AfricaLive: Kindly give readers a background on your institution and how it will help produce the next generation of professionals that Nigeria needs to prosper
Prof. Aderemi Atayero: Covenant University was established in 2002 to challenge the status quo that existed in academia back then. It used to be commonplace for Nigerian students to take five-year programs and graduate a few years later, even as much as ten years later. It was also common to have insecurity in the campuses where lecturers felt unsafe because of occultism.
The founders of this university thought of ways around the status quo and came up with an institution founded on morals. This institution believes in social ideals of community building and core values that guide it. Our founders recognised that there was a considerable gap when it came to leadership in Africa and thought to nurture that through this institution. Our core values intend to address the leadership vacuum and nurture a new breed of graduates. Our first core value is spirituality being a Christian mission institution. We operate on the principle that a human being is made up of the physical element, the spiritual and the soul. Each of these has to be developed to have wholesome people in society. We cultivate in our students the idea that anything their minds can conceive they can achieve. There is also a belief in more than just doing your bit but going the extra mile. Integrity is also essential since our country has had a poor standing in the world in this regard. If we can develop integrity in our students at a young age, it will do wonders for the future.
To cement our values into our students, we had to make changes to the curriculum. We have a regulator known as the National Universities Commission which regulates higher education institutions in Nigeria. The body has what they call the Benchmark Minimum Academic Standards, which they use to rank universities. We took their benchmark minimum standards and added some courses to improve the quality of graduates. One of the ways we did this is by coming up with what we call the ‘Total Man Concept’. This is linked with what I spoke about earlier, which is the three states of humans. It entails spiritual, physical, and soul education. This knowledge we believe will produce more than just the usual job seekers, but job creators through a course known as Entrepreneurial Development Studies. Our students take the course from the sophomore year, to PhD level. This model has been supported and emulated by educators all over the country. Our institution differentiated itself by being a departure from what was the norm before 2002, to what we have today.
AfricaLive: Aside from your strategic goals, what are you pursuing when it comes to driving innovation as well as research and development?
Prof. Aderemi Atayero: On our tenth birthday, the chancellor came up with a vision of us being one of the top ten universities in the world, by the time we turn twenty in 2022. The vision seemed so far-fetched for such a young university, but one of our core values is the idea that anything we conceive we can achieve. We went into research to find out what it takes to be one of the top universities in the world. We looked at the ranking models and coined our eight-point agenda to achieve our vision. The very first thing on the plan was to develop an institutional culture that will create an environment conducive for the achievement of our vision. After getting the culture figured out, the rest becomes straightforward. The rest of the agendas all fall under the umbrella of our research agenda. This covers five agendas, which are research, citation, teaching, internalisation and industry partnership. These five are used to rank universities globally, and we take them seriously. We are also blessed to have a proprietor base that has the capital to allow us to do what we need to achieve a high ranking.
AfricaLive: There is a rising need for industry and institutions like yours to collaborate. What are you doing to facilitate that, and what is your expansion agenda if there is one?
Prof. Aderemi Atayero: We go out of our way to ensure that we are not held back by any government bureaucracy. Covenant University receives no funding from the government; we pay taxes just like any other private institutions. It’s sad to say, but we cannot depend on the government to help us achieve our mission. We are not expending any energy trying to make the government see what we are doing. Instead, we are working on producing products that make visible changes in society.
One of our graduates is the famous Uka Eje, CEO of Thrive Agric. Thrive Agric was able to come into being because we teach our students to see problems and offer solutions by coming up with profitable products and services. Another graduate of this university created a company called Softcom, a software company that has attracted the attention of the Vice-President’s office in Nigeria. When there is a critical mass of such solution providers, the state has no option but to listen and open doors
AfricaLive: There is the unfortunate issue of high startup failure rates in all regions of the continent. What do you think institutions such as yours can do to help curtail this?
Prof. Aderemi Atayero: We have to, first of all, put the spotlight on policymakers to help institutions of higher education do their jobs properly.
As a vice-chancellor, one of the things I see impeding the progress of this institution and the impact we could have is the lack of dynamism by our regulatory bodies. It’s a shame that in this day and age, a regulator would oppose the floating of virtual learning platforms in favor of face to face learning. When regulators make such moves, it becomes impossible to register dynamic ICT- based programmes. Our policymakers, therefore, have to be savvy enough to ensure that we are not stuck doing things the old redundant way. Our governments need to show more of a commitment to higher education. The resources allocated to higher education by our states are way below what is recommended by international bodies like UNESCO. Ours is a unique case because our proprietors have what it takes to fund our projects and activities.
AfricaLive: During this era of the fourth industrial revolution, what can African institutions do to ensure that they maintain their relevance?
Prof. Aderemi Atayero: We have to ensure we keep tabs with what is happening globally. We have to leverage the infrastructure that is already there, such as mobile communication and internet connectivity. We can break away from the old ways of doing things and embrace virtual learning.
We have embarked on this by partnering with the African Development Bank and setting up a plan to have one hundred and twenty ICT centres of excellence in Africa. Covenant University is already one of those institutions. Since the youth population is bulging, we are looking at positioning these institutions in a way that they can provide independent learning platforms. Future students will not have to populate overcrowded schools to learn physically.
AfricaLive: What does internationalisation look like for Covenant University in the upcoming years?
Prof. Aderemi Atayero: Internationalisation is vital for us. As much as we believe strongly in sourcing for indigenous solutions for our problems, we also welcome international solutions where applicable. Partnerships around the world are, therefore, essential. We recently set up a platform that invites teams of researchers to come and have a feel of our university. The idea is for such researchers to interact with our postgraduate students and get helpful feedback from them. Inviting international faculty helps with the cross-pollination of ideas when it comes to research. We have solid partnerships with international institutions such as Coventry University in the United Kingdom and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Our MIT partnership is very exciting because we like their approach to entrepreneurship.
AfricaLive: What would you say is the future of your institution, country and the continent of Africa as a whole?
Prof. Aderemi Atayero: I am very confident about the future of this institution. The executive secretary of the National Universities Commission, Mr Rashid Abubakar, was on campus sometime back. Uncharacteristically, he spent seventy-two hours in a private institution like ours. There is a kind of caste system in Nigeria when it comes to higher education institutions. We have federal institutions, state institutions and private institutions. Private institutions before now were the lowest in that ranking. The fact that the executive secretary spent that long here is a testament to our quality and progress. We believe we have saved the idea of private higher education institutions in the country. As for confidence in the education system of the country, I have to taper that with reality because the system still has many bottlenecks. I have a lot of confidence in a positive future for the university and measured confidence about the future of the country.