. There is no attacking of our students and running inside the bush because the campus is clean, that they feel happier and they also extolled the university for introducing evening programme as one of them had taken a course there already.
Discipline has assumed a very high status. You do not hear about cultism anymore. The shooting that used to characterize the examination period, we donít hear anymore. We also have a dress code; we do not allow any student to dress provocatively. If a student is not properly dressed in a decent manner that is befitting of an undergraduate of this university the security will not even allow her to cross the security post. But if he or she manages to steal in, no staff will attend to such a student. No lecturer will teach such a student. We are trying to instil discipline in the system. We believe that academic development should go with moral development. So, we are producing holistic human resources.
Accommodation remains a problem. We have a total population of about 10,000 students. Accommodation is available for barely half of them. If you look around the campus, there are private hostels soringing up everywhere. Many students live in town. Thank God, we are plastering and roofing a 100-room hostel. We are inviting people who are interested in investing in hostel accommodation to come up and we will give them land on BOT arrangement. You do not have to be an Abian to invest. It is thrown open. There is land here to develop and manage. Our Alumni have been wonderful. The very recent thing they did was the donation of 27 computers. They have given us some water tanks and have endowed prizes for very bright students in the various departments. They make us promises from time to time. They are always around to know what is going on. Again, we use this opportunity to invite them to attend the next Convocation and have the opportunity of looking at their alma mata and do whatever they think they need to do to support us.
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