As the tenure of Prof. Patrick Eya elapsed as Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), posterity will judge him for mooting the idea, which seemingly brought to an end the era of missing and incomplete results in the National Open University of Nigeria. Under his watch, NOUN recorded increase in the number of community study centres across the country. In this interview with ABIODUN AKANMU of the NOUN News, he speaks on his achievements and why certain expectations could not be met during his four-year tenure as DVC Academic.
Four years in the saddle as Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), what was the experience like?
The experience was an exciting and challenging one. This was because what I expected, most of them were not met as I thought. I came in with a lot of ideas, having had direct contact with students and knew the challenges they encountered. I thought some of these ideas would naturally fly, but I was wrong. However, I make bold to say others were very fulfilling.
What exactly were you expecting?
I was expecting that the ideas I had when I came in as the DVC would enable me make substantial changes in the system. Unfortunately, not all the ideas scaled through.
Can you share with us the reasons why you were unable to put some of the ideas to use?
Some of the things I was not able to carry out remained so because there were processes and procedures involved that must be followed. And in each of the processes, one had to pass through different arguments with colleagues and, at the end of the day, you allow the superior argument to prevail. There are situations where you cannot use your position to achieve certain things, because it is not about the individual involved but a collective decision that must be taken in the interest of the university. Whatever one sets out to achieve must be done collectively. In an academic environment, you don't impose your ideas, rather you explain your ideas to convince your colleagues.
While you were DVC, were there decisions you took that later turned out to be a source of joy?
Yes! There were some that I presented before the Senate and eventually sailed through. You would recall I was a centre director before becoming the DVC. I was quite familiar with some of the challenges students faced at that time. For example, the issues of missing and incomplete results, these were my worries then and I vowed to tackle these problems when I became the DVC.
Another issue was prompt payment of facilitators and course developers, which I equally succeeded in achieving when I became the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic).
While I succeeded with these major problems, others were partially resolved.
One major issue that I would forever be grateful to God for was when I mooted the idea of conference marking. I was disturbed by the way and manner people handled scripts; some would just dump the scripts somewhere or even hand them over to people who were not qualified to mark the scripts, let alone handle them. Some were even fond of awarding marks to students whose scripts were never marked. The Senate of the university was disturbed by this trend. So I articulated the proposal for conference marking and presented it to the former VC, Prof. Vincent Ado Tenebe. He then asked me to present the proposal to the Senate, which I did. Thank God, the proposal scaled through and so we started the implementation of the conference marking policy. I'm happy that till date we still have conference marking. This has even graduated to the level where we also set examination questions using the conference style. We discovered that some questions were below standard and that prompted the idea for a conference exams-questions setting. This is the latest of such ideas, which has been presented to the Committee of Deans and Directors. By the time this is presented at the Senate, we would have succeeded in adding another leg to the existing conference marking scheme. So, I am happy that these two ideas sailed through.
When there were cases of missing results and scripts in the university, what did you do to stem the tide?
What I did was to call a meeting of Directorate of Exams and Assessment, Deans, and we sat to determine the cause of this problem. We discovered so many lapses. You can imagine, a staff of the university forgot examination scripts in a taxi and the driver of the taxi had to take it to the radio station, where announcement was made! Instead of him to intimate the Management with this development, the fellow manufactured results for the students. This was the kind of situation existing in the university then.
Then it was a thing of shame that a whole university would organise exams and results would miss.
This was what prompted the idea of the conference marking. We agreed that scripts should be brought together and study centres divided according to the geo-political zones of the country. Right from the exam hall, the number of scripts is known and it would be signed and countersigned by the coordinators, who have been assigned the duty of taking the scripts to the marking venues.
This process ensures that nothing is left out, as results are collated and juxtaposed with what the faculties have. By so doing, we are able to plug the loopholes which had given us sleepless nights.
The Study Centre is the heart beat of the university. What impact did your office make to improve the lot of the centres?
My office was regularly communicating with the study centres and also visited them, especially when there problems. We were constantly on their neck to ensure that they abided by laid down rules and regulation as per their operations.
Were you aware that study centres had a myriad of problems, ranging from low staff strength in critical units, infrastructural deficit, to irregular payment of imprest?
