ABU at 60: Why it’s not great yet and what to do about it – Daily Trust | Team Cansler

If you had told me in 1992 that Ahmadu Bello University was financially broke by 2022, ranked poorly among its peers, eroded academic culture, had ineffective teaching/learning, and nonchalant stakeholders, I would have shuddered and looked you straight in the eye eye and said ‘no way’. Not only that, I had sought for you a refuge from God against the satanic whispers.

Unfortunately, today we are witnessing unprecedented challenges and embarrassment for everyone who cares about Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) as an institution. It’s not Satan’s fault! We should all work together to tackle this precarious situation. Here are my three questions and answers for larger ABUs.

How do we improve ABU’s visibility and ranking on the internet? There are companies and organizations that provide college ranking services. The Times Higher Education (THE) and Webometrics are two examples. The ranking is based on clear criteria and is accepted by students, parents, alumni and other stakeholders as a reliable means of comparison between such diverse institutions from different realms, cultures and economic realities. ABU can focus on Webometrics ranking – mainly based on web viewability; which is easier to improve in the short term.

(i) In order to increase online visibility, educators should move from traditional “lectures and memorization” to a modern approach based on “web-based learning” through open source. This means that our students will gradually rely (less on teachers and) more on teaching materials available on the university website – course manuals, tutorials, lecture videos, CBT, etc.

(ii) To deepen web visibility, there should be IT resources for feedback (students to teachers) and P2P learning (or peer-to-peer interactions so students can message each other). This increases the traffic on the website. In addition, when the resources are opened, many other interested parties will visit the sites. The ABU has a relative advantage in terms of the number of theses, books, etc. These should be digitized and opened. A high number of visitors seeing active linking means high visibility on the web.

(iii) In the long term, we can gradually improve other important areas – (i) teaching (the learning environment), (ii) research (volume, income and reputation), (iii) citation (impact of research), (iv) internationality (staff, students, research) and (v) income from industry (knowledge transfer). These are part of the indicators for the Times Higher Education (THE) ranking that ranked the University of Ibadan the best in Nigeria and number 436 in the world in 2022. ABU is not in the top 10 in Nigeria!

Add to that the challenge of an aging workforce and no clear plan for replacement or retraining. In my department, for example, there are 18 professors and 11 lecturers and not a single academic staff member. In an academic institution with a 70-year retirement age and a 34-year promotion policy, every staff member would soon belong to a cadre of professors. As you know, the university academic system is based on a master-apprentice model. It’s easy. As a master (or professor) you develop others and as an apprentice (trainee or graduate student) you learn from your supervisors and mentors. The system collapses when the mentors outnumber the mentees. There is a simple solution. The university should carefully develop and enforce a policy on effective KPIs for all staff in the academic, research and administrative units. By definition, promotion should be based on some objective performance indicators. Effective KPIs will lead to better ranking based on the Founding Fathers dreams. It is true that the implementation of the KPI policy requires solid financial resources. As the former British statistician Claus Moser said: “Education costs money, but so does ignorance”. The higher the quality, the higher the cost. Effective KPIs lead to better and more efficient outcome-based teaching/learning experiences.

How do we improve university finances? In my view, there are two short-term options for expanding the university’s IGR. To my knowledge, the current largest sources of income for ABU are the School of Postgraduate Studies (SPGS) and the Distance Learning Center (DLC). How they teach in business schools to increase profits; You either increase sales or reduce costs. I’m concentrating on the DLC. It is clear that we cannot sustainably improve teaching/learning, finance and university ranking with our current conventional education model. It’s too expensive, cumbersome and archaic. One of ABU’s biggest achievements in recent times is the creation of the DLC. The model has been tried and tested and is to be adopted for all courses at ABU. Currently, DLC only serves students who live some distance from the ABU campus. That is unnecessary. Since the degrees are equivalent, their constituent courses should be aligned. Therefore, any conventional student can take any DLC course in lieu of an equivalent conventional course. This will help eliminate our academic processes. In particular, we may ask all programs to develop a blended learning policy based on the NUC policies. We may also ask all level 100 and 200 students to take some or all courses under the DLC model and pay some fees. This will increase revenue and the empty or relieved classes will reduce operating costs. In fact, the distance/conventional equivalency can be extended to other universities. ABU could sign memoranda of understanding with other institutions to make their individual courses available to their students. We will have ABU quality available everywhere and to anyone who can pay.

As you can see, I tried to look at the current situation at ABU through three questions and the limited answers I offered. These questions are based on the university’s mission to break new ground in research and teaching and promote capacity building to meet the challenges of the university’s catchment area and the world. The founders had very ambitious goals! Perhaps you have more insightful questions and more practical answers to address the current challenges facing the university and its communities. Please let’s share views and change the conversations. It’s possible to have a great ABU – wealthy, respected, senior and fulfilling the dreams of its founding fathers and meeting the expectations of its alumni. My three answers can be a starting point; But there are many ways to help the university and the Alumni Association can lead the way. It can work with the university’s Directorate of Academic Planning and Monitoring (DAPM) to establish a targeted plan, implement phases and monitor milestones for a larger ABU. Let me end with a beautiful saying from the Roman philosopher Lucius Sereca: “It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, but because we do not dare that they are difficult.” If we declare that we will have a great ABU by 2025 ; It will take three years of hard work, but the dream will come true.

Baba El-Yakubu is PTDF Chair Professor at the Chemical Engineering Department, ABU

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