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One shouldn’t be afraid of competition – Ademola Tayo

Ademola Tayo

Ademola Tayo is the President/Vice Chancellor of Babcock University, Ilishan, Ogun State. He tells BABATUNDE TUGBOBO about his career and other issues

As the Vice-Chancellor of Babcock University, what are your primary roles and obligations?

As the vice-chancellor, I am the Chief Executive Officer of the institution. The university is committed to excellence in teaching, research and community service. We are committed to developing leaders across disciplines that will make a positive impact in the world. It is my responsibility to ensure that the university delivers high quality teaching, research and service to the community, and to be accountable to the governing council. I work closely with other principal officers to ensure the smooth running of the institution, focusing on operational excellence and a solid fiscal performance.

Also, it is my role to define the university’s strategic vision, mandate and direction; as well as to identify opportunities to advance and deliver on that vision. I lead in setting the school’s goals and the determination of priorities and allocation of resources to meet those goals. Furthermore, it is my duty to ensure the implementation and compliance with the institution’s strategic and policy frameworks. I advocate for the university, and foster effective and ongoing dialogues with all levels of government, parents, students, media, community leaders, employers of labour, financial institutions, professional oganisations and other academic bodies for the common good of the school.

What informed your decision to become an academic?

It was sheer curiosity for knowledge, and the burning desire to impact society positively, with the knowledge acquired and the experiences gained in the course of my university education. My experience as an undergraduate prepared me for academics. Over time, I became increasingly struck by the connection between values and ethical transmission, community development, and religious education. They share the same principles of co-production and partnership, active participation, facilitation and empowerment. This led me to explore both pedagogic and religious studies. I believe education can liberate society; and I believe in academic assertiveness- where students question you over what you have taught them and the wisdom they have gained. It makes them endeavor to become autonomous learners. I enjoy a lot of this. In addition, my outlook and approach were shaped by the fortuity of exposures to some memorable mentors who were my teachers. The point is that, academics enables one to cultivate generative competencies and self-directedness, which ultimately makes one to realise one’s dream of becoming what one wishes to become.

In the early days of your career, did you envisage that you would, one day, become a vice-chancellor?

I did not (envisage it). The initial journey of life was rough. I had to fend for myself overseas and support myself through post-graduate education. Looking back on those days, I never thought that today, I would be a vice-chancellor. However, I have always been hard-working and focused. So, I rose through the academic and administrative ranks to be where I am today. In all of this, I see God’s grace. I have always lived with a focus— to know and fulfill the purpose for which God created me. I know He created me for a life of service; to serve Him and humanity.

What are your major achievements in office as VC?

It is not for me to detail my achievements. I leave it to posterity to judge. But, let me humbly say that I work with our academic and administrative leaders to foster inter-faculty collaboration, improve Babcock’s performance in building a diverse pipeline of both established and developing scholars. I have also advanced university-wide approaches to compliance and research policy; as well as overseeing and coordinating the institution’s international activities, supporting faculty members, students, and academic professionals in advancing innovations in teaching and learning; and overseeing activities pertaining to intellectual property. These include technology transfer, research collaborations with industry, positioning the university as a visible global brand, and the highest enrolling private university in Nigeria; as well as maintaining a three-layer accreditation policy with the National Universities Commission; the International Board of Education, United States of America, and Accrediting Association of Adventists, USA.

You did a research on values and religious education. What informed that topic?

I believe that the duties of every teacher include to understand the needs of their students, what they should emphasise in the academic curriculum, and what methodologies to adopt to effectively communicate the curriculum. A teacher should also understand what the social function of the school is, aside from the academic function. The value of education follows from the need to understand the nature of man, the purpose of God in creating man, the change that occurred in man with the coming of evil, and God’s strategy to finally fulfill his wonderful and glorious purpose in educating the human race. I think most teachings in schools do not connect with this view and value of education. Remember, mankind was created in the image of God— physically, mentally and spiritually.

Employers of labour have lamented that many Nigerian graduates are not employable. What is your take on that?

