Professor Aderemi Atayero is the 5th and current Vice-Chancellor of Covenant University- The leading Private University in Nigeria. He had served as the pioneer Deputy Vice-Chancellor(Academic), Coordinator School of Engineering, and twice as HoD of Electrical and Information Engineering of the University. He obtained a Bachelor of Science Degree in Radio Engineering and a Master of Science Degree in Satellite Communication Systems in 1992 and 1994 respectively. He earned Ph.D. from the Moscow State Technical University of Civil Aviation(MSTUCA) in 2000.He is a professor of communication engineering, a Fellow of the Science Association of Nigeria (FSAN), Chattered Institute of Administration (FCIA), Institute of Management Consultants (FIMC), as well as a Senior Research Fellow of the International Association of Research Scholars and Administrators. In this interview, Atayero speaks with Nigerian NewsDirect on the quality of training being received by students.
As Vice-Chancellor, how would you describe the challenges that come with your office and how have you been able to overcome these challenges?
One major challenge is the normal tendency of people to resist change. We thank God for the Visionary Leadership of the Board. Parents appreciate the Product, but consider the Process as being too rigorous, forgetting that one cannot make omelet without breaking the egg.In Covenant, the commitment of Faculty and Staff is unparalleled, but we must continue to raise the bar of excellence. Much is desired until we chest the tape at the finishing line. Also, given the top quality of education available at Covenant, we desire to have more financial aid provisions for our students, so that gifted students can have more support to benefit from the excellent education package on offer in this institution. We also desire to increase the internally generated income from our research and innovation activities. We have taken steps to institute a very robust endowment drive. We have received the approval of the Board to implement a robust research agenda that will not only encourage our faculty to be more research active, but will also secure grants and endowments to fund financial aid for talented students. Moreover, we desire some degree of liberty to inject our curriculum and programmes with innovations, in response to the changing manpower needs of the 21st century knowledge economy.
Can you take us through some of the achievements recorded in terms of academic and infrastructural development as well as staff welfare since you came on board?
Since I came into office, our major thrust has been to evolve and implement an agenda aimed at achieving Vision 10:2022. That is, to have Covenant listed among the top ten universities in the world by 2022. Consequently, the ReCITe agenda was enunciated to intensify research activities and encourage publications in reputable and Scopus indexed Journals as well as citations in addition to continuous improvements in the learning environment. Through the ReCITe strategy Covenant is currently ranked in five categories of the the rankings. The University made her debut into the Times Higher Education World University Ranking for 2019, ranked in the 601-800 bracket. The import of this is that presently, Covenant is ranking as the best university in Nigeria and West Africa as well as being among the top 3 per cent (97th percentile) of over 26,000 universities in the world. Out of the 442 universities in the Emerging Economies University Ranking in 2019, Covenant was ranked 151. This is significant, because the only Nigerian University that was ranked before now, entered the rankings at 162 in 2016.Besides, in the 2019 subject rankings of THE, Covenant was ranked 501-600 in engineering and technology in addition to being ranked 500+ in business and economics. Also, Covenant is ranked among the top 10 Universities in Africa at #6. Moreover, Covenant is now in the elite group of Top 1.2 per cent of universities globally by being ranked 301+ in the maiden edition of the THE University Impact Rankings. Before the close of this month, Covenant’s Rank in yet another Ranking category will be announced at the Young Universities Summit holding at Guildford, United Kingdom..
According to Elsevier’s SciVal -data analytic tool, in 2018, Covenant emerged as the topmost Nigerian Institution by publication volume for the year. Seventy-five (75) members of faculty at Covenant University were listed among the top 10 Nigerian authors in various subject areas, according to recent computations by Elsevier’s SciVal. Covenant emerged first position at the 2018 Technology and Innovation Exhibition organized by the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology. Moreover, Covenant has been selected to host the African Centre of Excellence in Applied Informatics and Communication. The University had received patents for several products. The campus is endowed with world-class infrastructural facilities conducive to cutting-edge teaching, research and recreation for faculty, staff and students. Recent additions to our infrastructure include the CUCRID building and sports complex. As for staff welfare, the administrative staff had their remuneration reviewed and we have endeavoured to provide more of our staff with campus accommodation.
How have you been coping with funding considering the fact that funding is a major problem in most public universities?
Haggai 2:8 “The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of hosts”. By the grace of God, resources for our operations has not been a problem. The university’s vision, to raise a new generation of leaders was divinely handed down to the Chancellor, Dr. David Oyedepo. God who gave the mandate is funding His project.
As a stake holder in the education sector, what is your recipe for improving the standards of education in Nigeria?
The education sector has been neglected by successive governments, which is why after 55 years of Independence we are still largely dependent on foreign solutions to our local problems. Education is the key to national development but unfortunately, it has not been considered a priority in Nigeria. Although we have witnessed an increase in both the number of universities and student enrolments, access and quality still remain one of the major challenges bedeviling university education in Nigeria. Contributing to these challenges is the fact that university education is grossly underfunded. There is also a shortage of quality lecturers, which has impacted negatively on research output. In addition, there is a great disconnect between the existing curriculum and industry demands, rendering graduates from our universities unemployable. Collectively, these challenges account for the current low ranking of most Nigerian universities.
As part of the recipe for improving the standards of education in Nigeria, the budgetary allocation and investment in education must be given top priority if the state of decay in the system is to be remedied. The problem of access and quality must be addressed beyond mere establishment of more universities, by ensuring sustainable funding and the implementation of an effective governance structure. There must be a curriculum review across all tiers of education culminating in the creation of a stronger connection and greater synergy between educational output and industry needs.
Private universities should be allowed to access education intervention funds such as Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) and Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund). In some countries for example, South Africa, university access to funding is based on the number of research publications and products developed irrespective of institutional ownership. If this system were followed in Nigeria, there would be a healthy competition that would ultimately engender high productivity in research output.
As a role model in the education sector, what is your advice to the upcoming generation of academics?
Success in any career is predicated on vision. i.e. knowing one’s purpose and engage in it with a willingness to make the required sacrifices. Therefore, upcoming academics should be fully persuaded that they are called to be academics, make the necessary sacrifices, establish linkages, be willing to be mentored and be mentors.
How would you like to be remembered after your term in office?
Philippians 2:13 says “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure”. I would like to be remembered as a willing servant in God’s hand in accomplishing His vision 10:2022 prophetic mandate for Covenant.