Professor Enase Okonedo, a well-known scholar and seasoned administrator, was recently named the incoming Vice-Chancellor of Pan-Atlantic University. This appointment makes her the first woman to hold such a position in the establishment. In this interview with DANIEL ABEL, she talks about her academic journey and plans for the institution as she prepares to run her business.
Being a Vice-Chancellor is no small feat; how has the trip been so far?
My gender never shaped my growth. I see myself as a professional before considering myself as a woman. My career path has been great because I had the chance to work in an institution where there is no disparity between men and women. I haven’t experienced the challenges that most women face elsewhere. But of course, my journey to Vice-Chancellorship has also been great. Academia is my second career. I started my career in banking before joining Lagos Business School as a research assistant which was the very beginning of my academic journey. The Lagos Business School, which is the origin of the Pan-Atlantic University at the time, was not yet a university, and the recruitment philosophy at the time was to recruit people from industry. I was recruited because I had several years of banking experience; I was a Chartered Accountant with more than enough industry experience, which the institution needed. Over the years, I have held many key positions within the institution, including Head of Finance, MBA Director, Faculty Director, Deputy Vice Chancellor, among others.
You are about to resume your duties as vice-chancellor on January 1, what are your plans for the institution?
I am fortunate to resume at a time when there would not be a radical change because the institution is working on a seven-year strategic plan which ends at the end of this year. I fully align with the plans and strategy map of my predecessors and intend to continue down the path. The foundations have already been laid so that we can continue to do the things the university needs. The institution has put in place another strategic plan which will start on January 1st. Over the next five years, the five key areas we intend to focus on are teaching, learning, research, infrastructure, people and culture, and community engagement. In terms of teaching and learning, we focus on how to develop graduate students who are ready for industry. We would develop graduates ready to compete in the job market in terms of knowledge, skills and attitude. Of course, as a young university, our research history is different from that of older universities. However, we have developed a program that will examine research that has an impact and has major effects on policy and practice. We need people who have the right mindset and who have cultivated the habit of contributing to nation building. Another pillar of our program is community engagement. In addition, the institution is looking for ways to improve its host community.
The Pan-Atlantic University was founded in 2002; How do you assess the impact of your establishment since its creation on the educational development of the country?
Although the university was founded in 2002, it is important to know that we exist as a business school. In terms of business and management education, the university has actually helped nurture practical managers emphasizing leadership and business ethics, which is vital globally. One of the most significant impacts we have had is in developing ethical leadership in the country. If we examine the profile of a large number of managers in Nigerian companies, we will see that most go through university. Our undergraduate programs over the past few years have produced students who have achieved outstanding results in their various courses. So in terms of what we offer, we now have four schools at the university and we have a unit called the Business Development Center which has a very big impact on the development of small entrepreneurs. This skill building has the ability to grow small businesses, which can propel the growth of any economy. Until now, they have the right skills and an appropriate environment, they can become job creators and contribute to the development of the country. Finally, the School of Media and Communication has played a major role in the field of journalism.
What are some of the challenges facing the institution and how do you plan to address them?
We have challenges and some of them are beyond our control. For example, the location of the university is in Ibeju Lekki. It is a newly developed area and cannot be compared to other areas in Lagos in terms of infrastructure. In addition, the road network to get to the establishment is another challenge. However, I am happy to say that the state government together with some private entities are already working on this issue and doing something regarding road construction. Another challenge due to location is connectivity, which is a big issue these days. We rely heavily on technology, not only for communication but also for educational purposes. Another issue that I’m not sure is really a challenge is the rate at which we are growing. We deliberately choose the rate of growth and the number of courses we choose to offer in order to provide a quality service to our students. However, the major challenge currently facing the institution is the limited infrastructure in this area of the state.
How do you rate the development of education in Nigeria against global standards?
Although it is difficult for me to place Nigeria in a certain place in terms of global educational standards, I would like to note that there have been improvements in many areas. I think what we need to look at right now is the quality of what we offer and how we compare with other countries around the world. The ability to provide quality education, however, depends on the funding available for education. We need to look at what percentage of the national budget is spent on education in Nigeria, compared to the 15% standard set by UNICEF. Over the last decade we have seen that the education allocation has gone down. The percentage of the federal budget has dropped remarkably and this year recorded the lowest since 2011 at 5.6%. This invariably affects the quality of the education provided. Secondly, the national education policy and its relevance to the current reality of things to provide students with the contemporary skills that employers are looking for. There is a disparity in this situation and only when this is resolved will Nigerian youths be on the path to standing at the same level as other international institutions.
Nigeria is said to be one of the countries that invests the least in research and development, even in Africa. What do you think are the implications of this in general for the nation and its people?
I believe that if we don’t invest in research and development, our economic and social development will be hindered. This means that if we do not invest in research and development, we will continue to rely on innovations from other countries, innovations that do not suit us or that do not suit us. Research and development provide local solutions to our problems. The implication of low investment in research and development is that we are stifling our growth as a nation, and increased investment in research and development will ensure that we are not limited in our attempt to grow. We need to put more priority on research to make sure we grow more than we do now.
The population of university admission seekers is increasing every year, but the number of places available in existing institutions can barely accommodate half of the number of applicants. Private universities like yours make very little difference in absorbing these ever-increasing admission seekers due to cost. What is the output?
Pan-Atlantic University can only admit about 400 students per year and when we look at the number of applicants for admission each year, you see that the number is always increasing. However, Pan-Atlantic University is focused on providing top-notch service to its students, which has forced us to admit only within our abilities. Unlike many public universities, we try to manage by only admitting the number of students we can accommodate. We are less focused on how many we admit, but more concerned with providing quality education to the few who meet our criteria.
There have been calls for universities to be allowed to admit only their own students. Looking at this dispassionately and without trying to sound politically correct, do you think the central admissions system is helping anyone other than the government?
Without any form of bias, I think UTME/JAMB is quite essential as it serves as an essential first filter. This allows for a kind of standardization that ensures that those who are qualified to go on to a higher institution do so. It ensures that each student meets a minimum standard before continuing their university studies.