Not all graduates are unemployable. Each university has different curricula by which their students are trained. A functional and good curriculum must meet the cognitive, affective and psychomotor domains of students. It must be holistic; meeting the mental, social, spiritual and physical dimensions. Teachers must train the heads, hearts and hands of students. Whatever the course content or the curriculum, it must recognise the challenges faced by 21st-century economies and societies as a result of globalisation and industrialisation. These challenges are daunting. For example, addressing the human and social consequences of an international financial crisis, meeting development goals, encouraging green growth, and responding to climate change, aging societies, and the knowledge economy are huge tasks that responsible education must deal with. Education is a critical part of any response. Knowledge increases both wealth and well-being. Yet, education systems need to do a much better job in providing equitable education opportunities – starting in early childhood, and continuing throughout life. Educational systems need to equip people with knowledge, skills and tools to stay competitive and engaged. Educational systems must offer students the skills that match what life and work expect from them. Graduates need the key knowledge and skills that are essential for full participation in modern societies. University education must equip students with creative and critical thinking skills, and their capacity to apply what they learnt in reading, science and 21st-century skills. This is what we are doing in Babcock, and that is why our students are doing well in society. The founders of Pay Stack (a financial technology solutions company) are graduates of Babcock University. Some of our graduates are working at Facebook, Google, PriceWaterHouseCoopers, as well as some notable health institutions and law firms.

Since the advent of the COVID 19 pandemic, many tertiary institutions have embraced online programmes. To what extent do you think this method is sustainable?

As with most teaching methods, online learning has its advantages and disadvantages. Understanding these positives and negatives will help institutions in creating strategies for more efficient delivery of lessons, and ensuring an uninterrupted learning experience for students. This is a transformed concept of education. For many educational institutions, this is an entirely new way of education that they have to adopt. Online learning is now applicable for curricular and co-curricular activities. To us, this is not entirely new, because we have been partially using online method before the advent of COVID-19. What COVID-19 did for us was to enable us upgrade our existing technology infrastructure and adopt additional learning platforms. This type of learning offers faculty an efficient way to deliver lessons to students through tools such as videos, PDFs, podcasts and video calls/conferences. Our faculty members use these tools as part of their lesson plans. By extending the lesson plan beyond traditional textbooks to include online resources, our faculty members are able to become more efficient educationists. This form of education allows students to attend classes from any location of their choice. It also allows us to reach out to a more extensive network of students, instead of being restricted by geographical boundaries. Additionally, online lectures can be recorded by students, archived, and shared for future reference. This allows students to access the learning material at a time of their comfort. Students have different learning styles. Some students are visual learners, while others prefer to learn through audio platforms. Similarly, some students thrive in the classroom, while others are solo learners who get distracted by large groups. But with its range of options and resources, online learning can be personalised in many ways. It is one way to create a perfect learning environment suited to the needs of each student. However, the drawbacks include the struggle by some students to focus on the screen for long periods, and greater chance for students to be easily distracted by social media or other sites. Another key challenge of online classes is Internet connectivity and epileptic electricity supply. A consistent connection with decent speed is a problem in Nigeria. Without uninterrupted Internet connection for students or teachers, there can be a lack of continuity in learning for students.

What do you opine should be done when students don’t understand a particular subject because it was taught online and there was a network glitch?

Additional classes as well as tutorials can be scheduled for students. It is important for schools to invest in training teachers with the latest technology, so that they can conduct their online classes seamlessly. Also, schools can allow for other forms of communication between students, their peers, and teachers. This can include online messages, emails and video conferencing that will allow for face-to-face interaction with each student.

With this new system of online classes (e-learning), some university staff are worried about job loss if the students will not be physically present on campus?

The cause of the fear is real. However, technology opens up job opportunities in other areas. Staff in the university must learn to adjust to the new normal, if they want to remain relevant in the system.

Many people have blamed the decay in public tertiary institutions on the establishment of private universities in the country. What do you have to say to that?

I do not agree with that assertion. Public universities are run by government. Private universities are run by private individuals or organisations. Each has its own philosophy, administrative system, and mode of operation. The co-existence of public and private universities provides room for robust competition. Healthy competition brings out the best in institutions and systems, and the ultimate beneficiaries are the consumers. Any serious-minded institution should not be afraid of competition. Competition is healthy for continued development. Whether public or private, we both serve the same society. Good education, whether offered by private or public institutions, must harp on value and high level of competences, better lecturer-students relationship, and positive mentorship.

It is widely believed that private universities are expensive and can only be afforded by the children of the rich. What’s your response to that?

In a situation where private institutions are not receiving any subvention from government, students will have to pay solely for their education. However, at Babcock, we are a not-for-profit organisation. While we charge for tuition, accommodation and feeding of our students, we make provisions for indigent students through work-study and scholarships.

