The Director, National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), Makurdi Study Centre, Prof. Fidelis Onjefu Okopi, has stressed the need for more people to acquire Western education in Nigeria.
In a recent interview with SkyNews, Nigeria Watch and National Platform in his office, the Professor of Counselling Psychology lamented that high number of school dropouts particularly in Benue State has increased the level of criminality in the state and beyond.
Clearing the air on some misconceptions people have about the National Open University in comparison to the conventional University, Okopi posited that “open university is mass education” and can be afforded by people who do farm work to sponsor themselves and white collar workers who lack time and cannot cope with the conventional university system.
Okopi, a pioneer staff of the NOUN who gave various reasons to buttress his position in favour his university disclosed that NOUN offers a flexible, affordable, accessible, convenient and quality education.
“There are so many people that need education, you can farm beniseed or cassava in your village and get educated. You are in your house, so you can do anything to improve yourself. You don’t need scholarship if you are hardworking” he advised, averring that “self development is the best thing because when you develop yourself, good things will come along your way.
Expatiating on the flexibility of the National Open University, the Director said, “we are flexible in the sense that a course of four years, you can do it eight years depending on your financial position and also depending on the work you do which may not allow you. We are not a residential university, we only come here to write exams and to facilitate NEC. In so many courses now, we have instructional videos which students can use on their own, we only come for facilitation. You [students] don’t need to come, it’s on your phone. There are apps that you can use to download your videos. So, you stay at home, you get all your courses and you listen to your facilitation which you can call lecture or whatever you call it”.
Speaking further, he revealed, “one other misconception people have is the cost. Our university is based on three pillars; one is access. We provide wider access for students. Anywhere you are, you are with us. I think we have 117 study centres across the country and so you can go to any of the centres. We are flexible in the sense that you may be here, the next moment you are in another centre. We give you a letter to join another center and you write your exams when you are ready. If you register for courses and you are sick or you do not have time to read, you can differ your exams to the next semester because even the registration of courses, if you have 14 or 10 courses to register, you can decide to register five of them for the semester because of our flexibility. You have eight years programme; you can finish four years, five years, six years, seven years, eight years before we can think of asking you to withdraw. That is the difference between conventional university and open distant learning.
“Now, we are moving digital. About 50 percent of our courses in our university have been provided with instructional videos and we even have facilitation on the net. My own is on Friday 3-4pm, I will stay here and facilitate my course and every student can join with their handset or with their computer anywhere they are.
“The second pillar of Open University is quality. One problem we have is for people to accept Open University as an institution of quality. But our courses are accredited by NUC [National Universities Commission) and we run the same course with the conventional university. So the certificate you get from us is never in anyway less important or less competitive than any conventional university. Our own even have important area. The reason is this; we produce course materials while most of the conventional universities use handouts. Most of the conventional universities, since our courses are taught nationwide, they are clamouring for our materials. Whether you are a student or not, you can download our course materials. So, many students from conventional universities use it as their notes and we make sure the quality is maintained”.
He added: “our course materials are subsidized by the federal government and for that reason, you don’t pay for the course materials, you pay for registration. In a semester, you pay N2500 for a course and the reason for that is that N1,500 is for course registration while N1,000 is for examination. The cost of our university is relatively very cheap as compared to the conventional university. You don’t hire accommodation or dormitory, you stay in your house, you get your course materials and you are ready to go.
“If we can step up our educational system and our students are aware that they can get quality education at affordable cost, then the best thing is for them to come in because after all, here you don’t need to write JAMB. If you have five credits in two sittings, you are qualified to be admitted here.
Asked whether there were plans to expand the Makurdi study centre to accommodate the increasing student population, Prof. Okopi said, “for now the university has over one hundred study centres, new centres that do not have this kind of facilities and the NUC has made it in such a way that accreditation can be given to centre [sic] not only on the subject matters but the facilities at the study centre. So, there are so many study centres that the university is taking care of now. If you talk of expansion now, they will tell you that there are many centres that have not come to the stage and because of scarcity of money and all that from the federal government or Tertiary Education Fund (TETFund), we are not able to do all these things”.
As whether NOUN offers functional education that will attract students and give them hope for self-employment upon graduation, the Director said, every student offers entrepreneurship programme at the institution to be equipped with necessary skills needed for self-reliance.
“They write proposals and defend it. Sometimes some of these proposals are sponsored by the University’s Tertiary Education Fund. So, before a student graduates, he must have written about three proposals at different stages and they defend it.
“They also select students that can get sponsorship from the federal government and the universities. So, it gives them the idea of how they can use their knowledge to establish themselves. Some of them, the federal government gives them loans for them to execute their programmes. So, it is even mandatory from the NUC for the universities to run that course. Equally, we have SIWES [ Students Industrial Work Experience Scheme] in some courses where students acquire practical knowledge. Students are posted to industries to have practical skills and experience in that field.
“For example, if you are reading Conflict Resolution and Security, you will be posted to the police, you can be posted to the Prison, you can be posted to the Court, so that you will have first hand information of wherever you will be called. SIWES programme is for six months and you must choose a company or an organization that is relevant to your course”.
The Director of Makurdi study centre expressed joy that the center was not doing badly because this year (2023), they have graduated 624 “or so” and the number was increasing and they were admitting more students.
Prof. Okopi called on the university’s alumni to do more publicity for the institution to get more students. He also requested the alumni to approve some of their colleagues who have graduated from NOUN and are in better positions in the society to render support.
“They can equip us with more computers or build a computer hall or examination hall for us,” he solicited.
Prof. Onjefu Okopi expressed gratitude to the Varsity’s VC, Prof. Olufemi Peters,
for renovating the Makurdi study centre, acknowledging that there is nothing he has requested for the centre that the VC has not done.