TVC E. Prof. Friday Okonofua, a renowned obstetrician and gynaecologist is the pioneer Vice-Chancellor of the University of Medical Sciences, Ondo. In this interview with news men, he disclosed that, all medical student should have first degree in science and also talked developments in UNIMED, as well as the state of medical training in the country.
There is a proposal that potential medical students should first undergo a four-year course in basic sciences before proceeding to read medicine. What’s your take on this?
The NUC has recommended that and I think they are working on it. I have a strong feeling that in a not too distant future, they will insist on implementing it. When the former Executive Secretary of the NUC, Prof. Julius Okojie, was at the helm of the affairs he almost said that by 2018 or 2019, they would start implementing that policy to ensure that you must get a Bachelor of Science degree first before going on to study medicine. So, we are prepared to do that. Meanwhile, it has not been tested to know if having a science degree before going on to study medicine has an advantage over not having a science degree first. But science is the basis of medicine. It is where medicine germinated from. So, I am of the opinion that those offering medical courses must have a very robust understanding of science because, in terms of all the discoveries that have been made in medicine, they were made by scientists who have basic science knowledge. In the United States, you cannot study medicine without having a basic degree in one of the sciences. Many universities around the world are doing the same thing. So, I don’t see anything wrong with that. It is very important for medical graduates to be grounded in science.
Many parents still prefer private universities to the public institutions because they believe there will be better quality in private universities than those that are government-owned. What is your view on this?
I think people should investigate the various universities and decide on the ones they prefer. I think each university has its curriculum and strategic plans. So, it is not for me to say which one is better. It is the duty of parents to investigate to see what happens in individual universities and decide on which one their wards should attend. Another thing is: what type of graduates do they really want? Are they graduates that are knowledgeable in their areas of specialisation who can apply themselves to the developmental challenges of the country or not? So, each university has its own focus and it is left for parents and guardians to investigate and be able to direct their wards appropriately to these universities.
There have been complaints that UNIMED charges exorbitant fees, just like that of private universities. How do you justify this?
Our fees are considerably lower than that of the private universities. It is not true that our fees are high as those of the private universities. By the way, medical training is not a cheap venture anywhere. It is not cheap to set up the training facilities, hire top-rated personnel, equip the laboratories, etc. We are not charging what we should ordinarily charge because the owners of the university, the Ondo State Government, is not running the institution to make profit but to empower the people and to provide opportunity for gifted children to have access to the best medical training.
But the fees are higher than what is obtainable in most of the public universities?
You see, if you have a large university with many students and if they pay lower fees, you will still get adequate funds to run the university. But, for a university that has about 150 students at the point of taking off, you may not get enough funds to run it if the fees are too low.
Some of these existing universities have more than 30,000 students and if they pay N30,000 per session, it would still be sufficient for them to run the university. But, if you ask our students to pay N20,000 which is equalled to N20,000 in 150 places, that will be less than N5m to run the university and it will be far from sufficient. So that is the difference. Our school fee is considerably lower than what our students are supposed to pay, if we are to make them to fund the university. But the state government is shouldering most of the funding.
It was alleged that your admission procedure is too stringent and many students with good marks still don’t get admission. Why?
It is true, but it is because of the limited space we have. If 5,000 students apply for 50 spaces, you just have to manage the situation. If you don’t work on merit, at the end of the day, you will just find yourself running into problems. The only way to ensure that the best students are admitted is to be very strict with the admission process.
How has it been in the last one year of the school’s existence?
I think it has been quite exciting. But it has not been very easy at certain moments. We have a vision to make the university one of the best of its kind in Nigeria. But, as you know, resources are not as robust as the vision. So that has been a challenge but we are always finding ways to overcome that as well. However, in general, it has been very exciting.
What are these challenges?
The major challenge in Nigeria is that the financial resources are not very good. However, I think the beauty of it is that we came with a vision, a good one for that matter; the university has a council that is well situated. The chairman of our university council is Prof. Oladipupo Akinkugbe, a medical icon and person that has seen it all in the medical profession. We also have the best people who have been helping us to ensure that we achieve our vision and mission. In particular, we are partnering intellectuals. The only thing we need is the additional resources to help to take the university to where we want it to be.
Talk about running the university with lean resources, how are you coping with the ongoing economic recession?
Right from day one, we set up a fund raising department, which today has been successful in raising funds for the university. In particular, we are reaching out to various community leaders in and around Ondo State. I can tell you that some of the major infrastructural developments that are taking place in the university right now are those that were donated to us by the key leaders of the community.
Also, we set up a Friend of UNIMED Fund through which we are asking people to donate at least N1000 a year towards the building of the university. The idea is that if we get one million people donate N1000 each year, which will be N1billion annually, this will be good enough to carry out projects for the university. We are reaching out to international agencies in terms of getting them to support the idea of the university. We are also writing proposals to the frontline agencies. And the reaction has been encouraging. Many of them not only donated N1000 per year; they donated more than that. I tell you one of the High Chiefs in Ondo, Chief Isaac Akintade, donated a faculty building worth millions of naira. The building is now 80 per cent completed. We are also getting a lot of donations in kind, such as sets of computers and other office equipments.
How many of your courses have been approved by the National Universities Commission?
The NUC has approved some of our courses and we are working on the others, mainly the new ones we just introduced. The Medical and Dental Council is visiting us very soon and I believe they would approve some of our programmes.
So, what stands the university out?
The great thing about the University of Medical Sciences, Ondo, is that we are starting at a foundation level and we are correcting all the difficulties that other universities cannot address, some of those things that are socially wrong. If you have a university that is already having problems at this level, it will be very difficult to correct those problems because traditional ways of doing things cannot be changed. But with a new university, if you start well and does things well right from the beginning, then you can achieve some of the milestones that the international communities are expecting it to achieve.