Virtual Learning has come to stay - Prof Ogundipe
Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, Vice-Chancellor of UNILAG
The pandemic has created a new reality in the school and globally sir. Part of it is the online learning platform that the school began operating in January. So, does the school plan to maintain this approach in post-pandemic era?
Well, that would depend on the directive of the Senate, but we are considering making those large classes virtual. I’m sure you would agree with me that it is better to teach them virtually, that is, classes where we have over 1000 students. We can migrate those to virtual learning platforms, then those classes that aren’t large in number, we can have those classes physically. Virtual learning has come to stay, it’s the new normal and that is what is happening all over the world now.
You previously told the media that the recent hike in the price of electricity has affected the university. So, is UNILAG making plans for an alternative source of electricity that is sustainable?
Yeah, we are working on another possibility now, because the last electricity bill that we had was 79 million, the one before that was 86 million, it's not sustainable at all and that is because students are not around. If students were to be around, then we would be paying at least 150 million. But we are working on another possibility of which I’m sure in the next two months, we would be able to actualize it. There is another one which the Federal Government is planning to give us which is the Independent Power Supply Project, but we are looking at maybe they would do it this year because it has been suspended for some time.
What are the possible challenges that could hinder the commencement of an Independent Power Project?
For the University of Lagos, there is no bottleneck. Once it is started, it is enough to sustain the power supply. At our maximum, we consume 8.02 megawatts, so if we can consume 8.02 megawatts, it’s a lot. But, we can take care of the IPP when it's finally given to us and it would be run by gas and it can be expanded, that’s the beauty of it.
Production of COVID-19 vaccine to tackle the pandemic is the in-thing in the world presently, what is UNILAG doing with regard to research and development?
Our colleagues are. If you remember in the area of ventilators, we developed our ventilators, but ventilators are not things that we just manufacture and start using because we are going to use it on human beings, so we have done it, it's being calibrated. So what they want to do now is to just test it. Test it to confirm that if used, it will not have any negative effect on the patient. So that’s the level we are right now, but I want to assure you that it is sponsored by the Lagos government under the Lagos State Research and Innovation Council.
Are there collaborations towards the production of the vaccines?
For the vaccines, I know our colleagues are doing one or two things in that area. But, as I said earlier, it's not something that you can just come up to say that we have come up with a vaccine and start using it. They would do their test run before they can now say that yes we have come up with a vaccine. I know that maybe one or two of our colleagues are working in that area. For the COVID-19 tests, our colleagues in Idi-Araba are deeply involved and they are doing wonderful work there. In fact, there was a time that I had to write a letter of appreciation for the wonderful work they are doing.
During the COVID-19 pandemic last year, we equally learned that UNILAG developed hand sanitisers. Are there plans to commercialize the production of those sanitizers?
Yes, they have commercialized it. The Department of Pharmacy has produced its hand sanitiser, the Department of Chemistry also did theirs. So it's in the market, if you go to UNILAG community pharmacy, you will see the hand sanitiser with their various departments and we have registered the company for them also.
Given the present state of the pandemic, what will be UNILAG’s policy with regards to students’ accommodation when school resumes physically?
Well, you see, the issue of students' resumption is something that I would love seriously. But at the same time, we have to consider the issue of COVID-19. I don’t want to mention the name of a college which recently opened up and has closed down because of the occurrence of positive testing of COVID-19 by the staff and students. Based on the information that I got, I think one of their staff even died, so we have to be very careful. We want to bring in our students, but we have to make sure that by the time we are bringing them to campus, the issue of COVID-19 has been taken care of, the issue of the precaution as directed by the government has been considered and that it aligns with the recommendation by the government.
READ ALSO: Nigeria-Chinese Institute created to improve Nigeria’s image, says Director For now, do we have a proposed physical resumption date yet?
We will wait until we get a directive. Once we get a directive, we will open up the school. Even with these online lectures ongoing, some people are still saying that it's not effective and so on. But, we must start from somewhere, that is the problem we have in this country. You cannot compare our system here with that of the US, UK, where do you want us to get the infrastructure they have, we are just building our infrastructure, and gradually, we would think about what we are doing and then improve. But, do you know what many Nigerians want? They want us to just jump to the top. I tell people one thing, there is no shortcut to the top of a palm tree. You either climb it or you don’t climb. When you see a palm tree, have you seen the branch coming down? No. There is no shortcut to the top of the palm tree, you either climb it or you don’t climb at all.
