Is it possible that Veritas University, Abuja could be showing the university system in Nigeria an image of the system’s future? This is the question being pondered upon in many minds today in the wake of the burst of activities defining the take-off of the 2020-2021 academic session in the university after six months of closure due to COVID-19 pandemic. Coming at a time many campuses are out of joint across Nigeria, the return to normalcy is compelling observers and critics alike to think aloud along this question. Although activities on the campus must conform to COVID-19 rules, Veritas University is in full swing on all fronts – extra-curricular, academic and social. This suggests rising up to and overcoming the shock and paralysis imposed by the pandemic as from March 2020 in a manner that could not have been expected from a relatively new, private university in Nigeria.
The first sign of this imaginative streak was the quick migration from face – face teaching into online teaching last April, with the result that not even a week was lost to the pandemic even as students were not on the campus. Not only was knowledge delivery not interrupted, salaries were also being paid as and when due. And Senate meetings were held, using the digital facility.
As such, the university was able to conclude the 2019-2020 academic session, compile the results and announce resumption for the 2020-2021 academic session to the surprise of many, a move which is in the third week of that reality now. Not only is the session a reality, none of the old practices that foreground a typical academic session has been affected.
The annual orientation for academic and non-academic staff took place a week ahead of the October 10th, 2020 resumption date. The week long reflective sessions featured high profile appearances of experts from within and without the university who took on crucial themes warranting rethinking by all those directly and indirectly connected with expanding and defending the mandate of knowledge under the ethical, intellectual and work conditions of neoliberal globalization.
The university eventually threw its gates open to students again for the first time since late March, 2020 when the school was shut down in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. That was October 10th, 2020. University officials who handled the clearance exercise at the university gate between Saturday, October 10th and Sunday, October 11th, 2020 describe as amazing, the turnout of both new and returning students.
The students had their own version of the Orientation exercise on Monday, October 12th-13th at the University Chapel, starting with a welcome address by Rev. Fr. (Prof) Hyacinth E. Ichoku, the Vice Chancellor who spoke on “The Philosophy and Vision of the University”.
The Vice-Chancellor did not miss the golden opportunity to situate the university in the minds of the students, calling Veritas University a dynamic community of staff and students working together to create knowledge for the advancement of the Nigerian society. Drumming the mission of the university to his listeners, Prof Ichoku put it at evolving a culture of academic excellence that will make the university rank among the best in the world. He implored the students to not only strive to adhere to the rules and regulations of the university but also ensure they did not graduate from Veritas University without certification in computer and other skills available in the university. That, he said, is one of the many attributes that would make them stand out in the country.
It was then the turn of the University Registrar, Dr. (Mrs) Stella Okonkwo to speak on “The Registry at Your Service”, using the opportunity to guide the students through the processes involved in their initiation into the academic community, encouraging them to always seek guidance and direction from the Department, especially as it pertains their studies in Veritas University. The Bursar, Mrs. Margret Akoje similarly took the students on “Financial Guidance for Students”, explaining what the Department does and encouraging students to always visit the Bursary Department for their clearance and financial transactions and clarifications on transactions with the university. Mr. Enobong Oton who represented the Chief Librarian, Mr. Benjamin Alafiatayo, then spoke on “The Library: Centre of Academic Activities”, noting how that hub supports and enhances the vision of the university by providing a desirable learning, teaching and recreation resource centre for the university community and the scholarly world. He emphasized the fact that the Library was created to provide knowledge construct in many formats that will compliment classroom teaching and laboratory experiments while also facilitating access to published and unpublished information through internet access and internal information generation. He charged students to always visit the library as it was the only place they can seek satisfaction for their quest for knowledge.
There were other presentations by Mr. Ofor Obumneme (Digital Opportunities for Learning in Veritas University, Abuja), Rev. Sr. Martha Chia (Etiquette, Good Manners and Dress Code in Veritas University, Abuja), Lady Rose Agbi (Life in the Hostel, Hostel Management, Personal/General Hygiene), Rev. Fr. Dr. Martin Onukwuba (Self Development and Actualization in Veritas University, Abuja), and Dr. Paddy Uju Okoye and Mr. Eugene Itam (Health Service in Veritas University, Abuja (Health Insurance/Covid-19).
The Orientation program responds to what educationists have identified as the shock for most undergraduates who gets lost in the university mostly because many of them are just too young, have never been out of the shadow of parents or never gone outside of their immediate geography. A big welcome during the Orientation could limit the impersonal and much more diverse new environment that a university is.
Enthusiasm and a sense of having overcome a major interruption without a dent have been observable since October 19th, 2020 when lectures commenced. In other words, there is an unspoken inner glow among staff and students similar to sense of accomplishment of the lizard that is still nodding its head in self congratulation when no one congratulated it for safely landing from a tall tree. In short, there is no denying such inner glow with the turn of events in Veritas University, Abuja in a country in which all but just two or so public universities have remained grounded since March 2020, whatever teething problems of water, electricity and more accommodation facilities that Veritas University still encounters.
This is more so that the university is out as well with an academic calendar that enables everyone to know what comes next up to the end of the session next July, including days of Senate meetings. What this means is that, barring a disruption on a national scale, the element of calculability can be taken for granted by all those involved in the Veritas University project, be they students, staff, parents or contractors.
This is more so that the university is out as well with an academic calendar that enables everyone to know what comes next up to the end of the session next July, including days of Senate meetings. What this means is that, barring a disruption on a national scale, the element of calculability can be taken for granted by all those involved in the Veritas University project, be they students, staff, parents or contractors. It is consolidating its postgraduate programmes by putting established scholars with global competitiveness in charge of content development and expansion.
Also on-going is looking back at the experience of online teaching between April and July and how to incorporate elements of that into the much more established ‘sage on stage’ approach to teaching. It has so far become clear across the world that the ‘sage on stage’ approach cannot be displaced yet, most likely because of the paraverbal, non-verbal and other communicative practices face-face teaching embody.
The one innovation that will blow the minds of observers, parents and students is what the university is just starting. It is a series of activities that can be called taking university education beyond certification by preparing students to anticipate the post campus world. It is not clear yet what model is being implemented, it seems comparable to Australia’s Job – Ready Graduates by which students are pushed through certain transferable skills so that they don’t find fitting into life after university such a hassle, be it in terms of employment, self-starting or admission.
An experiment called Veritas University can be said to be unfolding. How the experiment is strengthened, sustained and expanded into irreversible outcomes might be the challenge for all the stakeholders and all honest brokers in the educational industry.