Professor Abdallah Uba Adamu is the vice chancellor of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN). In this interview with Daily Trust on Sunday, he rolled out the university’s plans for 2017 and why its Law graduates should be recognised by the Council for Legal Education. He also explained why the institution would employ 50 PhD holders, saying their graduates are eligible for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme.

Heads of government agencies have started rolling out their plans for 2017. What should Nigerians expect from the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) this year?

First of all, we are going to launch our new integrated website this month. We are also hoping to streamline our 78 study centres across the country. All of them have one problem or another. Some of them are physical while others have to do with human capacity.

We are coming up with a very strong integrated approach in order to ensure that we provide services to our clients much more effectively. So, our hope for this year is that our study centres would be more empowered and strengthened in order to operate at their full capacities. We also hope to employ at least 50 academic staff, professors, doctors, senior lecturers and lecturer I; all of them with PhDs. We no longer employ any academic staff who does not have a PhD. The reason is that NOUN is not a conventional university with classrooms where you can employ a graduate to teach as an assistant lecturer. We communicate with students through a distance learning method. We have to write the study materials, and this requires expertise and somebody who is good in research, investigation and worthy in writing reports.

Currently, we have about 83 of our staff  members who are outside the country or outside the campus studying for PhD in various fields, and this is massively drawing on our resources. So instead of spending so much money in training staff, we will rather employ readymade PhD holders so that we can create a stronger structure. We are also hoping to introduce more attractive courses. It doesn’t make sense to come up with programmes that look wonderful on paper but not many people will subscribe for it.

The NOUN is in disagreement with its internet service providers, which led to the shutdown of its portal. What actually happened?

When I took over, I discovered that our services were rendered by two outside companies. These companies managed all our data resources, handled the admission, examinations and posting. To me, it doesn’t make sense to allocate massive resources to an outside agency or company when you have competent hands within the system.

We have a Department of Computer Science headed by a PhD holder in that field. We also have people in that department who are excellent when it comes to web design and so on. We even sent some of our staff for training in web design and internet technology. So it doesn’t make sense that we have all these, yet we are out-sourcing to somebody else. I thought the best thing was to look inwards and strengthen our capacity, identify key people who are good and empower them with necessary equipment so that they can come up with our own portal, and we have done that.

Naturally, the companies are not happy with this development because we have told them that we are going to cut off our relation because we have our own portal. In June last year, we told them that by the end of September we would close the agreement. We closed the agreement, but we faced some problems because the data is still with them.  So we asked them to bring it because based on the agreement we entered, if any of the party decides to terminate the contract, they should hand over all the data. But they refused, and that is the problem we are facing at the moment.

Basically, the problem affects returning students. Those who have already paid and done their registration are having difficulties in accessing what we call wallet balance. They need to know their wallet balance because they need to know how much is there; but the wallet balance code is not with us, it is with these companies and they have refused to bring it back to us. We are still negotiating with the companies to see how we can get the code.

 You also inherited a problem regarding Law courses. Were you able to address it?

What most people don’t understand is that the Act establishing the NOUN made a reference to the fact that it is going to deliver courses by correspondence. The Council for Legal Education is the agency responsible for managing the Law schools, and it is only when it gives the approval that the school will accept students and train them to become lawyers. Apparently, the Council looked at our enabling law or act and the word ‘correspondence’ and therefore, considered NOUN as a correspondence and part-time institution and ruled that our students from the Law Department would not be accepted into Law schools.

But that is not true because we are not a correspondence school and we are not part-time. Rather, we are what is called Open and Distance Learning (ODL). This is because students interface with lecturers. In fact, in order to meet with the requirements of the Council for Legal Education, we made it mandatory for our study centres to have classrooms where Law lecturers teach students. So our students interact with lecturers. We have mock courts in our study centres where students simulate a court situation. The problem is that of policy and understanding, but we are moving towards solving it. The National Assembly has stepped into the problem and we are hoping that it would be sorted out this year.

As far as the NOUN is concerned, we are mandated to produce Law students, not lawyers because that is not our job. It belongs to another agency outside the university. So technically speaking, it is not our own problem, but because they are our students, we must ensure that they land properly.

NOUN students are not recognised for the NYSC scheme. What are you doing to address this problem?

There is a link between the problem of the Law programme and the NYSC. Statutorily, the NYSC doesn’t call people to serve if they are doing courses that are considered to be part-time. Do you see the link? The NYSC is also hanging on that belief, and therefore, sees NOUN students as part-time students , but they are not. However, a bill is before the National Assembly, in which we requested the lawmakers to expunge the word correspondence and replace with ODL. The bill has passed through the first and second readings and is waiting for the third reading. By the time this bill is passed, I am sure the NYSC will consider our students eligible for the one year national service.

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