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Nigerian universities and need-based innovative content and research

I attended a Symposium at the University of Lagos last Thursday, 19th October, 2017 on the invitation of the UNILAG’s Dean of Education, Professor Supo Jegede. The event, which was organised by the University of Lagos in collaboration with Aberystwyth University, UK, attracted dignitaries from academia and the corporate world.

Under the theme “Internationalisation and Innovations in Education and Research”, a major take home I got from it is the imminence of need-based innovative content and research in Nigerian universities.

The universities in Nigeria are 153, and still counting. We have a variety of research institutes and other tertiary institutions around where students and researchers present and report ideas. Each institution has various course contents determined by its Senate/Academic Board.

Scholars have established that our universities are yet to meet the needs of over 180 million Nigerian citizens. Only one university had been featured in the Times Higher Education World University Ranking in 2016. While universities in Egypt, South Africa, Ghana, Kenya and Uganda made the QS World University Rankings 2018 and that of ARWU, no Nigerian university made the list. Where Nigerian universities got mentioned in the past, none made the top 800 worldwide.

Academic reputation, employer reputation, lecturer-student ratio, citations per faculty, international faculty ratio, international student ratio, among others factor determine how high universities are ranked.

We are quick to blame government for lack of facilities while other governments look up to the universities in their countries to solve societal problems. There are numerous alternative sources of funding that Nigerian universities are not exploring well. Our universities can drive our society to progress if appropriate reforms are initiated and implemented.

Need-Based Content and Research

Ascertaining relevance would be helpful in answering the question of need-based content and research. What is relevant to solving societal problems today? How relevant are the contents and researches coming out of Nigerian research institutions? Do these contents and researches reflect the realities of the contemporary world? These and other questions are realities we cannot escape as nation if we really want to be taken seriously.

It is 2017, not 1917. The world is talking of the Sustainable Development Goals and how it affects their respective environments. Are we keenly a part of the conversation?

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Measures such as the institution of compulsory courses in entrepreneurship education in the universities are commendable in line with ameliorating Nigeria’s employment challenge.

We are not quick to forget that the Federal University of Technology, Akure, in collaboration with its partners, launched the first ever university satellite, NigeriaEduSat-1, to space earlier in June. This should promote satellite technology and space careers among the youth.

However, Nigerian universities still have loads of irrelevant course contents, and award degrees and promotions based on irrelevant researches. You would see some research topics and begin to wonder what century they were meant for.

Courses such as Zoology and Classics have already lost their value without new Zoos being built and people to speak Latin or Greek. What is the use of a typewriting in a Business Education class when real business people no longer use a typewriter? We are a nation that has refused to identify and synchronise our researches and contents with the needs of our nation and the world.

Nigeria’s telecommunications industry, as large it is in Africa, continues to source many of its products from foreign tertiary institutions because not up to five of our institutions offer a telecommunications management or engineering course. Many of our computer science graduates that specialise in related fields didn’t actually learn these relevant contents from their universities.

The Nollywood industry is rated among the top three in the world. Yet, less than six of Nigeria’s universities offer standard dedicated courses in film production and cinematography.

Constant power supply only exists in very few homes where they can afford the luxury. No tangible alternative solutions have been explored even within most of Nigeria’s universities to ensure self-sufficiency in power supply, not to talk of the entire country.

Despite the high rates of crimes in certain parts of country, only seven of our universities have an undergraduate or postgraduate course in criminology and security studies, Cyber Security Science and the other aspects of the forensic sciences.

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Even where we are taking care of a national need, as it is with agriculture, we are still awaiting the effectiveness of such. Most of the graduates from the three agriculture-specialised universities in Abeokuta, Umudike and Makurdi have refused to go into anything agriculture.

That reminds me of an interview with the Acting Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Professor Ololade Enikuomehin, last Monday, where he clarified that it was not the duty of the university to provide employment for its graduates. He called for support from the corporate world to complement government’s efforts in boosting food production and other relevant areas of agriculture.

This takes us to an aspect that could boost need-based innovative content and research, which is collaborations.

Universities and Collaborations

No university is an island of its own. It is thus apt when Professor Jegede said that the event was organised to expore new developments. Universities develop through internationalisation and collaboration, the Chairman of the Planning Committee for the UNILAG Symposium pointed out.

In his words, “For you to become a global university or institution, you must have been interacting with other universities. You must have collaborations and partnership with other universities.”

Partnership with individuals of like minds as well as corporate bodies could be all that is needed to propel and achieve need-based content and research from our universities. Conglobulating the right people is not entirely an easy task. It may require each person already being able demonstrate ability to add value, based on their past works.

International scientific collaborations are parts of the parameters in determining university rankings, according to Times Higher Education. Universities should equally explore signing memoranda of understanding with other universities and relevant agencies to boost the capacity of their staff in research development. Staff and student exchange between partnering institutions would make some difference. Each would naturally learn from the other.

Interdisciplinary researches are now a common feature of every serious research institutions and Nigerian universities have been exploring this for some time now. The Centre for Sustainable Development at the University of Ibadan, for instance, is known for encouraging researches from multiple disciplines vis-a-vis achieving the SDGs.

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Government, at all levels, has to increase funding on research on various societal needs. Anything short of the minimum 26% budgetary allocation to education would keep us regressing. Through its bilateral relations with other countries, the Federal Government could consult with researchers on how such relationships could boost the capacities of our universities in problem solving.

Help from corporate bodies, beyond government funding, is a necessity to attract funding to research. Researchers have got to determine what best suits the funding of research in order to spend lesser of their own money in the process.

Getting a research proposal accepted for funding can be quite hectic. This is why we cannot over-emphasise the importance of need-based content and research.

Many academics who had applied for TETFund had complained of rejection. Those who had successfully got funding for their researches have stories to tell.

Researchers needs to demonstrate clearly how their research would solve some problem and report the impact of the research at end of the day.

It would be much relevant to seek funding for such research from philanthropists and corporate institutions working in one of the fields where the research is domiciled. Members of the alumni need to be shown how relevant researches are to their respective industries to perhaps attract funding from them. The more they see the relevance of the research idea to aiding what they do, the more likely they are to fund it.

The National Universities Commission (NUC), through its offices, should be more rigorous in ensuring that universities actually develop contents that are relevant to the needs of Nigeria and the realities of the modern world. Not just any course should be accredited.

The curriculum should be much more learner oriented and innovation encouraging. With these, among other factors, Nigerian universities will take a top place among global universities.

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Abdussalam is a student of knowledge who loves to learn new things. He has proven competence in journalism, teaching, and writing.

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