Why we intend to convert all study materials to audio books - VC

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The administration of Prof. Abdalla Uba Adamu as Vice-Chancellor of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), has been eventful especially as the institution is seen to be witnessing what may aptly be described as the transformation to a ‘‘giant’’ institution, which is enviable by all and sundry. In this interview with the Punch Correspondent, the VC, a double professor of Science Education and Cultural Communication, bares his mind on some of his notable achievements, challenges, plans and some other vital issues.

Excerpts:

What have been the achievements of NOUN particularly in the recent 2019?

One of the greatest achievements in the university is that we have increased enrollment. And that is exactly our mandate. Our mandate is to ensure that Nigerians have access to education; wherever they are, whatever they are doing and whatever are their circumstances. And so, we have increased the number of enrollments into the university. We have also increased the number of courses available. You know, before, we didn’t have international relations, philosophy, development studies, film production, broadcast journalism and others. All these are new courses that are knowledge-driven and the idea behind the courses that are knowledge-driven is to enable students to stand on their feet and not to rely on the government.

We have also intensified our entrepreneurship programme. Now, nobody who graduates from NOUN will be without a business plan. So before you graduate, you must have a business plan and that business plan will have a cost element. So if you graduate from NOUN, you don’t have to go around looking for jobs from one place to the other. Maybe you have a business plan that requires a start-up capital of N500,000; all you have to do is to go to your daddy or mummy or some uncle and get the money and start off.

You don’t have to wait for a government job. You don’t have to wait till they make you an administrative officer or an executive officer, wasting everybody’s time and wasting your own time. So we have intensified that.

But our greatest achievement in the last year is the number of incarcerated individuals in Correctional Centres who have written requests to be allowed to study in NOUN. And you know that all incarcerated individuals in Correctional Centres, throughout the country, if they want to get a degree in NOUN, is free. So, we have received 109 applications from prisoners across the country indicating their interest to study because most of them have the minimum requirement which is five credits.

Within the last year also, we have been able to establish a big faculty building. This building is the one which houses our workers from Lagos State. They are already here; so we are complete.

In the past, we split the faculties – some in Abuja and some in Lagos. But now, we are together in Abuja. So we have been able to achieve a lot, not only in terms of quality assurance but also in terms of enrollment, in terms of intensifying the delivery system. For instance, we have intensified our course materials such that anybody can use them internationally. We don’t want a situation where people will say, these course materials are not good enough. So, during the last year, everything generally had been good for us. I have only one year to finish and that is why I am intensifying efforts to make sure that the university is stabilized and it has virtually all that it needs.

Going into 2020, what are your projections for the university or what you are likely to achieve this year?

Now, for this year, we are hoping to open more study centres in those states where there are no study centres or where there is only one study centre. You find some states where there are three or four study centres like in Kogi but in some other cases like Kebbi, Sokoto and Yobe, they have only one study centre. So what we are trying to do this year is to appeal to politicians to use their constituency projects to build a study centre in their community.

That is what Kano State did. People from Kano picked up this challenge and three of them – two Honourables and one Senator – built about 15 study centres in Kano. No single penny of NOUN was spent in those 15 centres. So we want senators and representatives from other states to copy this example and use their constituency projects as a basis for taking university education closer to their communities. If they do that, we will reduce the ignorance, illiteracy and lack of understanding among the population.

On the other hand, what would you describe as your challenges – the biggest one in recent times?

Our biggest challenge last year was hackers. And there are people who sneak into our system. You see, NOUN has elevated itself to a level whereby people are eager to come in by any means they can find. This is because this is the only university where you can learn at any pace and at any time and that degree you get from NOUN is the same degree you get anywhere else, regardless of what anybody will say.

So what we have now are hackers. Hackers will go behind the scene and hack into the system and alter the scores. Someone, who has a ‘C’, will go and pay them so they can change it to an ‘A’. We also have hackers who will collect money, then go and pay false claims into their electronic wallets. But when they come for examinations, we have to vet every student to make sure they have paid. Then that is when we find out that their wallets are zero because they got someone to credit falsely their wallets. So, we are working with the security agencies in order to get the hackers. 

NOUN has not been able to secure approval for its LLB degree programme, how are you coping with that?

