US ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem can tackle un­em­ploy­ment, poverty in Nigeria – AUN Pres­i­dent

Daily Trust - - EDUCATION - By Yusha’u A Ibrahim

Pro­fes­sor Margee En­sign is the Pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Univer­sity of Nigeria (AUN), Yola. In this in­ter­view, she speaks on how to make univer­sity prod­ucts more ef­fec­tive, the fi­nan­cial chal­lenges of run­ning a pri­vate univer­sity, how the AUN is cop­ing in Nigeria and the plans by the in­sti­tu­tion to es­tab­lish schools of Law, En­gi­neer­ing, Medicine and Agri­cul­ture. Ex­cerpts:

Can you briefly tell us about yourself?

I did my un­der­grad­u­ate stud­ies in Peace Stud­ies and In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions. I did a Masters and PhD de­grees at the Univer­sity of Mar­lin in a dis­ci­plinary PhD in eco­nom­ics, po­lit­i­cal sci­ence and com­puter sci­ence. I stud­ied my teach­ing ca­reer at Colom­bian Univer­sity in the school of In­ter­na­tional Pub­lic Af­fairs and then spent a short time as vis­it­ing Pro­fes­sor at Ge­orge­town in AU and went on to a Dean at the Univer­sity of Pa­cific in Cal­i­for­nia then an As­so­ci­ated Provost for In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies and fi­nally came to Amer­i­can Univer­sity of Nigeria (AUN). My re­search for the last 10 years has fo­cused on chal­lenges of de­vel­op­ment in Sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa specif­i­cally Ruwanda. I had one daugh­ter and I was brought up from a won­der­ful fam­ily in Cal­i­for­nia. My par­ents are plan­ners in the air­line in­dus­try. My Dad went on from load­ing bags to run­ning of a big­ger air­line and as his youngest child he took me to every­where he goes; he ex­posed me to world and I am sure that is why I am here.

The AUN was set to achieve some ed­u­ca­tional goals. How far have you gone in that re­spect?

I think end­ing the first phase and the first phase was defin­ing a vi­sion which the founder did at my in­au­gu­ra­tion. Atiku Abubakar was very clear that day; he said the univer­sity was founded to be dif­fer­ent; it was founded to train people to un­der­stand for them­selves prob­lems and so­lu­tions. Higher ed­u­ca­tion has many dis­con­nect in many places and in many uni­ver­si­ties be­tween gen­er­at­ing knowl­edge and ap­ply­ing knowl­edge. In my coun­try the best ex­am­ple of what we are try­ing do­ing in Nigeria was that the US has suc­ceeded in mov­ing from be­ing a poor coun­try to be­com­ing a su­per power in agri­cul­ture in 1800s where in uni­ver­si­ties there was great de­vel­op­ment of new­est grow foods but that wouldn’t have got now if there was no what is called ex­ten­sion agents. So we are try­ing to be the ex­ten­sion agent in Nigeria mov­ing the knowl­edge and so­lu­tions in the class­room out, learn­ing what the prob­lems are in the com­mu­nity and bring­ing back ideas to solve them… So phase one was defin­ing the vi­sion and be­gin­ning to do that work. Now we are mov­ing to the phase two which is ex­pand­ing our vi­sion and mon­i­tor­ing it to make sure we have in it in­tended im­pact. So phase two is pulling it to­gether and mak­ing sure that we are fol­low­ing the right vi­sion.

What cour­ses are you of­fer­ing at the AUN?

We have three schools and four fac­ul­ties at the mo­ment. School of Busi­ness and En­trepreneur­ship with un­der­grad­u­ates and grad­u­ates pro­grammes, School of In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy and Com­put­ing for un­der­grad­u­ates and grad­u­ates pro­grammes. In the Amer­i­can set­ting the first two years of a first de­gree there was what we called gen­eral ed­u­ca­tion where we are try­ing to ed­u­cate ev­ery­one to be a good thinker, good writer and good cit­i­zen. So for the first 18 months ev­ery­one does the com­mon course and that is lo­cated in our School of Arts and Sci­ences so the gen­eral ed­u­ca­tion pro­gramme is there in eco­nom­ics, petroleum chem­istry and English. We are just at the ini­tial stage of ap­ply­ing for the School of Law and then over time we will do en­gi­neer­ing and medicine.

