In Oyo : The Precious Cornerstone University (PCU) to kick-start operations in September.
The Precious Cornerstone University (PCU), Ibadan, Oyo State, was granted an operational licence in December 2017 and is expected to commence operations in September. In this interview with LAOLU HAROLDS, its chief promoter and the presiding Bishop of the Sword of the Spirit Ministries, Bishop Francis Wale Oke, talks about the niche the university intends to carve for itself, among other issues.
When was the first time the vision of establishing a private university was conceived?
It was in 2005. I went to pray in a jungle; I love to do prayer walk. That jungle is a land we just acquired for the ministry, which now is serving as the permanent campus for the university. And the Lord began to speak to me from Psalms 144 about raising sons and daughters that would reposition Nigeria and Africa. Look at the migrant crisis; why should our children be dying in droves in the Mediterranean if things were well at home? It’s because when they look forward and they can’t see any hope, they want to go abroad at all costs. We want to change that equation. We want Nigeria to be a country where not only will our children love to stay; others would also love to come. We want to make our own contribution through quality tertiary education; raising entrepreneurs, raising positive thinkers, possibility thinkers; raising people with moral strength to bring change to our society. The journey started 2006, and now we have the licence and we are taking off.
Looking back, what are those challenges you would say have delayed that vision till today?
We were in the process when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was president; as soon as there was a change, it was like starting all over again. So, each time there was a change of administration like that, it’s like starting all over. That’s one main challenge that we have had. And then, the second, people think we are doing it because somebody somewhere is doing it; I don’t do things like that. No. I celebrate people’s success; I thank God for them, but I don’t embark on anything unless there is a clear leading from the Lord. I remember where I was; I remember I was praying and meditating on the scriptures, and the Lord spoke to me. (It’s) not because anybody was doing it. By the grace of God, eagles don’t flock. The vision came from Heaven; and the Lord will help us. We’re going to make Precious Cornerstone not like any other university, but a unique university carving its own niche and asserting its own uniqueness and producing unique graduates that will make a difference in the society. So, if you are looking for a university that will give you all-round education, that will get you professionally connected, that will get you prepared to be an entrepreneur, a job creator, an employer of labour, this is the university. Every course that we are going to run will run parallel with its professional dimension. For example, Accounting; the moment you enter, we’ll train the students academically and we’ll train them professionally, so that as they are getting their degree, they’re getting chartered as accountants; the same thing Administration and so on; to give them a rounded view of the subject they are graduating in and to prepare them to be job creators.
Running a university is very capital-intensive. No matter how high the fees are, they are not going to be enough. What other options are you looking at?
One, the promoter will be making regular subventions. Two, we want to involve private organisations to partner with us. Three, we want to partner with universities at home and abroad; so, we’re going to look for investors, individual partners that believe in changing the game in the educational scenario in Nigeria to invest in the university. We’re not establishing it to make profit, but to invest in our children and prepare them for their tomorrow. A body has been set up to look into the funding of the university, and we’ll implement all their recommendations.
By way of collaboration with other institutions, are there some institutions you’re already discussing with?
Already, the NUC has said that the University of Ibadan should mentor us. I have met Aare Afe Babalola personally and he has promised to partner with us. I’ve discussed with Bishop David Oyedepo and he has promised to partner with us. We have reached out to them at RUN (Redeemers University of Nigeria) and they have promised to partner with us; so, we are going to work in partnership and collaboration with universities, both faith-based and otherwise, to work with us until we can stand on our own.
Can you take us through the courses the NUC approved for you?
We’re taking off with two faculties: Faculty of Social and Management Sciences and Faculty of Natural and Applied Sciences; and we have five departments and 12 programmes.
PCU is just coming on board; but why do you think the existing private universities have not been able to effectively solve the problem of access to university education?
The problem is that the deficit was so huge before the advent of private universities. And I want to commend the Federal Government; they still want to license more private universities so that more students can be given opportunity to have tertiary education. The deficit was huge before the private universities came on board, and the coming of the private universities is reducing the deficit and providing quality education. It’s also eliminating the inability to predict when you’re going to finish (strikes), and has taken care of cultism and bringing in the moral dimension; we’re very serious about the matter of discipline. We have zero tolerance for cultism; there is no room for it at all.
But we’ve heard of cases where in some faith-based universities some of these vices you mentioned still found their way in somehow. Where would you put the fault?
When you’re dealing with the mass of people, you put your standard in place. Some people have a way of beating the system, but we have inbuilt mechanisms to detect if there is anything like that, and then we will arrange rehabilitation programmes for them. If a student is caught with drugs, in cultism and such things, we’ll arrange rehabilitation programme for them. It is only when they do not want to cooperate that we’ll send them out.
There have been complaints that faith-based universities don’t cater to the interest of members, as they cannot afford to send their children there. How will you take care of these?
The greatest joy and pleasure of our members is that the university is born. They’ve been part of the sacrifice from the beginning. I want to assure you, they are so motivated that they still want to continue to be part of the sacrifice. And don’t forget also (that) the building of a private university is not a chicken game; it’s huge. As we’re talking now, the promoters still have to look for between two billion and 2.5 billion naira to inject in the first year. So, we’re not yet in the phase of free tuition, free scholarship. No. We want to make this university sustainable; we want to create world class university, and there is a price to pay. Yes, we are going to make provision for scholarship, but we must balance the book and make sure that the university is sustainable. Our members have no problems about that at all; they’ve been part of the sacrifice, and they will joyfully be part of the sacrifice to see that this is a world class university that they can be proud of.
How many students is the PCU taking off with?
We’ve been allowed to take off with 325 students, but today (January 13, 2018) the board of trustees mandated the governing council to go and discuss with the NUC so that we’ll be able to take off with 550 students. We have capacity for 550 students. I want to give as many students as possible opportunity for quality tertiary education. So, we, hopefully, are taking off with 550 students.