I keep saying that as far as this university is concerned, not only this university but any university, our mandate for training you ends when the Chancellor says, “By the power of the senate given to me, I confer on you the degrees of so and so.”

You collect your degree and you step outside the boundaries of the university. That is the end of discussion. What you do with your degree or how you go with your degree is your own problem – not my problem.

I am not here to train lawyers. I am here to provide education in law. I am not here to train accountants. I am here to provide education in accountancy. I am not here to make you a member of the Nigerian Union of Journalists. I am here to teach you Mass Communication. You understand the analysis? I am not here to teach you how to be an advertising practitioner; I am here to you advertising, If the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria says you must have a particular qualification to be able to practise, that is between you and them.

If the Council of Legal Education says you must have whatever to become a lawyer, it is between you and them. My duty, according to the National Universities Commission, is to ensure that you are grounded in the theory of a particular discipline and I have done that.

What you do with it when you get out and the challenges you face have nothing to do with me. It is like you are expecting me to get you a job. You have got a degree in criminology and you expect me to get you a job in the National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency or something like that.

So that is why I am always surprised when people ask me about law school. They don’t ask me about people who finish in theology or about the fate of people who finish in philosophy. The reason is because those who finish in theology or philosophy are not required to have an additional qualification to do whatever they want to do. So, who is going to provide these additional qualifications? It is the agencies that are involved, it is not me.

The Council of Legal Education has a policy but NOUN started the law programme anyway. What is happening between you and the council?

Every single programme we run in this university has an accreditation from the National Universities Commission – every single one. We don’t have any programme that has been denied accreditation and I am talking about since 2015. Since the last accreditation they gave us and they are coming back in October 2020 to do accreditation of those programmes that they gave us for five years. This is because we don’t joke with our programmes here. See, the reason why people look at NOUN as one kind is because we are used to sitting down in front of people and learning. We are used to someone teaching us, and we are not used to learning on our own.

So we in Africa are used to being led by someone who is going to teach us. NOUN is what makes us to learn on our own. We give you the materials; you go and read them. We give you the materials, you sit down at your own time and you read them. After 13 weeks which is one semester, we hold an examination. If you pass, it is because you worked very hard. If you don’t, it is because you did not work hard, so you cannot blame anybody.

Your graduates have also not been able to participate in the National Youth Service. What is being done about it?

The same matter about the law school applies to the NYSC. There are three levels of certificates that are issued by the NYSC. These certificates are not issued by the school but by the NYSC itself. The first certificate is the Participatory Certificate – this is for somebody who did the NYSC, is less than 30 years old or acquired the degree before 30. Then, there is the Exemption Certificate, which is given to those who are in the armed forces, the police or something like that. It is given because when they were students, they were already serving their fatherland.

Then, there is the Exclusion Certificate, which is given to those who attended peculiar schools such as ours – schools like open and distance learning and whatever it is. All these are validly provided by the NYSC. If you have them, you don’t need to go and do NYSC. Every student who graduates from the NOUN is given an exclusion certificate.

And so far, we don’t have a single student that is coming back to us that he or she has been refused employment because someone has rejected their exclusion certificate. This is because if they don’t take it, they are breaking the law. If it happens, we have to call the attention of the NYSC and say, you issued this certificate and someone is rejecting it. What happened?

There have also been allegations that students pay for study materials but don't get them. What are you doing about it?

Yes, we have several complaints from students. This is an internal problem which we are trying to solve. Basically, our store keepers would not know how many students registered. This is because there is a disjoint between our information management system and our store keepers.

However, we now have our printing press. So, if we know that a particular study material is in short supply, all we have to do is to be told so that we can print the number of copies required. So yes, we heard about those problems, but I am telling you that from 2020, those problems are not going to be there no more. Secondly, all the study materials we have are available on the internet as PDF files. This means that you can download them on your phones, on your devices and you can read them. You don’t need to have the paper materials.

Then thirdly, we are now moving into audio books. This is because you see, despite the complaints they make that they don’t have study materials, we have discovered that a bulk of this generation don’t read books. They actually don’t read books. They don’t read newspapers; they don’t read novels, they don’t read books. What they do is that they read Facebook, they read Instagram; they read Whatsapp, Youtube and all these places.

