Vice Chancellor of Bayero University Kano (BUK), Professor Muhammad Yahuza Bello, in this interview, says the university concentrates on scholarly research and gives prominence to entrepreneurship education.
The university and indeed all higher institutions and the industry are major performers of Research and Development (R&D). In what way are you building up university/industry collaboration to produce skilled graduates?
The university is on tripod consisting of teaching, research and community service; and to do a lot of research, the university established a number of research centres. Previously, research was done on individual, department or faculty basis but the centres are meant to focus research on specific areas. Between 2012 and now we have established about 12 new research centres and institutes, the idea is for them to concentrate to harness various researches that can make impact on the society and quite a number of those centres are already making a lot of impact.
Our Centre for Dryland Agriculture (CDA) is renown not only in Nigeria but even beyond. Our Centre for Biotechnology Research is up and coming and of cause the Centre for Democratic Studies, Mumbayya House has been doing a lot of research work on political science, democracy and many others using grants including from MacArthur Foundation. But the key thing is that nowhere in the world does a university fully fund research, particularly serious research that will make impact on the society. Research is funded from outside sources and what we do as a university is to facilitate and encourage centres and research groups to write very attractive research proposals that can win grants within Nigeria and outside and we have been doing well to some extent. The CDA I mentioned earlier, was able to source a World Bank grant and because of the success of the project, the bank has renewed the grant for the centre.
Also, a new centre, Africa Centre of Excellence in Population Health and Policy, has also been recognized by the bank and is going to get a similar grant. The CDA and Faculty of Agriculture have also been getting many other grants. The Faculty of Communication has secured MacArthur grants and recently the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) advertised for some scholars to make submissions on research grants and I am glad to inform you that two of our scholars that are leading research groups are able to get the grants. Dr Monsurat of the Centre for Biotechnology Research heads, a research group that got a grant; and Professor Binta Tijjani of Department of Economics and currently director for the Institute of Islamic Banking and Finance led a group that got another grant.
The relationship with the industry cannot be overemphasized because the importance of any research is the application. The CDA for example has agreement with the industry and farmers where the research findings are disseminated to the farmers. The Faculty of Engineering has been working hand in hand with various industries just like other centres and research groups.
There is a rumour making the rounds that a lot of scholars could not write fundable research proposals. Are you making effort to sharpen up on grant-writing skills of researchers?
This is historical in the sense that in Nigeria, we were not used to competitive research grants and I believe that things are improving, but we are not making assumptions. In BUK, we have taken steps to enhance the ability of our scholars on writing fundable research proposals for them to compete. We have the Directorate of Research, Innovation and Partnership (DRIP), that is coordinating research activities in the university and has been organizing seminars, conferences and workshops at faculty level where the capacities of workers are being enhanced.
Currently we are planning to have more intensive training for the scholars on research proposals. The percentage anywhere in the world, of research proposals that are accepted is very low; I mean it is very rare to have 20% of proposals to be acceptable and that is the essence of competition. But people learn from practice in the sense that if your proposal is not successful, you look at why it was not successful, and then you can improve on it next time. It is normal that not all proposals are successful but we are working on improving the success rate of the proposals being submitted
A team of your students recently upgraded the university’s idea of charcoal briquettes production from agricultural waste using solar-powered machine and made the $1 million Hult Prize shortlist after winning at campus and national levels. Yet, they were said to have faced funding and visa challenges to travel to the UK where they were to compete in the final round. Is the university aware of their financial challenge?
We are happy that the effort of the students was recognized but the story was incomplete in the sense that when we got report from their supervisors that they were travelling to UK, their submission on transportation and other logistic support was approved by the university right away.
On the issue of visa; they didn’t know that getting a UK visa was difficult; the problem is not from the university. They had a short time to apply for the visa, and we were told that if you want the visa in a short time, in addition to the normal charges, you have to pay additional money to be interviewed. We agreed to pay even that. But it was only the visa fee that was known, the additional charge comes when you apply, so, we advised one of them to apply and based on that we paid for the student We advised the remaining two students to apply and we paid as well. The university also paid for their transportation and other logistics as recommended by their supervisors.
Entrepreneurship education is now popular in your university. Will skills acquisition boost the prospects of graduates on career choices?
The issue of employability is a key factor in university education but a lot of the blame may not be to the universities but to the society because of the historical background of education in Nigeria Initially, education, particularly in the northern region, was meant to produce the civil servants and people have that impression that when you graduate, you are offered automatic employment in the civil service, later in the industry.
Things have been changing because those who graduate should not only be seeking for employment, they should be providing employment and for that reason the university has taken a number of steps through the restructuring of the Entrepreneurship Education Programme proposed by National Universities Commission (NUC), so that we prepare our graduates to be real entrepreneurs.
In the NUC minimum standard, the entrepreneurship course is mainly about trades such as bread making, vulcanizing, etc and we feel it is not proper for graduates of engineering or medicine to be taught bakery business. A graduate should add entrepreneurship skills on his or her background and it is for that reason that when we want to do entrepreneurship courses, we pick academic staff from various units; in medicine, engineering, economics, Nigerian Languages and so on and train them on how they can make their subject areas entrepreneurial.
A student of medicine for example, doesn’t have to run from one hospital to another when he graduates, he can decide to create jobs by setting private practice and in doing so, he needs to know accounting principles, business management and many other issues that can assist him.
We are glad that this thing is paying dividend with the charcoal briquettes project and many other proposals by students. Sometime ago, Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo was here and he met students from various universities who made submissions about their projects. A group of BUK students developed a solar-powered tricycle for the handicapped that gives them the ability to move around and charge mobile phones.
About 24 students and graduates are said to have been expelled from the university over entry qualifications falsification. Was that the last option?
It is a condition in the admission letter issued to every student that every credential you provide, should be true and that if it is found to be forged, you will be expelled. We made it a condition that no student of the university will graduate without confirming the credentials they submit.
For O’ Level qualifications, it is a bit easy because WAEC, NECO and NBAIS provide scratch cards for students to check their results. We request every student that presents O’ Level results to provide us with scratch card that is at least valid for one checking. There are some instances where some school authorities do make mistakes in writing results, we don’t punish the student. For A’ Level results, we ask higher institutions to confirm the results; some institutions charge us N2,000 per candidate and it is the report we get that determine what we do. So, it is just to sanitize the system.