What of agri­cul­ture?

As you know we are be­gin­ning to do some com­mu­nity projects in that area, we haven’t looked at the agri­cul­ture yet and we should. But we have a board meet­ing com­ing up and we will prob­a­bly dis­cuss it be­cause Nigeria need to go back to agri­cul­ture and do it in a mod­ern way and as we know from the Chi­nese ex­pe­ri­ence to re­duce poverty and un­em­ploy­ment.

It ap­pears that the AUN is be­ing run in line with Amer­i­can ed­u­ca­tion style. Is the sys­tem giv­ing you the ex­pected re­sults?

Well, an Amer­i­can style of ed­u­ca­tion teaches crit­i­cal think­ing and a teacher should be an in­de­pen­dent thinker. Yes we are an Amer­i­can univer­sity style in a Nige­rian con­text; we fol­low all the Nige­rian reg­u­la­tions but we are try­ing the teach­ing and learn­ing dif­fer­ently. I think we are the only univer­sity that re­quires ev­ery stu­dent to be out to the com­mu­nity for a de­vel­op­ment project. I am pleased to say that our stu­dents did not only un­der­stand our vi­sion but also em­braced it.

Do you think this sys­tem can work in the Nige­rian pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties?

Ab­so­lutely, I think it can work any­where in the world. I think for this century this type of learn­ing is crit­i­cal be­cause we have to solve the big prob­lems; the global warm­ing, the un­em­ploy­ment, the mas­sive poverty so we have to con­tinue train­ing people to be­come strong, in­de­pen­dent thinkers that are fo­cused to find so­lu­tions to their prob­lems. The sys­tem can change Nigeria for the bet­ter.

How about your re­la­tion­ship with the host com­mu­nity?

We have a very strong con­nec­tion. The peace coun­cil; the Mus­lims lead­ers, the Chris­tians lead­ers, the traders, some of the govern­ment people and the NGOs we meet al­most ev­ery week. So to me we are work­ing to­gether to find com­mon goal. We want to keep Yola peace­ful and we want make sure that this com­mu­nity is one ev­ery­one in the coun­try wants to visit to see ev­ery­thing work­ing, to see youth em­ployed, to see ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy be­ing de­ployed in the schools and young people learn­ing.

Run­ning a pri­vate univer­sity is not an easy task con­sid­er­ing the fi­nan­cial im­pli­ca­tions. How are you run­ning the AUN?

I al­ways get tired of hear­ing people say­ing our school is for the elite and is the most ex­pen­sive in the coun­try. So we are not school for the elite, we are school for the best and bright­est. Like an Amer­i­can univer­sity we turn around and use your own funds to find the best young people in this coun­try whether they can af­ford it or not. So run­ning a univer­sity on the fi­nan­cial side would be im­pos­si­ble here with­out His Ex­cel­lency, Atiku Abubakar; it is his vi­sion, it is his gen­er­ous fund that fills the gap be­tween what we charge for tu­ition and what we pay as salaries, what we pay for fuel ev­ery week and what we pay for con­struc­tion and that is the only way we can keep func­tion­ing. It means we are work­ing hard to be­come sus­tain­able. We are look­ing at es­tab­lish­ing cer­tifi­cate pro­grammes in Abuja and La­gos; a com­bi­na­tion of on­line and in per­son so that we can ex­tend our univer­sity to have more im­pact in gen­er­at­ing more re­sources that will over time make us more sus­tain­able.

In your own opin­ion what is the ma­jor prob­lem of Nige­rian ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem?

We are in the 21st century and ed­u­ca­tion has to be in the 21st century. In the last two decades we re­ally learned how we learn as hu­man be­ings, we have got to in­cor­po­rate the knowl­edge from the col­leges of sci­ence about learn­ing in the class­rooms but like ev­ery coun­try people don’t make ed­u­ca­tion a pri­or­ity, I don’t un­der­stand why. In my own coun­try the num­ber of dropout in sec­ondary school is huge so we have to give ed­u­ca­tion pri­or­ity glob­ally. So some­how we have to con­vince people that learn­ing is daily and a life­long thing. So I will say to the lead­ers in Nigeria to pay your teach­ers well, train them well and make sure they have the best ed­u­ca­tion.

Pro­fes­sor Margee En­sign

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