Many people get the feeling that the Faculty of Engineering at Unilag was always apart from all the others, but have not just been able to put their finger on the reason why. Now hear it from the oldest “Son of the soil” in this race! It is simply the Spirit of Innovation. The specifics are easy to see.
A bit of history …
While ABU, the other “real” competitor was built around a “generous” number of British lecturers and other expatriates, Unilag was able to attract local geniuses that came from world-beating universities. Apart from the well-known Ayodele Awojobi, there were several other greats- examples: Okurounmu from Harvard and MIT, Akinsete of Cambridge and McGill, or Soboyejo from Stanford, EE Okon who first completed a PhD in Electrical Engineering before earning a First class Bachelors degree in Mathematics at Kings College, London, etc. These were led by that twin of perhaps the greatest structural engineers Nigeria had known in former deans Adekola and recently deceased Oladapo (one of the crafters of Norway’s design code) with the great Sonuga that brought in the Hydraulics and Coastal laboratory that is now a vestige of its old self. Ladies and gentlemen, you are sheltered in exactly the same offices, teaching in the same classrooms and still also entertaining the very top students that Nigeria can produce! These people were not afraid to innovate. They were not following the minimum NUC standards which is the Lowest Common Factor that lecturers from lower ranking schools come together to enunciate. Instead, following top schools such as Stanford, Illinois and Urbana Champaigne and Cornell, Adekola (Dean 1968-1972) established the first and perhaps the only truly Engineering Mechanics program in Nigeria called Engineering Analysis which the NUC never knew how to handle. This is exactly what the trio of Aderogba, Okon and Olunloyo in the older days used not only to lift the Engineering Math and Mechanics of Unilag students beyond Nigerian standards but to establish the Nigerian Congress of Applied Mechanics that is now virtually defunct. Adekola, as professor, personally taught us Strength of Materials, Awojobi/Soboyejo graphics while Okurounmu did Thermodynamics all to first year students in Room 106!
The Home of Innovation
It is that same spirit of Innovation that made Unilag to blaze the trail of introducing Robotics, Mechatronics and Finite Element analysis (and even started graduating students) six full years before NUC scrambled Vice chancellors to Abuja to announce its “discovery” and “instructed” that Nigerian Universities should now go and start doing Mechatronics!
If many think I don’t have the liver for the status quo, it is partly because I have seen better days at Unilag. Of course we can decide to behave like the proverbial one eyed king in the Blind Country. Yet, there is no reason why we cannot aim higher. The younger ones that have recently visited foreign universities KNOW that we have some “catch-up” to do. The only way we can do this is to revive the spirit of Innovation and do it the UNILAG way: Lead and let those who dare follow.
Partnerships to address Infrastructural Deficit
The main challenge of our faculty is the infrastructural deficit that made the enabling environment to be real academics impossible. I am happy that dean Salau accepted our demand for a changing room for lecturers who stayed overnight at work. What preceded his innovation is better imagined! This goes to show that innovation does not always require a lot of money. It is also good to see that the frontage of our faculty looks good. Yet, the back side and the civil area of the labs look like shantytown and must be changed while we explore the outlining areas for a tripling of the parking space to reduce the pressure in the front lot. In our core business we must innovate.
The innovation must continue the small idea that gave us the LG Laboratory and the largest stash of software support we have ever known. It must naturally lead to a recrafting of our curriculum such that once students have done multi-variable calculus, they are empowered by tensor analysis early so they can have the background training to do multiphysics simulations in their final year. Ladies and gentlemen, it is not OK to teach programming at the final year. We should do that, if possible in the first year and leverage on that background to use that as the means of teaching through the entire programme!
Industry partnerships that we have been following in the past six years include the
- Exxon-Mobil proposed under-water welding facility that can help us not only to greatly expand the workshop, foundry and other laboratories but to create an executive Master Programme for the Oil Industry that can not only be self-sustaining but can fund other projects in the faculty.
- A Controls laboratory that will be multidisciplinary and therefore be timetabled for Chemical, Electrical, Systems and Mechanical Engineering – serving all equally and manned by a senior academic and capable of doing multidisciplinary work in that area.
- Two or three laboratories from the mandate of the ECN’s Center for Energy Efficiency including testing laboratory, measurement and other equipped space to enable us mount a certification programme for energy equipment that are being dumped on Nigeria with false ratings. This will include certification of inverters, Deep cycle batteries, etc. A major contribution to the amelioration of the energy predicament of Nigeria.
- The Ayodele Awojobi Centre. We were promised help to complete the construction to replace the former Health Centre behind us. We will pursue this with vigor to add to our facilities.
- A Revival of the coastal modeling laboratory. If we do not take care to vigorously revive research in the Old Coastal Simulations Laboratory established in 1975, we may find ourselves struggling with other interests in the university to keep that values space. We will need at least a hundred million naira just to restore that Laboratory. Only a University-Government-Industry partnership can make this happen.
