The essence of collaboration by countries or institutions is geared towards development as can be seen in the France-FUNAI/Nigeria partnership, writes Amby Uneze
When the Federal University, Ndufu-Alike, Ikwo (FUNAI), Ebonyi State few years ago initiated the idea to partner the French Government in assisting the institution in training its manpower (lecturers) to improve their academic pursuits, little did it realise the enormity of the dividends it would harness in that project.
The programme which came to fruition through the signing of a tripartite agreement in January 2016 between FUNAI, Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) and the French Government has opened doors not only in the education sector, but in the collaboration of other areas. This was testified by the Governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi during the courtesy visit by the French Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Denys Gauer to the Governor’s Office in Abakaliki recently. He expressed delight about the visit of the French Ambassador to the state for the first time.
Explaining the reason for the linkage of the young university of about seven years, struggling to develop and catch up with the realities of what it takes and means to be referred to as a university, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Chinedum Nwajiuba said “it was to ensure that proper university culture is instituted by opening up to respected institutions and linkages that would ensure a world-class university of the founder’s dream.” This action led it to enter into partnership with the Embassy of France in Nigeria.
Nwajiuba stated that the partnership with the Embassy of France would offer the university an opportunity that would define many aspects of the institution. “We have opportunity to raise a new generation of quality academics who will determine the character of our university. Towards this, we have opportunity to send to France 35 academics for masters and doctoral training this year. We intend to continue along this line in the future, while we work towards developing other forms of training and research collaborations.”
On why the institution chose France for the collaboration, the vice-chancellor maintained that France being a major world power, has many quality universities, adding that exposure to the university system in France would bring numerous advantages to the staff. “Further, the cost of training is affordable compared to some other OECD countries. Then, after graduation, France offers excellent opportunities for her alumni to relate and therefore benefit their future career.
“There are many other expected future benefits of our relationship. We live in a world that has come closer as a result of globalisation and technologies. Nigeria is surrounded by French-speaking countries. At the ECOWAS and AU levels, we have opportunities of better association and relationships that can emerge with staff trained in France. FUNAI plans to attract foreign students starting with our neighbour- Cameroon. Last year, we hosted a guest lecturer from a University in Bamenda and we plan to embark on publicising FUNAI in the Republic of Cameroon next year.
“A world-class university must not only have diversity of faculty, but also of students. We believe that a critical number of staff trained in France will support our internationalisation plans. French is the major language of diplomacy and we see important advantages in FUNAI as a centre of excellence. We believe that we are emerging as a noted place for the study of French Language in Nigeria. Despite our young age, we rank among universities with the most robust collection of French literature and books in Nigeria and we have plans to establish a French Village here in FUNAI,” the VC stated.
While it is obvious that FUNAI is laying the foundation for a green campus that is able to contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation, over 5,000 trees have been planted in the last one year and currently all street lights on the FUNAI campus are solar-powered. The management of the institution had decided to make all new development green-compliant.
The visit of the French Ambassador to FUNAI did not only capture agreement in education, it also gave the opportunity for the ambassador to highlight other achievements in the area of trade and economic policy of the French Government. France-Nigerian diplomatic relations are improving by the day which brought trade increase between the two friendly countries to amount to over N750 billion (1.8 billion Euros) in the first quarter of 2017. Efforts are also being made to develop more economic exchanges to the benefit of both nations. This was revealed by Gauer.
The ambassador stressed that Nigeria happens to be France’s first commercial partner in Sub-Saharan Africa, adding that recently, BusinessFrance, an agency in charge of assisting French companies abroad opened an office in Lagos to strengthen the effort.
Delivering a lecture titled ‘The Influence of French and Francophone Policies in Nigeria’ held at the University Auditorium in a programme of the FUNAI)- French Government collaboration, the ambassador described Africa as a land of economic opportunities, hence the launch in 2013 of the AfricaFrance Foundation meant to encourage the deepening of economic relations and the development of human capital.
He maintained that France’s relationship with Africa and Nigeria in particular covers a wide range of areas from security through human rights and development to business, adding that in a globalised world all countries face the same challenges, so “it is a common responsibility to turn them into opportunities rather than letting them degenerate into threats.”
“Thirty-seven per cent of France’s 8.6 billion Euros aid goes to Sub-Saharan Africa, making it the first recipient of our funding. The French Development Agency has been active in Nigeria for 10 years only, but its activity has been expanding rapidly. In 2017 alone, it will have invested around 350 million Euros – that is approximately N150 billion- in this country, mostly soft loans to both the federal and state governments and the private sector.
“We have been working, among other things on; improving energy and water infrastructure through the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) and the Urban Water Sector Reform Programme; providing better transportation by renovating more than 1,000 kilometres of rural roads and funding the Lagos Bus Rapid Transit System; and helping the small and medium sized enterprises through credit facilitation, in relation with the Development Bank of Nigeria and Access Bank,” he said.
On France’s partnership with FUNAI, the ambassador noted that his interest was to have an exchange with students of the university since the youths remain the key to cope with those challenges so that they can also seize the opportunities to overcome such threats.
He expressed delight that it was the partnership the university initiated with the French Embassy that had made the visit possible, indicating that over the past two years of the partnership, the French government had awarded 35 scholarships to students and staff of the university to pursue masters or doctorate degree programmes.
“Through an agreement signed in January 2016, FUNAI, TETFund and the French Government have delivered or are about to deliver 35 scholarships, enabling as many trainees to pursue master or PhD studies in the best French universities in Paris, Marseille, Toulouse, Strasbourg, Dijon or Grenoble. The first group of students and junior lecturers have already left, and two others will soon follow. In a few years, they will come back to contribute to the development and success of this university and beyond.
“You may not know that 250,000 foreign students choose France every year, of who 100,000 hail from Africa. We are the fourth host country in the world and the first for African students. Yet, only a handful comes from Nigeria. It is all the more gratifying to see that FUNAI has decided to send its promising staff-in-training to France. And it makes a lot of sense because in France, you can study engineering, mathematics, humanities or social sciences at the highest level and at the same time learn the language of your francophone neighbours,” Gauer stated.
In his remarks, Nwajiuba said the visit of the French Ambassador to his institution was highly valued and would be recorded as a significant event in the history of the university and therefore was regarded as the seal of the partnership between the university and the French Government.
The facilitator of the programme, Dr. Nnenna Nwosu-Nworuh, who is also the Head, Department of Languages, said she was excited about the visit, adding that it was her dream come true and commended the vice-chancellor for ensuring that the institution maintains excellence in academics and morals.