I was aware of some of the problems at the study centres and I often advised the directors to write to bring such to the notice of the Management. Usually, they copied me and I followed it up for them, especially when such complaints had to do with materials to work with.
As for the imprest, most of them did not know the format for application for it. We were always following this up with the Bursary Unit but the Unit always insisted that the right thing should be done when applying for it. This prevented most of them from getting their imprest as at when due.
Then I suggested to the study centre to appoint an account officer, who would always see to this on their behalf. The moment they did this, it became regular unless when the university was short of fund.
One of your responsibilities as DVC was the establishment of community study centres. What were you able to achieve?
I ensured that communities that met the guidelines for setting up a study centre got and operated it.
I ensured that minimum facilities such as land, building and other basic things that would make learning conducive for students. I usually visited such communities in the company of other staff of the university from DPP, LSS and so on to ensure these facilities were on ground before approval could be granted. To the glory of God, quite a number of community study centres were set up and commissioned under my watch as the DVC Academic.
Now that your tenure has elapsed as the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, are you fulfilled?
I'm fulfilled. But you know that human problems are unending - the more you solve, the more problems arise. I'm fulfilled that I did my best for the university.
In fact, in the midst of this, I had a stroke attack when I led a delegation of the university to a conference in the U.S. I thank God that I was quickly attended to; if not for the qualitative treatment received over there, it would have been a different story!
The pressure of work took a toll on me because of my enthusiasm to get things done in the university. Thank God I survived it. I'm very much fulfilled.
Under your watch as the DVC Academic, how would you rate the university?
The university blossomed, it gained popularity, it was taken to every nook and cranny of this country and it became a household name. When we were establishing special and community study centres, especially in the Prison, National Assembly, NURTW, Police, Navy, Army, Air Force, just name it, it blossomed so much that it made conventional universities green with envy.
Course materials development was under your purview. What did you achieve?
This was another nightmare because there was a litany of complaints from students who paid but were not given materials. And some of the people that wrote course materials for us also complained that they were not paid. In assumption of duty, I visited the store in Kaduna and I discovered that there were many materials produced in large quantity but not in the area of needs of students. For example, the number of students studying Agricultural Science is not so much, but you find a large quantity of materials in Agricultural Science - why is that so? Why would courses not well subscribed by students have materials in larger quantities than courses that are well subscribed?
Like GST, which is a general course for all students, the materials were so few that you begin to wonder why we found ourselves in that situation.
I found out that the problem was from the originators. Some of the materials were not developed by us, we borrowed from other people. And such ones, we were not producing them because you have to get copyright to produce them.
I suggested that study centre directors should visit Kaduna regularly to pack some of these materials for their students, but you know human beings and complaints.
I even suggested that we create zonal stores in the geo-political zones to ease the problems associated with distribution of materials. It was one of the things I couldn't complete as the DVC.
I ensured that those who wrote course materials were paid promptly and production and distribution of materials also became seamless.
Finally, what advise would you give the Management of the university at this point in time?
The Management should continue with the vigour with which the university has been operating. The interest of the students should be uppermost while taking vital decisions. During my tenure as the DVC, we were able to gain recognition for the Nursing programme. I want to express satisfaction with the manner and status of Law and Nursing programmes. The Nursing programme was another torn in the flesh but thank God we have put that behind us now. Law and Nursing programmes are important to the university and Management must sustain the tempo with which these programmes have been running.
Management should continue to assist all the Faculties achieve their mandate.
Let me also advise the Management to ensure that discipline is instilled among the academic staff for efficiency.
Let me take this opportunity to thank the management of the university for giving me the opportunity to serve.
My gratitude also goes to members of staff in the DVC's office for their support and cooperation. I thank all Deans, Study Centre Directors, Directors of other academic and non-academic units, for their support and tolerance. May God bless you all.
Let me also express my profound appreciation to the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Abdalla Uba Adamu, and the immediate past Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Vincent Ado Tenebe, for their love for me and the opportunity to serve them. May God continue to guide you in your respective endeavours.
Much work has already been done, but there is still much to come. New students come annually. The level of education at the university should not decline. The university will continue to work with the energy with which it is currently working.