UNICAL: Blazing The Trail In Academic Excellence

Unical VC, Prof. Zana Akpagu

Richard Ndoma, Calabar

The declining quality of tertiary education in Nigeria has become a source of worry as it has continued to affect the quality of graduates churn out annually by the nation’s institutions.

Dwindling funding resulting in poor infrastructures and the attendant consequences  of falling standard of education, are unfortunately the grim picture of teaching and learning in the country.

Over the years, the challenge of poor funding has created disharmony and industrial unrest in the education sector especially the tertiary institutions where lecturers have had reasons to embark on strikes.

However, many universities in the country are making frantic efforts to move above the dwindling funds so as to uplift the desired standards.

The University of Calabar (UNICAL) is arguably one of such universities.

Over the years, the institution which recently graduated 51 first class students in their various fields of human endeavor has grown in almost every ramifications and has become one of the best among the about 170 universities in Nigeria.

The institution has collaborated with many institutions and agencies to bring about various development, which has put it among the U6 consortium. (A forum of collaboration involving several Universities in Africa).

This accounts for the reason why the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Zana Akpagu during his convocation speech stated that the vibrancy and active involvement of the institution in linkages/collaboration has nudged the leadership of the body to concede the hosting of its 7th annual conference slated for  September 2019, to UNICAL.

The school which just marked its 32nd convocation has rose from its low class to an outstanding and enviable status in terms of academic excellence.

Akpagu revealed that the school is currently involved in a host of burgeoning collaborations and linkages with over 10 new institutions within and outside the county.

"The latest is the one with the University of California, Los Angeles; California State University, Bakersfield and the Bowling Green State University, Ohio in the United State of America.

"Any relationship that will truly promote exchange of academic knowledge/ideas is a major drive of this university,” he said.

Stressing that no one can live in isolation from the common wealth of Universities as knowledge itself was interactive, the Vice Chancellor expressed sadness that despite the proliferation of tertiary institutions across the 36 states of Nigeria, none of the universities ranked among the top 1000 in the world.

Akpagu however stated that on assumption of office, he had promised to chart a course geared towards building a university that everyone would  be proud of.

To make this dream become a reality, he added that his team decided to set up a ranking/visibility committee whose mandate was to ensure that the university is moved forward in ranking among universities.

He revealed that due to the resourcefulness of committee members, the National University Commission (NUC) in its recently conducted exercise for review of instruments for accreditation of programmes, placed UNICAL among 100 in the public and private universities in the county.

“When we assumed office, we noticed that our curriculum content was somewhat stagnant. It was largely unchallenging and hardly relevant to the market needs of 21st century.

In response to this situation, we have introduced several academic programs that were not available since the inception of the university in 1975,” he said.

The VC listed some of the programmes to include Architecture, Estate Management/ Evaluation, Surveying and Geo-Informatics, Urban and Regional Planning, adding that the Dentistry Faculty rates as the best equipped in Nigeria, owing to its superb clinic and labs filled with state of the art facilities.

“We awarded first degrees and diplomas in various programs offered by the university to a total of 7, 782 persons who have been found worthy  in character and learning” the VC said elatedly.

In the area of security, he said that management of the institution has provided additional serviceable patrol vehicles and security equipments and had reinforced the security unit with new and efficient staff who had swore to secure lives and property in the institution.

The Vice Chancellor stated that security posts have been erected at the new faculties stressing that the security unit is also working in tandem with other external security agencies in the state to effectively police the institution.

He added that a police station has already been completed and was awaiting commissioning for effective patrolling of the staff quarters and other vulnerable locations.

Akpagu added that approval has also been given for construction of a naval post for effective waterways policing.

The Vice Chancellor maintained that the initial scare of kidnappings experienced on campus in 2017 is now history as the university currently enjoys relative peace and stability.

In a pre-convocation briefing to journalists, the Vice Chancellor revealed that the management has worked towards improving infrastructural development for over three years.

He enumerated some projects that had been completed since he came on board to include the Hogan Bassey ultra-modern parking lot, Faculty of Law e-library and Godswill Akpabio Engineering lecture theatre.

"Moving further, we have commissioned for use the Faculty of Dentistry clinic and laboratory, admin building, Faculty of Arts annex and postgraduate students’ hostel.

“Last month, Executive Secretary of TETfund, Prof. Suleiman Bogoro visited the school to commissioned the Academic Publishing Centre for South South zone and three other projects namely: chemistry laboratory and classroom building, physics laboratory and classroom building and one storey education complex building,” he said.

The Vice Chancellor further stated that several projects ranging from hostels, laboratories, lecture pavilions and academic buildings are ongoing which may be completed and commissioned this year.

Other areas which the VC said the institution had made tremendous strides include the area of ICT development which he said has witnessed increased productive capacity, alumni relations, sport development, improvement in ranking and visibility expansion of curriculum.

Some students who spoke with our reporter commended the management of the university for the development it has brought to the institution but however added that many more areas needed to be looked into.

They condemned the N30,000 acceptance fee  insisting such need to be reduced to the barest minimum so as not to overburden poor students and parents.

Iniobong Etuk is a 300 level student of Linguistics and Nigerian Languages in the university. He said the Varsity needed to accord priority  in the area of compilation of semester results which he said needed some level of overhauling.

“Normally results is supposed to be on the various notice board in our departments. Unfortunately, we are being told to buy scratch cards before we can access our results. I do not think that it is healthy for students. My passionate appeal to the management of the institution is that the result should be accessible to students instead of making us to spent money unnecessarily before our results are accessed. Let them go back to the normal pasting of our results on our notice boards which is not expensive for us to access,” he said.

Another student of English and Literary Studies in the school, Aniekan Bassey called for proper equipping of the library which according to him is filled with books that are obsolete.

"So many materials we need for research cannot be found in that library. The on-line library which the school claimed to have isn’t working. It is difficult to access materials on-line. I call on the management to provide current text books to equip the library according to the standard of 21st century library.

Bassey also called for renovation of the school hostel which according to him is dirty and not habitable.

While commending the institution for its security measures, Bassey called on the management to install security lights at strategic spots  so as to keep criminals at bay.

"Students go to classes to read at late hours. We need the security lights so that students cannot get hurt by the criminals who may hide in dark spots to commit havoc so as not to decrease productivity of students,” he said.

Also, a lecturer in the department of Geology Dr. Sam Abang called for installation of ICT equipment and smart board so as to facilitate learning and teaching instead of depending on power point projector used by most departments to teach.

“Another area that needs attention by school management  is a smart classrooms, smart podium made of video to make learning and teaching easy according to international standards. Laptops should be made available in ICT rooms so that students who may not have money to buy laptops can have access to them,” he said.

This article first appeared in Leadership Newspaper.
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