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Tunde Oyekola reports the record-breaking effort of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, in putting in place a mini computer assembly plant. Universities all over the world are given the functions of teaching and conducting research into what will be beneficial to their students, host communities and the country in general. The National Universities Commission (NUC) in its rating list recently released adjudged Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ile-Ife, Osun State the best, particularly in research and information technology and communications. The institution did not however rest on its oars as it had added another feather to its cap through its recently inaugurated computer mini assembly plant. There, its students are expected to learn and assemble mini computers. The plant will be developed over the years to serve as a place for assemblage of and manufacturing computer hardware.

The assembly plant is a boost to the already existing information technology and communications unit of the university. The unit was established some years ago during the reign of Professor Wale Omole as the institution’s Vice Chancellor. It was aimed at enhancing the capability of the institution in information technology and since its establishment; the university has been at a vantage point among other sister institutions as it has been leading close to 80 universities in the country, particularly in Information Communication Technology (ICT). The present administration, under a Professor of Agricultural Engineering, Michael Faborode, deemed it fit to add value to the status of the unit by initiating the assemblage of personal computers in the university. Its inauguration recently at a colorful ceremony held on the campus was historic as it was believed to be first of its kind in any African higher institution. Though the Information Technology and Communications Unit (INTECU) of the university initiated the assemblage of personal computers, the financial aspect was provided by the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC). The corporation collaborated with the university as part of its efforts at promoting academic excellence and assisting in the provision of infrastructural facilities to support research and teaching.

Performing the inauguration of the computer assembly plant, the Chairman of the Governing Council and Pro-Chancellor of the University, Professor J.S. Cookey applauded the response of NDIC to the needs of the university on the project. He said: “Today, we have come to celebrate a major milestone in the development of the Information Technology and Communications unit of our University. This unit had been established some time ago to enhance the capability of the institution in information technology and to place it at vantage point among its peers. “This event is a visible and practical demonstration by the NDIC, not merely of its social responsibility but more particularly of its commitment to widening and re-opening the exposure of staff and students to the challenges of education in the 21st century”. He further pointed out that the assembly plant will actually enhance the service delivery of INTECU, adding: “There is no doubt that the university will strengthen its hold on the premier position in the country and we have indicated our desire to reach out to other institutions and strengthen our contributions in the academic sphere”.

While enumerating what the university students and staff stand to gain by the project, Professor Cookey said the assembly plant would afford the students of the institution and staff to be familiar with the computer. “When it is assembled in an environment like this by our students, the would-be users will be quite familiar with the hard discs and software and it will generate confidence on their part in handling what we consider to be tools of modern age. “Apart from these, the unit could become an outsourcing unit for some industries under the Computer-For-All-Nigeria project. In actual fact, OMATEK Nigeria Limited has expressed the desire to collaborate with the university and we believe that our students and workforce will, through the usage of the assembly plant, be kept abreast of contemporary developments in a technology-driven world”. Cookey explained that the gesture would make students and staff to have practical experience in industrial practices and processes. They would also no doubt gain much-needed entrepreneurial skills and add to the income generation of the university. He however promised that the university would cultivate the partnership further in the future.

He assured that the university was working round the clock to be ranked among the first ten best universities in Africa within the next three years. Cookey stated that the university was not comfortable with its position in the world rating. According to him, part of the efforts being made to attain this was to redouble efforts in the areas of research through what he called robust post-graduate programs. “We want to ensure that our staff who are the driving force of the university remain at the forefront of their disciplines; we shall encourage them to do more record-breaking research works that will be accessible to world scholars. “We organize adequate training for those that take their place. We have robust post-graduate programs and we have decided that intake of the post graduate will increase up to about twenty-five per cent of the general student population within the next two years”. The chairman, Board of Directors of NDIC, Mr. Chris Orji said the project was of special significance, not only to the OAU but also the corporation “as it marks a milestone in the existing cordial relationship between NDIC and the university cultivated as far back as 1996 with the institution of prize award for students of the university”.

He stressed that the board of the corporation took the decision to contribute to the promotion of academic excellence in the nation’s tertiary institutions in the year 2003, adding that the decision was informed by the observed inadequacy of infrastructural facilities to support research and teaching in most institutions. Orji said 13 higher institutions were selected, including Obafemi Awolowo University, to benefit from the capacity-building support gesture of the corporation, adding that another 11 would enjoy the same support under the second phase. He expressed gratitude that the money released for the university was judiciously utilized. According to him, “each of the approved institutions is expected to propose a project of its choice which could be identified with the corporation for purpose of funding in accordance with the philosophy of the scheme. It is gratifying to note that OAU has successfully met all the conditions set and today, we are celebrating the actualization of the project by inaugurating the computer assembly plant which is the first of its type to be embarked upon by any university in Nigeria.” The Vice Chancellor of the university, Professor Michael Faborode speaking on the feat recorded by the university so far, enjoined the new administration in the country headed by Alhaji Umar Musa Yar’Adua to give priority attention to university education, especially in the area of research and human development so that the nation’s tertiary institutions could attain the much needed high education standard.

The Vice Chancellor who specifically advocated for increase in funding of federal universities noted that such a gesture would assist the universities in the area of research.