In other words, audio-visuals are their focus. So, what we are going to do about that is to convert all our study materials as audio books read by someone and then we put them on our website. So if you are offering Economics 101, it is there. There is a PDF file and then there is an audio file. And I am telling you that they will download the audio file the same way they download the foreign music and what have you and I have no problem with that.

They will listen to their songs and after that they will listen to their books. So, I have no problem with that. So, we have solved the problems. So you don’t have to print more book materials because I know that this generation doesn’t read books. This is because I have a lot of them in my own house and they don’t read books. Not one of them has a single book; they always have ear buds and all of that. I have no problem with that. You can listen to your books. You can learn diction and how to pronounce words correctly. So, that is what we are doing.

What about allegations that some facilitators are not available for students, why is this so?

There is no way anybody can say there are no facilitators because we have over 2000 facilitators. And these 2000 facilitators are available in every corner of this country. And we go to universities and harvest facilitators and there is no way anybody can be a facilitator in NOUN if you don’t have a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or if you are not a professor. Even being an academic staff in NOUN, you must have a Ph.D or be a professor. If you don’t have a Ph.D, you must give an evidence that you have started your Ph.D programme. And if after some time, you cannot finish your Ph.D. programme, we delist you from the academic section and convert you to a non-academic staff.

This is because we don’t believe you have any right to touch students’ scripts if you don’t have a Ph.D. We are the only university in this country that insists that academic staff must have a Ph.D. we are the only university in the Open Learning system in Africa that insists that our facilitator must be a Ph.D holder or a professor. We have a whole website and that website has the picture of every facilitator, their phone numbers, their electronic mails and their physical address or departments that they are located.

So, if you are, for example, in Ekiti State, some facilitators are in the Ekiti State University, all you have to do is to phone a facilitator. My name is so and so and they have your matriculation numbers already. Either he explains to you over the phone or he comes to a physical centre where you can both sit down and he explains it to you.

There was a time when the school introduced N20, 000 payments for the remarking of each missing exam script or course, why should the students be made to pay for the school's negligence?

You said N20,000 what? All universities in Nigeria believe that they are doing the right thing when they mark your script. And when the scripts are marked, marks are recorded and the scripts are stored. Then suddenly, someone comes and tells you that he or she doesn’t agree with the marks. So certainly, someone has to go and fish out that script and it has to be sent to an examiner. It has to be sent to be remarked and we have to pay that examiner. We will not bear that cost; we are not going to do that. You have to do that. The students are aware of it. I am not saying it is N20,000. I don’t know exactly how much it is.

But all universities charge a fee for remarking a script that you think should be remarked. This is because you have already paid for the marking and we have done the marking. But now, you are saying you are not satisfied, you want us to remark it. So who is going to pay for all of that? This is because I have to fish out your scripts, I have to pay somebody to go and fish out your scripts out of thousands and thousands of scripts. Then, I have to take your script to another professor in another university and ask him to mark your script. And I have to pay him, I have to send it by courier and he also will send it back by courier. So you will have to pay for that responsibility. There are many students who are willing to do it, so long that they can get the proper mark. Sometimes, if they are right, marks are adjusted. Sometimes, the examiner even reduces the mark.

There have also been issues regarding non-release of results, which particularly affected students who finished in 2018, what are these things so difficult for NOUN?

The students are very much aware that they have to do projects, they have to do seminars and they have to do SIWES before graduation. They have to do these things. But somehow, they deliberately skip some of these or they delay some of these because of one reason or the other. Either they say they have given birth or they changed locations and so on. And when the examination comes, the computer will not calculate your results if there is one thing missing out of all the requirements.

And then when you discover that there is a missing project result, and believe me, many of them will say, oh My God, I have forgotten to do that. So, I am not saying that we are not to blame, what I am saying is that a lot of blame also goes to the students. They just simply don’t do the needful. Some know they have failed but they think because it is an open university, they have more rights than anybody else.

I have had people write the Honourable Minister of Education and say their scripts are missing. That is not necessary. But we have study centre directors who should refer cases to us and every single case referred to us has been resolved. We had a case of a young man who came and admitted that he had taken a course for six times and failed, but that was the only course remaining for him to graduate.

When he came and explained his situation, I said he had to take it for the seventh time. This is because he cannot graduate if he did not pass the course. So that was my position. I told him to take it again or he can withdraw his graduation.