Recently, the Federal Government approved native languages as compulsory languages of instruction in primary schools. What do you make of those directives?

I believe the move by the Federal Government is in the right direction, and evidence supports that in countries such as Japan, Finland, Indonesia, Thailand and Sweden. In those countries, where the mother tongue is used as the medium of instruction, there is a high level of comprehension and better teaching-learning experience. Ultimately, the standard of education is improved tremendously. Furthermore, it is a sure way of protecting our cultural values, which are gradually fading away. However, we need to watch how it will play out, considering Nigeria’s diverse ethnic and linguistic configuration.

Poor funding of research and employee welfare are some of the challenges that face tertiary institutions. How has Babcock been able to tackle this issue?

Our current administration believes that for the university to fulfill her mandate, research must occupy its rightful place in budgetary allocations. Consequently, research output will meaningfully impact society, improve the visibility of the university, add value to research, and directly improve the financial lot of the university. We have a functional office of Research, Innovation and International Cooperation, with well-trained staff, in the areas of grant writing, sourcing for call for proposals, facilitation of international collaboration, grant advertising, arranging for capacity building grants, and organising  periodic training in research methodology and  research ethics. Staff welfare is cardinal to all we do. We believe that a highly motivated staff will always give their best to the cause of the organisation. At Babcock, there are some incentives for our staff, such as tuition rebates for the wards of staff. We equally give 70 per cent discount on the medical bills of the nuclear family of our regular staff, as well as 90 per cent of in-patient medical bills.  The salaries are paid as at when due. We also sponsor academic and non- academic staff to conferences and workshops. Those are some of the incentives we have for our employees.

Does it bother you that brain drain in the country seems to be increasing?

Of course, I am bothered. A right thinking person would be concerned when the best of our brains depart from the shores of our country to seek greener pastures elsewhere. Well-trained professionals are not easy to come by. It takes years to train them. Their departure always creates a vacuum and it upsets the system. In my opinion, I feel the government should be intentional in creating an enabling environment for professionals to thrive. Payment of competitive welfare packages, upgraded facilities such as constant electricity and Internet supplies, and provision of state-of-the art facilities for research. Government must foster peace and security in the rank and file of the country.

How much influence do the school’s proprietors have on the institution?

I may not be able to speak in general terms about the relationship between proprietors and institutions. However, I can speak for Babcock University. The school belongs to a network of about 120 universities owned and operated by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church globally. We have our reach in all the continents of the world. Corporate governance is sacrosanct in our model of operation. We operate our schools following global best practices of clearly delineating the roles of governance from management. The proprietors do not meddle in the day-to-day running of the university. They are to be involved in policy formulation and to ensure that the management does not derail from the vision and mission of the proprietors. They don’t get embroiled in the day-to-day financial, administrative and academic decisions of the university. A clear line of demarcation is drawn. This practice gives the management the latitude to innovate, take informed risks and achieve commendable results.

Since you became the vice-chancellor, what is the biggest decision you have taken and what informed it?

The biggest decision I have made as the vice-chancellor was to venture into the establishment of the schools of engineering and environmental sciences; the Molecular and Tissue Culture Laboratory, as well as the procurement of the Magnetic Resonance Imaging diagnostic equipment for our teaching hospital. Until then, there was no MRI scan equipment in any establishment in Ogun State. We dabbled into these ventures through the cooperation of our proprietors. Today, we have referrals from all over the country for medical examination.

What do you consider your most memorable moment as the Vice- Chancellor?

My most memorable moment as vice-chancellor was in 2019 when a law graduate of my school emerged the overall best student in the whole country at the Law School Bar Examination. I was overwhelmed with joy as I watched the former student cart away 11 awards, including the Council of Legal Education star prize, Most promising Graduate Student of the Year, Prize for First Class, Overall Best Student, Overall Best Male Student, Student of the Year, Overall Best in Corporate Law, Best Student of the Year, Student of the Year, and third prize in Ethics.

When you need direction or advice, who are the people you go to?

I turn to the source of all knowledge – God. And, He has never failed me in that regard. Another person I turn to is my wife. She always comes through for me.

Are any of your children taking after you in academics?

Hopefully, yes. My daughters are currently pursuing their post-graduate education.

What are the things that have brought you this far?

