Unizik now third most sought-after university -Prof Esimone, VC

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By Enyeribe Ejiogu ([email protected])

With academic excellence, dedication and commitment to a goal, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, NAU stubbornly pursues its vision of being among the top 200 universities in the world. Clearly demonstrating its success, it has become the third most sought-after university among all federal, state and private universities in Nigeria. More importantly, his world ranking has fallen from 4497 ​​three years ago to 2988 in June 2022.

Thanks to his simple leadership style over the past three years, the Vice Chancellor, Professor Okechukwu Esimone, who was ranked 18th on the list of 28 most published scholars in Nigeria in global high impact factor journals , inspires academic staff to constantly pursue scholarship and intellectual excellence. . Under his leadership, NAU garners academic grants from national and international sources and establishes highly beneficial collaborations with notable Nigerian companies and other organizations. In this interview, he highlights the quantum leap that NAU has recorded over the past three years and gives an indication of the achievements planned over the remaining two years of his tenure, to build on the solid foundation laid for achievement. of the institution’s vision.

Nnamdi Azikiwe University maintains close relations with the Confucius Institute. Why was China chosen for this collaboration rather than other similar socio-cultural institutes in Germany, Japan, South Korea, among other countries?

First, I want to say that we did not choose China. On the contrary, they chose us. Confucius Institutes are places for exchanging knowledge about Chinese culture. Many people mistakenly think that the institute is limited to learning Mandarin, the Chinese language. If you understand the culture of a people, you will have a much better relationship with them. Basically, it’s an institute that tries to teach Chinese culture and language.

Usually, the Confucius Institute China Headquarters invites applications from higher education institutions, and organizations select educational institutions based on certain criteria. In 2008, Nnamdi Azikiwe University was chosen to host a branch of the Confucius Institute. There are only two branches in all of Nigeria – Unizik and the University of Lagos. Fortunately, that of Nnamdi Azikiwe University has become a pioneer not only in Nigeria but also in Africa and the world. We have won several national and international awards, including the African and World Champions award. In the last contest, the students of the Confucius Institute, Unizik, were able to beat the native Chinese in spoken and written Mandarin because we have the best teachers. We were able to understand and deploy the judging criteria, so we pass that on to our students, and that’s how we were able to emerge as one of the best Confucius Institutes in the world. Based on our excellent performance, the Chinese said that choosing NAU to host the Confucius Institute was not a bad choice.

To what can the institute’s success be attributed?

I can say it has everything to do with the Igbo trait of showing excellence at all times. This is what is at the very heart. The Igbo spirit is the spirit of excellence; spirit of survival of the fittest. That’s what we put there. In fact, we have deployed the survival instinct, entrepreneurial skills and the inert trait of excellence of the Igbo man to lead the Confucius Institute. And it paid off. During the relationship, we also exported our own culture to them, because it cannot be a one-way street. As they teach us Chinese, we teach them Igbo. We now have Chinese nationals coming to Unizik to study Igbo. Today we have Igbo cultural exchange programs, Igbo philosophy and theater that we explore. Not so long ago, a product of the Confucius Institute, Emmanuel Ikechukwu Umeonyirioha, went to China to study and from there he was hired as the first lecturer in the new Igbo language department of the University of Oxford, Great Britain.

When you were appointed three years ago, what goals did you set for yourself and how far did you go to achieve them?

I left with a mantra that is known throughout the Nnamdi Azikiwe (Unizik) University system. It is called Project 200, which has a vision-mission to do things that would see us rise to the top 200 universities in the world, top 10 universities in Africa and number in Nigeria. This goal was based on five pillars collectively known by the acronym ACADA, to keep people in mind. The “A” stands for academic excellence, in order to be relevant nationally and globally; C- for community service, what universities are supposed to do; the second “A” stands for administrative reforms; D- stands for discipline – the reason things are not done properly in Nigeria is because there is no discipline. We strongly believe that discipline should be embedded in our DNA code, to become one of the top 200 universities in the world; the last “A” represents progress in all facets of the university system – in terms of infrastructure, safety, quality, welfare, academic programs and in all other areas of work carried out by my predecessors, and to generally build on the achievements made by them and take them further.

Looking at the pillars individually, we’ve accomplished a lot. We have noticed that top rated universities are known for their academic excellence. The way to assess academic excellence at a university is to look at publications first. A university’s ranking depends on where its academic staff publish or what kind of scholarship they receive. famous for as well as the type of research grants they attract. So if you just look at those two – research grants and publications (there are several other metrics), we realized that in order for our people to be published in high impact factor journals, there are two things you need to do. First, you need to educate them on how to do good research and second, you need to incentivize them. In South Africa, for example, incentives are tied to publication in a high impact factor journal. If you publish in such journals, the university bears the cost of publication. This is what is done in the United States and in Europe where I did my postdoctoral work. If you publish in high impact factor journals, which cost between US$1,000 and US$2,000, you don’t care how you’re going to pay – the university pays because they’re happy that you promote the establishment and that you contribute to its ranking. But in Nigeria, it is the researcher who bears the financial burden of publishing his research results. To change the paradigm, we incentivized it and took the burden off and assured them that if they published in high-impact journals, the university would pay. This change spurred them on and they started striving to get published, especially those who previously had a phobia, probably because of the cost. We did a lot of training and capacity building. We brought in experts to teach them how to do research that can be published in high-impact journals. The result was that we started to see a flurry of research work. We have also subtly included this in the evaluation guidelines for promotions. Our people in all faculties know the guidelines. Awareness has therefore exploded and many academic staff are now publishing. And it improved the ranking of the university and the same with the grants. Universities are known worldwide for the quality and breadth of grants that lecturers, authors, and researchers attract from notable organizations, corporations, and foundations. People work to attract grants. Where I was trained abroad, the institution’s ability to retain you in a particular department or as a professor depends on how many high-value research grants you have attracted, but in Nigeria this is not like that. So we created a research grant unit, to teach people how to write research grant proposals.

The result was phenomenal. That same year we launched it, for the first time, we secured seven National Research Grants from the Tertiary Education Tax Fund (TETFUND), ranging from 20 to 40 million naira. Before, you couldn’t even scratch one. Since then, our people have won grants. One of our collaborators is currently working at Harvard University on a research project based on a grant he obtained. There are some at other Ivy League universities in the United States. We have a team coordinating a grant from the World Health Organization; this had never happened before in this institution.

These heartwarming developments have placed us among the global rankings. Our ranking has improved. When I came on board in 2019, we were at 4497 ​​in the world rankings. But the last time I checked, we had made progress. In January 2021, we were ranked 4773 in the world, 110 in Africa and 33 in Nigeria. A year later, in January 2022, our ranking improved to 3464 globally and 18 in Nigeria. In June 2022, Unizik’s ranking improved further to 2,988 globally, 53 in Africa and 12 in Nigeria, where it was six months earlier. This tells you that our efforts to achieve the vision are yielding very positive results.

Recently, I attended a policy meeting of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, JAMB, and saw that we had become the third most sought-after university, based on JAMB statistics on the number of students applying for the admission to Nnamdi Azikiwe University. Before, we were number 10 in Nigeria. Despite the insecurity in the state, which is a big inconvenience, you still see people wanting to associate or affiliate with us, both within the country and abroad. For example, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, wants to affiliate with us.

In terms of community service, we have launched a radio program where departments and special units inform the people of Anambra State about Unizik’s innovations and services that can be offered to the public, to solve various problems of society – it’s another form of town-and-dress initiative.

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