(By Kunle Akogun)
“In other words, encouraged by the antecedents of the second generation university, the Federal Government is targeting the University of Ilorin to champion the new vision of uplifting university education in the country. This entails the improvement of the standard and access to university education as a prelude to improving the nation’s global rating in the comity of tertiary educational institutions.“
ON his maiden visit to the University of Ilorin during the last week of June, the new Pro-Chancellor and Council Chairman of the University, Prof. Chukwuka Okonjo, came with a message from the Federal Government, the institution’s proprietor. The respected Obi of Ugwashiuku, Delta State, told a cross-section of the university stakeholders that the Federal Government, worried by the wonky standard of education in the country, has a new mandate for the University of Ilorin to help salvage the nation’s dwindling global educational rating and restore Nigeria to its former position of reckoning in world universities’ ranking.
The Council chairman disclosed that the authorities in Abuja are worried that despite the fact that Nigeria is the second fastest growing economy in the world today, none of its universities is ranked among the best 5000 in the world. Obi Okonjo, however, explained that the antecedents of the University of Ilorin have given the government some confidence that with the necessary support, the university could make Nigeria proud. “There used to be a time when Nigeria used to feature as one of the best 200 universities in the world”, the Council Chairman said, adding, “It is important that you understand that we are in a new era; the people in Abuja want you (Unilorin) to show that Nigeria can deliver and within the next two or three years, they want you (Unilorin) to ensure that Nigeria is among the best 500 universities in the world”.
In other words, encouraged by the antecedents of the second generation university, the Federal Government is targeting the University of Ilorin to champion the new vision of uplifting university education in the country. This entails the improvement of the standard and access to university education as a prelude to improving the nation’s global rating in the comity of tertiary educational institutions.
Keen watchers of the steadily rising profile of the University of Ilorin in the last five to six years are not at all surprised by the decision of the Federal Government to pick the university to pioneer the implementation of this noble vision. Over the years, the university has proved to be a centre of academic excellence. In the past four years, Unilorin has been consistently ranked the best university in Nigeria by different international ranking agencies including Web of World Universities (Webometric), which ranked the university the best in Nigeria for three consecutive years of 2009, 2010 and 2011, and one of the best 20 in Africa”. Statistics have also shown that the university has the most stable and consistent academic calendar in the country, which makes it the most sought-after institution by admission seekers.
All these feats are not lost on education policy makers in the country, who, at every given opportunity, do not fail to acknowledge the numerous giant strides recorded by the “better by far” university. During their separate oversight visits to the university on May 7, 2013 and June 1, 2013, members of the House of Representatives and Senate Committees on Education could not hide their impressions about the academic excellence and environmental aesthetics of the university as well as the peaceful and orderly comportment of its staff and students. The respective chairmen of the two National Assembly committees spoke glowingly about the university.
The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Education, Senator Uche Chukwumerije, who led his colleagues to the university on June 1, commended the university for maintaining a stable academic calendar for over 10 years, noting that it is a great achievement for any public university in Nigeria to maintain such academic excellence despite the prevailing challenges. He said that “this academic stability is a feat which should make the University of Ilorin a model to all universities in Nigeria.”
Senator Chukwumerije, who is not given to flattery, said that members of the Committee were very impressed with the well “manicured” premises and serene environment of the university campus, pointing out that the university “is the cleanest of all the universities the Committee had so far visited in the country.”
Similar sentiments were expressed about four weeks earlier by members of the House of Representatives Committee on Education, led by Hon. Shehu Garba. After meeting with the university management and a drive round the campus to inspect on-going and newly completed projects, the lawmakers gave kudos to the University “for its accomplishments in the areas of academic excellence, efficient system of administration, environmental beautification, infrastructural development and sustained high ranking among universities in the world.”
The leader of the House of Representatives team, Hon Garba, said, “As a Nigerian I am very proud to be at the University of Ilorin. I graduated close to 30 years ago and I am worried by what has become of the standard of education in our country since then. But for me to be here and seeing what I have seen, I feel very hopeful and I feel elated that in the midst of the decay, we have an institution of excellence with very beautiful infrastructure.
And I believe that it is not just the beautiful infrastructure; that we are all aware of the ranking of the University of Ilorin in the comity of universities in the world. You are one of the few universities in the country that is often mentioned outside Nigeria as a centre of academic excellence. And so I feel very proud to come here to see things for myself. I must commend the Vice-Chancellor and his able team for the good things they are doing. I must say that you have a lot of prospects to build on what you have been able to accomplish to give us something that we can be proud of that we have an institution in this country that can be compared with any reputable university in the world.”
It could be seen from the foregoing that truly, the confidence that the Federal Government has on the ability and willingness of the University of Ilorin to deliver on the new mandate is not misplaced. And it is heart-warming to note that all stakeholders in the university community are enthusiastically keying into the government’s vision, a situation that makes its implementation easy and its attainability assured.
While assuring the Federal Government of the university’s readiness to implement the government’s new vision to the letter, Obi Okonjo, said the new University Council, under his chairmanship, has taken up the government’s challenge and prayed God to lead the Council to formulate appropriate policies to achieve the task. Also, the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Prof. AbdulGaniyu Ambali, noted that the Federal Government has given the University of Ilorin a big task, adding, “Every staff member of the University has a responsibility to champion this new thinking of the Federal Government”.
Prof. Ambali said, “It is heartwarming that the Federal Government, based on our antecedents, has singled Unilorin out to be the pioneer of the new formula of tertiary education in the country and we are ready for the task.”
Also, all the staff unions on campus and the student body have expressed their readiness to continue to give the management the necessary complementary support in its determined effort to ensure the full and successful implementation of the new government mandate. This is reassuring, as it means that all stakeholders in the university are on the same page. And nothing demonstrates this assurance better than what the Unilorin Branch Chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Prof. Abdulwahab Egbewole, said during the meeting between the Council Chairman and leaders of all the staff unions in the universities, i.e. ASUU, SSANU, NASU, and NAAT. The ASUU leader said, “The mantra of our union, which is unionism for development, coincides with the vision to make the University of Ilorin the best in Africa”.
What more evidence does one need that at Unilorin, the urge for advancement runs in the veins of every stakeholder? And, to put it succinctly, that is the secret of the university’s quantum leap in all spheres of its endeavours these past few years!
To be sure, the University of Ilorin is ready, willing and able for the task ahead, a task that is in synch with its founding philosophy of excellence in teaching, research and community development. Indeed, Unilorin is raring to go!
• Akogun is the deputy director, Corporate Affairs, University of Ilorin.
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