Also, students have complained about the way NOUN prepares its examination timetable is unfriendly such that several courses clash and are not well spread. What are you doing about this?

Last year, we examined about 120,000 students and nobody came forward to complain. Sure. And I am telling you that even if an angel prepares a timetable, somebody is going to complain. There is no way someone will not complain about a timetable that courses are jammed together and so on.

I am a Muslim and we had one examination during the Ramadan period and a Muslim staff of this university invoked a curse on me for holding an examination during Ramadan. He said it was wrong for me to hold an examination during Ramadan. So I asked him to give me the necessary quotations from the Qur’an and he could not. So you have all sorts of excuses from Muslims, Christians, from those who believe in their ancestral gods and others.

You will be rounding off your tenure in next year, are there a few things you would like to be remembered for at NOUN? 

I would like to be remembered as somebody who gave hope to those who had lost hope, particularly those who are incarcerated in the Correctional Centres. This was because before I came, they were paying half of the fees. But I said no, I argued that it was not proper. These guys are incarcerated. They don’t have jobs. Their families have deserted them.

If you go to the prisons, you will see mostly women visitors because no man likes to go there and see his son or his brother. And now, you are asking a guy who has been knocked in there for five years, maybe 10 maybe for life or on a death row to pay money? For what? So, I would like to be seen as someone who provided hope for those who did not have hope.

On the other side, was there any decision that you made as a VC earlier in your tenure that you have realised you should have done better?

No, there was not. At the same time, there were some policies that I had to implement and they pained me personally because they were harsh and the system had to be stabilised. Let me give you an example: The National Open University is a mobile university. By that, I mean that we have a lot of study centres across the country. That means that any staff from anywhere can be posted anywhere. Now, when you post somebody from Minna, Niger State, to Ekiti State or from Oyo State to Minna, particularly women, you start to hear, “oh! I don’t want go, because of my husband, my children” and the likes.

Then I have to take a decision, I say I am sorry, ma’am. You either go to where you are posted or you resign. This is because you see, if I have to consider your husband or your children, I will have to be doing that all the time.

So, it is painful for me because it means families have to be separated. That is why we have to be cautious when it comes to issues like this. So you have a young woman coming in for the job and we say, very good, we encourage women to apply. Then we say we are posting you to Uyo, Akwa Ibom and the next thing you hear is, no no no, my husband is here in Abuja, my mother is ill and I have to look after her. So I say, ma’am, I am sorry, it is either you go to where you are posted or you leave the job. It is either your job or your family.

Now, it sounds heartless, but it is the right thing. There is nothing we can do. This is because I apply the same principle to my daughter. My daughter is a computer programmer and works somewhere and I told her that anytime you are posted somewhere, you have a choice. It is either you go or you resign. So if I can do it at home, I can do it anywhere. It will look heartless and because of that, a lot of people have resigned their jobs.

On January 2, we asked all our workers in Lagos to return to Abuja because we have finished the faculty building. About 10 people resigned. They said you cannot come to Abuja. They said they hate the north and I have no problem with that. They can go; I cannot force them to stay. And I have a lot of pressure from people saying let this one stay or that one stays.

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Email
lukasarafina@gmail.com

I am in support it's will be great idea

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Email
oluwalonifixing@gmail.com

I commend the effort of our V.C, may Allah strengthen his elbow. Amen.
I`m so much in support of the audio book courses materials, it will definitely help us so much. please, make it effective on time Sir.
Thanks you Sir.

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Email
sweetro2zyczkav@gmail.com

Your site is very cool, i have bookmarked it.

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Email
sweetro2zyczkab@gmail.com

Your page is very nice, i have bookmarked it.

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Email
ogunrinolatitilayo2@gmail.com

I am very much in support of the audio books/materials

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Email
ogunrinolatitilayo2@gmail.com

I am very much in support of the audio books/materials

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Email
sweetro2zyczkae@gmail.com

Your site is very cool, i have bookmarked it.

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Email
betheapaul30@gmail.com

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Email
lassypens70@gmail.com

I've always been skeptical about NOUN's academic quality before now, but this explanation by the VC has redirected my perception towards going for a PGDE program in the institution. More powers to the VC's elbow.

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