When the University of Nigeria College of Medicine (UNCOM) among 8 other institutions, briefly lost its accreditation with the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) in 2011, many of its students, faculty, and alumni bristled with anger at the perceived incompetence of the college authorities. The MDCN decision led other accrediting bodies, such as the UK’s General Medical Council (GMC) to withdraw their recognition too. As a consequence, many alumni of the affected schools, some of them highly accomplished in their respective fields of medicine, felt a sense of betrayal and embarrassment. Here at The ANPA Blog, UNCOM alumnus, Dr. Echezona Ezeanolue, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Nevada School of Medicine, wondered whether the standards of medical training had fallen such that so many institutions were affected. Another ANPA member and Treasurer of the Universitity of Nigeria College of Medicine Alumni Association (UNCOMAA) North America chapter, Dr. Tagbo Ekwonu, posted a thought-provoking piece rallying his fellow alumni to step up to rescue their alma mater. As he memorably stated “we are the ones we have been waiting for”, echoing Barack Obama’s inspirational appeal to Americans in the heady days of the 2008 campaign.
In response to Dr. Ekwonu’s piece, which was widely circulated among Nigerian diaspora physicians, and also published here, the UNCOM Provost, Professor Basden Onwubere, moved swiftly to quell the firestorm. He told ANPA members that this was a “very sad situation to me personally and the entire College staff and students”. Professor Onwubere, however, took umbrage at some of the criticisms being lobbed at his leadership and sought to “correct the impression being created that the suspension was because of ‘sub-standard training’”. The embattled Provost may appear defensive but is not ducking responsibility. He seems determined to contain the damage by reaching out to alumni groups. Displaying a sense of openness and accountability rarely found among leaders of troubled Nigerian institutions, Professor Onwubere told this Blog that he would willingly respond to any questions or comments, adding “it is, indeed, my responsibility as the current Chief Executive of our Medical Institution to provide accurate and current information on the state of affairs in that institution.”
The ANPA Blog followed up with Professor Onwubere, to seek his responses to several critical swipes that had been taken at the institution’s leadership in the wake of the accreditation saga (see here andhere and here and here and here and here and here). We solicited questions from ANPA members and in particular UNCOM alumni in the US.
Below, we reproduce the first of my 2-part interview with UNCOM Provost, Professor Basden Onwubere.
Q: We understand that the principal reason for the loss of accreditation was the recurrent issue of excessive class size. To begin with, please give us the full context about the MDCN complaint. How many students is the college allowed and how many were admitted?
A: The admission quota granted to our Medical School by the Medical & Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) is 150 but for the past few years this quota had been exceeded. The MDCN benevolently pardoned all excesses prior to 2007/2008 academic session and also allowed 20% excess up to 2009/2010 academic year. The students are now being assigned index numbers in their second year by the MDCN which they will have as students and also throughout their practice.
Q: What led to the admission of more students than allowed by the MDCN?
A: Reasons usually mentioned for ‘over-stepping’ are pressures from Staff, Government officials etc. We are unable at this point in time provide further details. I sincerely believe the reasons are largely avoidable.
Q: Aside from the accreditation issue, is it not likely that too many students affect training and undermine the quality of education? Can the college’s training resources support more students than approved by the MDCN?
A: Obviously, admission quotas given by regulating Bodies (MDCN, NUC, etc) are based on available staff and teaching facilities in the Institutions being accredited. Exceeding bounds would certainly affect quality of education and this is why the Agencies like the MDCN wield their big hammers to discourage Institutions from flouting the rules.
Q: Does the new campus at Ozara-Ituku have the capacity for a larger class size? In view of current projections for health workforce in your region of the country, is there any plan for an upward adjustment to match the anticipated need for a larger number of healthcare providers in the coming years?
A: The Ituku-Ozalla Campus has a large land mass and capable of absorbing any projected increase in number of healthcare providers. Already teaching aids are being installed there by the University like Google-assisted internet facility.
Q: Some people have alleged that college authorities yield to pressure from politicians and other powerful individuals to admit their relatives even when they are not the most qualified. Some allege that officials receive bribes in exchange for admission slots, and that these corrupt practices contributed to the bloated admission rolls. How do you respond to this?
A: The current admission process is not entirely a College affair. The issue of alleged corrupt practices hinges on legal issues that need to be investigated and appropriately handled. I personally believe that an officer of the status of a Dean, Provost or higher rank is expected to behave responsibly and my nature is to convince myself that such is the case. I can assure you that efforts have been put in place to avoid the embarrassing situation our College found itself recently during the temporary suspension of accreditation.
To be continued.