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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Kano Interview Series (8) Higher Education

Kano Interview Series (8)
By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde


At the Ministry for Higher Education, I met the Commissioner, Umar Haruna Muhammad, to discuss developments regarding the ten institutes of higher education under his Ministry. He is the youngest of all the officials I met so far, full of energy. I started by asking him to describe the development that took place under his ministry in the last one year.

Me: Can you please introduce yourself, sir?

Commissioner: I am Umar Haruna Muhammad, Kano State Commissioner for Higher Education.

Me: Education is a continuous process. The entire society subscribes to it. Whoever comes to power deals in it, doing his best and, yet, must leave behind many things unfinished as new problems continuously emerge. Can you describe the position of higher education in Kano State when you were appointed and what have your ministry done in the past one year to develop it?

Commissioner: Thank you for this question. First, I must say we met higher education in Kano State with five major problems. The first was the problem of physical structures. It was difficult to come across buildings that were in good condition. Two, we met plenty students that have not been admitted into higher institutions of learning. Three, there were no funds to pay scholarship allowances. Four, the relationship between staff unions in the various institutions and government was very poor. Five, there was a rift between National Union of Nigerian Students and the state government. These were the five problems we met here. You can add to this the serious problem of lack of state indigenes that can manage the institutions.

Me: Okay. Let us approach the issue in two ways. First, pick each of these problems you listed, one at a time, and tell us the effort you made to solve it. Secondly, tell us what the new things you introduced are.

Commissioner: Regarding structures, we directed all contractors handling construction projects in these institutions to return to their sites. We have paid them their outstanding certificates. You find this at Kano State University of Technology (KSUT), at Audu Bako, at Kumbotso, etc. Where the funds are not available at all in the institutions, we funded them to enable the resumption of work on these sites.

There is the fundamental problem of lack of accreditation of the institutions. We have provided funds to all the institutions to enable them obtain such accreditations. They are all accredited now, except the polytechnic which we are processing now. We have done it for KSUT Wudil, College of Education, Kumbotso and Audu Bako School of Agriculture, Dambatta. These are the major ones that required accreditation.

Also, we realized that we have many students seeking admission into institutions of higher learning. For example, between 70,000 and 80,000 students across the country applied to Bayero University Kano last year but only 5,000 would be admitted. So the admissions are hard to come by. To tackle this problem, we introduced degree programs at COE, Kumbotso, and NCE program at School of Legal Studies. In fact to solve the problem from a broader perspective, we introduced the Northwest University. Work is ongoing…(cut in)

Me: This Northwest University…how would it differ from KSUT? I say this because I have heard many of your critics questioning the rationale of opening new universities when the present state university, which they say was created by the same governor, is not fully established.

Commissioner: Thank God that they have admitted in the first place that the university in Wudil was established by Kwankwaso during his first tenure. Alhamdulillah. I am also glad that such critics, most of whom are members and sympathizers of the past administration, have agreed that despite their eight year tenure, they did very little to complete its establishment. Now, what they fail to understand is that Wudil was established for science and technology students. The new Northwest University, on the other hand, will be a conventional university that offers all courses. In addition, given the cultural sensitivity of Kano, there are many parents that will not allow their girls to go to “far away Wudil” for higher education.

Me: So the new University will be established here in Kano?

Commissioner: Yes. It will be established in Kano. It will be a conventional university that will offer all courses, while the first university remains a university of technology.

What is interesting is that we have sent a bill to the House of Assembly for the establishment of a fund called KETFUND, Kano Education Trust Fund, for the management of these institutions such that even after our tenure, the neglect that happened in the past will not happen again.

On the issue of sufficient indigenes who are qualified to run these institutions, we came up with a program of sending overseas for postgraduate studies 500 graduates in various fields who have first class and second class upper degrees. The process is ongoing. We have secured admissions for many and, in sha Allah, we will soon invite you to witness the departure of these students.

That apart, seeing that the standard of our secondary education is deteriorating, we included in our rolling plan the establishment of school of basic and remedial studies in each of the three zones in the state. Since we now have one in Kano Central, we are going to establish one in Kano South soon; then next year we will allocate another to Kano North.

Then we realize that our candidates find it difficult to go to distant institutions in the country for learning, for example, to Usmanu Danfodio University (UDUS), Sokoto, SBRS, Funtua, etc. So we came up with an idea: We will build a hostel in any university that will sufficiently admit our students. The hostel will be dedicated to the indigenes of the state. Doing this will reduce the pressure on the university for providing accommodation to its students from the state. We have done this in UDUS and SBRS Funtua, within last year alone. And it pays, because we have seen an increment in the number of our students that are admitted in these institutions.

There is also now a good understanding between the government and staff unions in these institutions. We have resolved the issue of migration – meaning, once you obtain a higher qualification, you are entitled to migrate from one level to another. It was stopped before; we have reintroduced it. Students are now received here warmly, unlike before when they could not even come. I just finished a meeting with one of their organizations. There is a good working relationship between government, staff and students in the state.

Me: You mean learning has resumed in all the institutions and there is no industrial action going on presently?

Commissioner: There is not a single institution on strike. All our institutions are running their calendars well. I forgot to tell you that when we came, we found that teachers in all the institutions were on strike, except in KSUT whose union is under ASUU. Not a single union went on strike since our inception.

Me: Apart from your effort in resolving issues that you met on ground when you came to office last year, are there new things that you have introduced?

Commissioner: The new things we introduced or we have in the pipeline are not many. But you have seen that there are a number of things already: There is a new university, a new school of basic and remedial studies, the sponsorship of 500 postgraduate students to study overseas, and the establishment of the Faculties of Medicine and Pharmacy at KSUT. These are the few new things we have introduced so far.

Me: Regarding students, you remind me of the issue of scholarship. Though we all know that the number of students is increased many folds and that there are competing demands on the resources of government, don’t you still feel that N15,000.00 is too small as scholarship for students? Is there any plan to hike it, even by a bit?

Commissioner: I am glad that you have reminded me of the omission. When we assumed office, scholarship has not been paid since 2009. This was the person sent to investigate the matter (pointing at an official sitting opposite us). The previous government has claimed that it owed N300million to the students. Through our auditing effort, we saved for the government the sum of N68million. We established committees for payment. Even at the payment, we were able to save another N14million. Yesterday, we discussed how we can source money for scholarship. We resolved to acquire for the Board some assets that will permanently bring the income needed to meet its demands such that it can be on its own. All these are efforts towards reforming the system. Approval has been given for the computerization of the scholarship awards such that there will be proper accountability of the disbursements.

Now, if you consider the population of Kano state and the scarce resources of government, it will be difficult to increase the amount for each student. But if at the end, we are able to establish that the number of students claimed is dubious in the first place, with the savings that would accrue, we can consider increasing it.

Me: Finally, what message do you have for the people that voted you into office?

Commissioner: I will tell them that we have kept the promise to use their resources prudently. Thank God, this is very clear. Everybody knows this is a transparent government. Our running cost has been increased from N1.6million to N2.5million. We are prudent in how these funds are used. We have done away with a lot of wastes. We don’t owe even a casual labourer any outstanding payment, unlike before when they were owed three to four months payments. They are paid monthly now, promptly.

I would like to add that on top of all these developments, we have improved on the supervision of these institutions. There were only two vehicles for this purpose. Right away, we are provided now with five new Toyota-Hilux vehicles for inspection. This has enabled us an up-to-date knowledge of activities in our institutions because we have a strong inspection team.

Me: Thank you honourable commissioner. May God bless you and assist you in the discharge of your duties.

Commissioner: Thank you Dr. I am grateful.

9 June 2012

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