Covenant University is a product of the Liberation Commission that God gave to Bishop David Oyedepo, the founder and presiding Bishop of Living Faith Church, in May 1981. The school was presented with an operating license on February 12, 2002- authorizing it to operate as a private university in Nigeria.
Today, the university has received so many recognitions for remarkable achievements and successes in achieving the goal of transforming products of the school into expert thinkers, unusual managers, and hyper-resourceful technocrats in all fields of human endeavour. In 2014, one of the school’s 19 first-class graduates emerged tops in the Presidential special scholarship scheme for innovation and development.
In this exclusive interview with Chrys Anyanwu of African Leadership Magazine, the former Vice-Chancellor of Covenant University, Professor Charles Ayo explains how the school achieves this feat of promoting the highest standards of educational service in Africa. Excerpts:
Part of your goals is to become one of the best ten universities in the world by 2022-competing with universities like Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge and the likes. How do you intend to achieve this, considering the wide range of gap between African Universities and some of the western counterparts who by all indices are obviously not leaving anything to chance?
Firstly, we take root in the arrowhead of our core values, which is Spirituality. We understand that the race is not for the swift but for the one, marvellously helped by God.
Secondly, we acknowledge that faith without works is dead. We are aware of the benchmarks and parameters for becoming a world-class University in the league of the top ten and have put in place strategies for achieving this. We have formulated an 8-point agenda coined from the Times Higher Education (THE) ranking agency (5 points), the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJT) University ranking agency (2 points); and the last point is Covenant University-based, which is an institutional culture of discipline, responsibility, and spirituality. We are in the fourth year of the Vision 10:2022. We are confident we will get there.
To measure and ascertain our progress towards the attainment of this goal, we have established a Directorate for Vision 10:2022. Our results, awards and attainments within a period of 13 years are proofs of God’s faithfulness.
Covenant University has become an institution of many firsts. In 2005, you emerged tops in the NUC nationwide accreditation exercise for that year. In the same year, you emerged the overall first in the rating of private universities in Nigeria. It is also on record that Covenant University is the first university in Africa to host the launch of UN Global report in 2011. How do you feel being honoured as the African Private University of the Year (Innovation and Excellence Category)?
We are deeply thankful to God for the awards and honours we have received, and we give Him all the Glory. But we also acknowledge that we are not there yet. The awards simply serve as pointers to the attainment of the feats ahead.
Consequently, we are confident that we are on track. The goal is achievable and we are sure that Covenant University will soon be ranked among the best in the Under-50 category.
A lot of credits must go the proprietors of Covenant University, led by Bishop (Dr.) David Oyedepo, for the enormous investments of resources that have made Covenant University a model private university in Nigeria.
Covenant University is also first in a number of innovative strategies pioneered in the higher education platform in Nigeria. These include; the introduction of entrepreneurial education into the University curriculum; the award of Diploma and Certificate in Leadership to all graduates; the award of at least two international certifications to each student upon graduation; and last but not the least is the abolition of the PASS degree classification, which has been adopted at the national level. All these were pioneered by Covenant University and were aimed at creating unique products fit for the world of work.
Academics standards in Nigeria are reported both locally and internationally to be at an all-time low; lagging behind in the global university ratings, particularly in the quality of research. As a professor and university administrator, what can you say is responsible for this downward trend?
I think the challenges are multi-faceted. The lack of adequate funding is a major problem. For example, compared to the developed countries and other developing countries that are serious about technology advancements such as Brazil, South Africa, and India, the level of funding available to support education and research in Nigeria is very small.
In South Africa, universities compete based on their research outputs to attract research subsidy from the government. The more volume of research that a university and its researchers do, the more funding it gets from the government. With this, there is healthy competition among universities in the areas of research productivity and knowledge production.