You know when I was a student in the university, one of our professors, Professor Samford W. always told us that, you know the problem with Nigerians, they will prefer to plant Maize rather than planting a palm tree and If you look at one of the Yoruba adages, it says “komo mi to je ogun, ma je ogbon” meaning "before my children will eat 20, I would have eaten more than that". The problem we have is that we don’t want something that will be long-term before we harvest that’s why we are always in a hurry.
You have previously reiterated your commitment to transforming UNILAG into a foremost research institute. We all know that last year was marred by social distancing rules amongst others. How has this affected UNILAG’s bid to become a topmost research institute?
Well, if you look at it very well, last year was a very terrible year globally and it affected everybody. I would not have believed that the plane would not fly anywhere in the world for three months and they would just park planes as if they parked cars at the park. So that affected many things, even up to now it's only a few countries that invite people to come for physical conferences. What they do now is virtual conferences, virtual presentations, virtual management meetings, virtual executive meetings. Everything is virtual now, so it affected our productivity level, it affected the interactions amongst ourselves and the interaction globally. Not only that, many international organisations last year did not request any call for meet or applications for grants. So, we are still latching on to the ones that we got in 2019, some people got last year but not the volume that they were expecting. People always talk about research, that has always been my area of interest since I came to the university as a very young lecturer. I believe that research is what an academic staff needs because it is what will expose you globally and make you relevant in life. The first time I went to the US, I was invited by Malik, he saw my publication and there was no internet then, email was just coming in-that my paper came out in 1999-he then sent a mail to me which I didn’t get, so he now wrote me, I got the letter six months later. The world is better now. By that time I already had an email address, so I sent an email to him, he responded and then invited me. He said that he saw my work and was interested in meeting me, that was how he invited me to the US as an adjunct professor but the world is a village now. It's always about research. By the grace of God, I have attracted a research grant of over 200 million naira to the university and my collaborators within and outside the country have attracted about 1 million dollars. So it is all about research and now even our colleagues are showing more interest in the area of research that’s the exciting part of it. Locally TETFUND last year we got the highest number of approved research grants, we got about 12 or thereabout.
READ ALSO: The tale of a course of many professions About the NUGA games, we see that some construction has been ongoing as the university prepares to host the NUGA games this year. Will accommodation still be provided for visiting schools?
Definitely. Besides, we have El-Kanemi hall, there is another one coming up through the Honourable Speaker, Mr Gbajabiamila for the Federal Government project and that one will contain about 500-bed spaces but we want that one to be only for the international students.
Finally, we want to ask if the university is making any progress on the construction of the new library?
Well, we are making progress because we are talking to consultants so that we can come together and agree on how to move the project forward, we are making progress. We are meeting, talking until we all agree. But I know that what we have now because the news outside was as if it was the building that collapsed. No, it was the formwork. You know when they design the formwork, they have suspensions. That is when they wanted to put the concrete, they should have tested the integrity of something that they did over a month ago. So, they just came there and added the concrete and the thing gave way which happens in many project sites. Not something that is new. You know because of the political situation in the university then, that was why they turned it to another story. But we thank God that he vindicated us and the efforts that we have put in.
As far as the library project is concerned sir, what you just said is that the fault occurred at a stage that can easily be corrected?
There is no problem with the project, all they just need to do to fulfil all righteousness and to test the integrity so that they will have a record to show that there is nothing wrong with it. But very soon UBA will start their project, God willing, before the end of March.
Sir, can we have your final words for the students?
UNILAG is a brand, you know the guy that did the incubator that they are talking about, I got in touch with him and we have both been writing a formal letter. Somebody gave me his phone number in Canada and I sent a WhatsApp message to him and he has replied me, he was really appreciative of me getting in touch with him. Those are the types of things that we want. When I came into office, part of my agenda was to try looking for alumni all over the world that are doing very well, so we now started talking to them. I went to Canada, then the UK. The alumni in the UK now are doing very well unlike before. The alumni in the US are also doing very well. So I can proudly say that all our products, all our alumni are products of a brand and when you are a product of a brand, you are a brand. I also want our students to know that the person that everybody is focusing on cannot afford to get distracted. What I mean by that is that our students must see themselves as an integral part of the university. I want our students to know they are coming from a brand.