By Chijioke Okoronkwo
Over the years, there has been sustained clamour for the upgrade of Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education (AIFCE) to a full-fledged degree-awarding institution.
The quest for the upgrade of the college of education has been premised on certain factors such as the availability of requisite facilities, the presence of qualified personnel and its status as the oldest teacher training college in Nigeria.
AIFCE was established in 1963 as the Advanced Teachers’ Training College by the defunct Eastern Nigeria Government.
The college awards the National Certificate in Education (NCE) and the Professional Diploma in Education (PDE).
However, in affiliation with the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, AIFCE has been producing students for the Bachelor of Education (B.Ed) degree since 1981.
The college started in 1963 with 150 students but by 2012, the student population had grown to over 13,000, with over 600 academic staff.
The students include regular undergraduates, students of sandwich courses, students of evening and weekend degree programmes and post-graduate students studying for PDE.
In 2007, the Federal Government took over the College and it metamorphosed into Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education, Owerri.
The takeover unleashed a flurry of improved fortunes on the college, particularly with regard to its finances, and this is evident in the massive renovation of dilapidated structures, construction of classrooms, laboratories and hostels, while the staff strength has significantly improved.
In 2013, AIFCE celebrated its golden jubilee — 50 years of its existence as the country’s leading college of education.
AIFCE currently has some distinct schools which include School of Agriculture and Vocational Studies, School of Arts, School of Education, School of Natural Sciences, School of Social Sciences and School of General Studies.
During a recent impact assessment tour of the college by the Minister of Education, Malam Ibrahim Shekarau, the issue regarding the upgrade of the institution into a full-fledged degree-awarding institution was raised again.
Mrs Celestina Ijioma, the Provost of AIFCE, who presented the appeal, said that the college was better equipped than most autonomous degree-awarding institutions in terms of infrastructure and personnel.
“I would like to reiterate our appeal to the Federal Government to upgrade AIFCE to a Federal University of Education.
“We have the requisite personnel, facilities and experience; this college has been awarding bachelor’s degrees, in affiliation with the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), for the past 32 years.
“We have sadly continued to record the loss of our academic staff to universities. This is because in spite of our lecturers’ academic achievements, they cannot be promoted to the rank of professors in the college.
“Yet, they have the same qualifications, publications and scholarship as their colleagues in the university,’’ she said.
The provost noted that some members of AIFCE’s academic staff who got appointment with some universities were accepted as full professors, while others got promoted to the professorial cadre within one or two years of relocation.
Ijioma reiterated that her administration’s vision and determination was to reposition the college into one of the best tertiary education institutions in Africa.
On her part, Shekarau, who was represented by Mrs Viola Onwuliri, the Minister of State for Education, noted that the request for the upgrade of AIFCE had been persistent.
Shekarau said the quest to upgrade the institution, which recently celebrated its golden jubilee, could not be ignored due to its valuable contributions to the education sector.
“We will build on what we are doing today to ensure that our collective dreams are met,’’ he added.
The minister also inaugurated the Special Education blocks and inspected the Micro-Teaching Laboratory and the ICT building, equipped with 600 workstations, which was built by Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund).
Also speaking, Mr Uche Okoroafor, a member of the governing board of the institution, said that the issue of upgrading AIFCE to a university was long overdue.
According to him, the institution has all it takes to be a university in terms of facilities and academia.
Okoroafor noted that since its establishment in 1963, the AIFCE had never lagged behind in meeting its mandate both as an advanced teacher training college and later, a college of education.
“The school has produced a whole of lot of teachers who have impacted on learning in Nigeria; the college has the facilities, it has all it takes to be converted to a Federal University of Education.
“It is long overdue; other countries have such institutions; AIFCE has come of age and should be recognised as a university, so as to encourage its lecturers and stop their exodus to universities,’’ he said.
Okorafor argued that if the college was not good enough as a tertiary institution, the Federal Government would not have been expending huge resources on it.
He said that the Federal Government had spent over N10 billion on AIFCE’s infrastructure development within four years through TETFund and other grants.
Okoroafor said that the college, which was taken over by the Federal Government in 2007, also got resources from other government’s funding schemes such as the Ecological and Intervention Funds.
“The school was taken over by the Federal Government in 2007 and since then, there has been massive development going on in the school, courtesy of TETFund.
“The administration of President Goodluck Jonathan has put in not less than N10 billion in terms of infrastructure through TETFund and Ecological Fund.
“At present, we have a bridge under construction; a library under construction; these are not from TETFund but part of other Federal Government’s intervention.
“The government of President Goodluck Jonathan has indeed contributed much in making the school what it is today,’’ he said.
Sharing similar sentiments, Mr Goddy Njoku, an educationist and alumnus of the college, said that AIFCE could match any university in terms of human resources and infrastructure.
He said that the college was among the first higher institutions in Nigeria to set up a micro-teaching laboratory, which was donated by UNESCO.
“Our lecturers were recorded with closed-circuit television; the teachers and students classroom academic activities are also recorded for further training applications.
“Most of our lecturers are Ph.D holders; besides, our structures are comparable to those of any federal university in Nigeria.
“The hostels are in good condition and are not overcrowded, as obtainable in most universities,’’ he added.
According to Njoku, it has become expedient for the Federal Government to upgrade the AIFCE to a Federal University of Education.
All in all, stakeholders are of the opinion that AIFCE has the requisite potential to transform into a full-fledged degree-awarding institution in a pragmatic way.
They insist that it was high time the implementation of the Federal Government’s White Paper on the matter started. (NANFeatures)