We need to have this type of structure in Nigeria for things to scale up. Going this way in Nigeria will cater to another major problem, which has to do with the poor attitude of some Nigerian academics to research. Many are not focused on genuine scholarship but are involved in their own personal businesses, politics, or contracts. In many cases, lecturers are not available to supervise students as expected or undertake rigorous research that can lead to national development or research breakthroughs. Another problem is the degrading quality of students that are being admitted into our universities. The endemic corruption in our nation has crept into the educational sector. Many students come in with results that are not the true representation of their mental aptitude because some have found ways to compromise the examination process. The credibility of WAEC, GCE, or UTME results is not what it used to be; hence most universities now have to conduct post-UTME tests to screen students.
Also, many of our brilliant graduates now prefer to work in the industry instead of embracing academics because of better remuneration. Some graduates with great minds in Nigerian Universities go abroad for higher studies but do not return to add value. All of these factors have hampered the quality and volume of research in Nigeria. Generally, we need good quality students (particularly at the postgraduate level), good funding and good work environments to do great things in research.
It’s a known fact that Covenant University is founded by one of the world’s most successful pastors who is the Chancellor of the university, this by implication makes you a Christian university; has this in any way affected the institution, considering the multi-religious nature of Nigeria?
Covenant University was founded by the Living Faith Church Worldwide, also known as Winners’ Chapel International. The President of the Church is Bishop (Dr.) David Oyedepo. The University operates on a Christian ethos, which has been grouped into a set of Core Values that govern our activities. Obviously, the Christian background has not affected the University negatively. In fact, Covenant University, since inception, has been the most preferred in Nigeria. This is evident by the number of students that apply and enrol for our programmes. Our students cut across various religions and denominations.
The primary core value is spirituality. Every student is trained to have a consciousness and orientation of the supremacy of God as the ultimate factor in the affairs of life, and the need to harness divine power for advantage in their pursuits in life. We train our students to become leaders, who are highly disciplined individuals that will maximize their potentials, with the fear of God.
Can you share your experience of the Public and Private University system in Nigeria, having experienced both worlds?
I think the advent of private universities in Nigeria is a good one. First, it has given more students access to higher education, and more options for parents and students depending on their interests and persuasions. Second, a significant amount of foreign exchange is being saved from leaving Nigeria, because many parents have now chosen to make their wards study in Nigeria instead of sending them abroad. I believe the private universities being smaller and focused can be very smart in terms of innovation, which can challenge the public universities to greater efficiency. This is happening already. On the other hand, the public universities have more matured institutionalised processes and procedures, which the private universities must continue to learn from and emulate. They are also more resourced in terms of personnel. Another thing that the private institutions seem to be doing well compared to the public universities is ensuring greater corporate discipline, which has helped to get more commitment from their staff, better work ethics and I think overall operational efficiency.
What inspired the formation of Covenant University?
As I said earlier, Covenant University is a product of a divine vision given to the Chancellor of the University, Bishop (Dr.) David Oyedepo. The vision is to be a leading World-Class Christian Mission University, committed to raising a new generation of leaders in all fields of human endeavour. The Covenant University vision is one that is imbued with a departure philosophy to alter the educational landscape of Africa, and indeed of the world. The mission is to create an ambience for the restoration of man’s dignity through a Human Development concept of the Total Man, employing innovative, leading-edge, teaching and learning methods. It is also to foster the application of research that promotes integrated, life-transforming values through science, technology, and human capacity building. This we have achieved in the last 13 years, to the glory of God, with encouraging testimonies from the exploits of our students, and alumni in various parts of the world.
Covenant University has so many awards, so many recognitions, so many achievements, yet less than 15 years of existence. In 2014, one of your 19 first-class graduates emerged tops in the Presidential special scholarship scheme for innovation and development. How does all this achievement come to you and the university board?
For three years now, our First Class graduates have been tops in the Presidential Special Scholarship for Innovation and Development (PRESSID), garnering about 10% of the awards from 2013 to 2015.
Obviously, these awards and achievements come to us on merit. We have no dealings with the scholarship board(s) that give the awards. They objectively subject all the First Class graduates of Nigerian Universities to tests and screenings. Covenant University has consistently emerged the overall best. This is a clear indication of the quality of education that we offer. And we are grateful to God, the builder, the funder and the runner of Covenant University.
We simply strive to do the right thing right; that we will not stop doing.