- From Survey to Geomatics Engineering. It is time to upgrade the Survey and Geoinformatics Department of our Faculty to a Department of Geomatics Engineering. This will greatly invigorate admission drive and raise the profile of that course making it one of the most competitive engineering programs while fulfilling both COREN and SURGON requirements. That is the kind of Innovation Unilag is known for.
We shall also pursue new ones. We have active contacts with Oil companies and some others in the deep offshore. In addition cooperation with foreign universities that can help our delivery with modern blended delivery methods that will leverage executive Masters programmes in areas where Nigerian parents now send their children to low ranking British schools set up to take their money.
There are always simple solutions to every human problem. They are usually wrong! To some, staff welfare is around money and quick promotions. Of course one must be mindful of the environment we are working in. Here is how we see the issue and what will be vigorously pursued as solutions.
First the palliatives. In the past six years we have established the fact that engineers and surveyors with Masters degree and professional qualifications should start at no lower than lecturer 2 in step with what similarly qualified professionals in Law and Medicine are given. We have argued further that completion of the PhD should naturally move someone to the Lecturer 1 cadre. The present dean and HODs must be commended for following through with that in most cases. Now here is the catch: If the typical engineering academic studying here usually grows grey hairs before completing that PhD, even this proviso is a pipe dream! The real issue therefore is the facilitation of a more speedy process for doing research in the faculty. A full paper on that will be made available on the site www.facebook.com/oafak2012. Unless that problem is fully addressed, all the palliatives become tenuous and cannot be administered fairly and cannot therefore endure.
Fundamental Issues. We must pursue fairness and justice. The real issue is that other faculties can gain advantage over us simply because we are not pressing our basic advantages. Law, with a single real department – all producing exactly the same product can be creating several departments. Medicine can be having several faculties, deans, HODs and other paraphernalia because of the way university funds are allocated. What we shall do to ensure fairness is to remind the University of Lagos of its desire to be among the top universities in the world. Those others we are trying to emulate allocate their resources based on delivery of products. If the funds are allocated on the basis of what it costs to train a lawyer times the number of lawyers you train, then it should not worry us how many departments law creates! We should vigorously pursue that more equitable distribution and therefore starve off the wasteful balkanization of departments even when there are new programs. Much sought after degrees such as Oil and Gas, Computer Engineering, Geomatics Engineering, etc will then not be given the same resources as some programs that are only here because of the accident of history and are no longer relevant or attracting students.
We must therefore ensure that we are able to create professorships at par with faculties such as Science that have had a jackpot harvest in the past few years. Details of these will be in the document to be released soon.
- We will start the process of modernizing the Surveys Department to Geomatic Engineering. There is no better time to innovate in this direction. That will make the Faculty more homogeneous and expand the scope and usefulness of that department and aid in our recruitment and value to the nation. More on Geomatics Engineering at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geomatics_engineering
- Departments will be encouraged to introduce Symbolics, Multiphysics simulations, Executable documents technology into the courseware creation and instruction in engineering. This will necessitate a much earlier instruction on programming and increase the number of related IT mediation in our delivery. Internal training mechanisms will be used with additional input from foreign partnerships. We will require that new students of Engineering have their own PCs and so instruct on Symbolics and technical Skills Practicum at the first year. This is the practice in top universities. A PC can be got for 30,000 Naira today. Even poor parents want their children to be competitive in the technological economy they will face!
- Electrical Mechanical and Systems Engineering Departments will emphasize new Energy programmes and partner more closely with the Energy Centre for the realization of larger national goals for problem solving in our energy delivery imbroglio.
- An audit will be made into the way laboratories and workshops do business. We will direct accruable monies towards the basic energy self sufficiency and do away with mini-inverter solutions that are now littering our faculty.
- Partnerships projects will be designed to expand the scope of opportunities for consulting, executive teaching and other projects to diversify the areas of extra cash income instead of this choking dependency on university-wide sharing stuff.
- More on the Faculty journal at https://www.facebook.com/notes/oafak2012/journal-renovation/210560505727578
- More on Awojobi Centre at https://www.facebook.com/notes/oafak2012/the-awojobi-engineering-centre/210569602393335
- Our Julius Berger Auditorium. Despite the deficit in available infrastructure, we have been unable to fully benefit from a gift to the faculty by Julius Berger. Instead of the university renovating the old theatre while completing the JB twin, we find that community programs often take precedence over academic requirements of engineering in the JBA. We will work to change this. In fact, it will be time tabled for our postgraduate seminars which we will be able to hold on specific days of the week. That way, PhD candidates will have their work previewed by the entire faculty and will therefore become a learning experience to both undergraduates and PG students.
The university of Lagos needs to take the driver’s seat again in its usual position of leading by innovating! The best way to make these possible? Don’t waste your vote. Let it count for passion to refuse the status quo; Drive to dig deep and think; the daring to be different and the competence to innovate. Vote oafak for Dean!