The major thing is the amazing grace of God! As a Christian, I always implicitly depend on God when I am at a crossroad. God has proven to be dependable and a trustworthy friend and companion in this journey of life. I always place my unknown future into the hands of a known God.

It is believed by some that professors rarely unwind. How true is that?

That assertion is not absolutely true. Individuals find ways of unwinding. Some associate and socialise at clubs, gyms, recreational centres and in other diverse ways unique to them. I attend Christian fellowships and retreats, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, dinners, cocktail parties, and luncheons with professional and religious colleagues.

How do you unwind?

I take delight in physical exercise. I enjoy trips to memorable sights around the world. I also take time out with my family to visit old friends and relatives. I like gardening too; when time permits.

If you weren’t in academics, what would you have been doing?

I started my life as a clergy. I still perform pastoral roles as an ordained pastor.  If I was not in academics, I would surely be a minister of the gospel.

Can you briefly take us through your career trajectory?

I was admitted to study Agricultural Economics at the University of Ibadan in 1981. I had a burning desire to pattern my career after the likes of Professor Olajuwon Olajide, Professor Idachaba and other notable agricultural economists of the time. Along the line, I gave my life to Jesus on the campus of the University of Ibadan, and my intended plan took another turn. On graduation and after my NYSC programme, I decided to be a full-time pastor. I enrolled in a seminary for a post-graduate diploma in Theology. My parents received my decision with mixed feelings. On the one hand, they were happy for the positive changes in my life and the positive impact on my siblings, as I am the first born. On the other hand, they were sad because they least expected that I would abandon the line of career that they subscribed to. They were preparing me to be a banker or agricultural financial expert. My new plan was totally at variance with their plan for me. My parents, as educationists, acceded to my wish, which was that I would pursue my new line of aspiration to the doctoral level. I am indeed grateful to my family today. I took up the challenge seriously. Opportunity came for me to travel to Sweden in 1989 on a summer colporteuring programme, and Norway in 1993 for the same purpose. I decided to save all the money I made in the course of the assignment and used it to pay for my post-graduate education.

To the glory of God I completed my MA and PhD programmes in the area of Development Education with emphasis on Religious Education. I returned to Nigeria in 1999 just at the time when the government granted Babcock University the approval to run as a private university. To the glory of God, I rose through the ranks to become a full professor. In the course of my career, I have served as Director of Academic Planning, Head of Department, Dean of the Postgraduate School, Visiting Professor to University of Eastern Africa, Baraton, Kenya; and also Interim Vice- Chancellor, Adventist University of Cosendai, Cameroon. Over the years, I have been privileged to attend conferences, workshops, study tours, and visiting accrediting team members  in no fewer than 32 countries, notable among which are United States of America, United Kingdom, Italy, Denmark, South Africa, South Korea, Lebanon, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. I am currently in my second term as the VC of Babcock.

How did you meet your wife and what endeared you to her?

I met my wife in 1987 through a mutual friend of ours, who currently resides in Finland. At the time, she was a 400 level student of the University of Ilorin. We had visited her hall of residence. I was fascinated by her calmness, simplicity, uncommon politeness, down to heart conversation and intelligence; as well as the fact that we shared same religious and ethical values. We courted for seven years. I had to travel out of the country for further studies, and we kept the relationship for four years, just through postal services and telephone conversations.

At what point did you both decide to become husband and wife?

At the point when we both discovered that we were both emotionally, financially and spiritually mature. That was in 1994. She was on the verge of completing her PhD at the University of Ibadan, while I was also progressing steadily in my doctoral studies abroad.

Why do you think the young ones of today don’t want to get married or settle down on time or at all?

Most young people of today don’t want to get married or settle down on time simply because of the harsh economic realities of the country. Many young people are not gainfully employed; hence they do not have the capability to start a home. The societal norms, traditions and culture could also be an additional factor for the reluctance. The expensive dowry system, the high and ridiculous societal expectation of couples before, during and after the wedding make many young people shy away from marriage.

Furthermore, the frequent collapse of marriages reported in the media could be scary to these young ones. Young people now prefer to co- habit rather than engage in lifelong contractual covenantal relationship expected in marriage.

Who are your role models?

Jesus, for His undying love for mankind; Apostle Paul, for his dogged devotion to a course; the late Nelson Mandela, for his spirit of forgiveness; and Mother Theresa, for her spirit of compassion.

What is your favourite food?

Rice and air-fried plantain.

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