The $8m grant from the World Bank for the establishment of an ICT Park at Obafemi Awolowo University is a laudable idea that calls for collaboration between the academic community and technology firms, writes Emma Okonji

The wide gap that exists between the academia and the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry in terms of the quality of university graduates every year has been a thing of concern. The gap is so glaring and alarming to the extent that industry stakeholders, who are employers of labour, had to painstakingly invest in fresh graduates in order to retrain them to acquire industry skills that will make them   useful to the organisations.

Over the years, such existing gap has partially been blamed on lack of proper academic research across tertiary institutions, which has equally been blamed on lack of ICT parks at designated universities, designed to train students on practical skills that will make them employable.

Most thesis and research projects carried out by students of tertiary institutions, end up on the shelves of varsity libraries. They are most times coated with dust because they are not implementable and they do not serve the needs of the industry.

In order to address the anomalies that have created huge gap between the universities and the industry, the World Bank, in 2014, came up with an idea on how to bridge the gap between the academia and the industry with a strong desire to set up an ICT Park in a university that will help to train students in practical skills that will make them both employable and employers of labour. The idea was to establish an ICT Park at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile Ife, in Osun State, where its students and other tertiary institution students in the county could acquire practical skills in various Computer and Technology related courses that are in demand by industry stakeholders.

Having commenced the ICT Part project with full facilities on ground, the authority of OAU is calling for collaboration with  industry stakeholders, to give the ICT Park project a more desired facelift.

The choice of OAU

Speaking at a one-day forum in Lagos last week, which was centred around the ICT Park project and organised by the university authority, with the theme: ‘Rethinking Academia-Industry Engagement’, the Director, World Bank Assisted Project, OAU, Prof. Adesola Aderounmu, who doubles as the President of Nigeria Computer Society (NCS), said the university was selected for the project because of its excellent pursuit for education. According to him, the World Bank called for proposal from all universities in Nigeria and Central Africa in 2014 and 30 universities were initially selected from among 59 that applied from Nigeria.

“Among the 59 universities, 10 of them were shortlisted by the World Bank and after a thorough review of the applications of the 10 shortlisted schools, OAU was eventually selected as the best institution for the ICT Park project,” Aderounmu said.

“A grant of $8 million was given by World Bank for the ICT Park project, which had since commenced with students already carrying our research projects in the ICT Park, but we needed more industry collaboration on the. The programme has already started and some industry stakeholders have already signed MOU with us, designed to bridge the practical skills gap that currently exists,” Aderounmu added.

 

The need for industry collaboration 

Although the ICT Park project has commenced since 2014 with structures and facilities already on ground, the university said there was need for more industry collaboration to bring it to speed and to the desired global standard.

Addressing the large forum made up of academia and industry stakeholders, the Pro Chancellor of the University, Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi, said the essence of the forum was to seek more collaboration from industry stakeholders in the form of industry partnership to boost the project.

“We need to build strong interface between the academia and the industry, and we want industry participation and synergy on this project that will be of immense benefit to the student community, the academia and the industry,” Ogunbiyi said.

The Vice Chancellor of the University, Prof. Eyitope Ogunbodede, said the ICT Park would help to bridge the practical skills gap that exists between the academia and the industry. He said the ICT Park projects is capital intensive, hence the need for industry stakeholders to partner OAU to train students that will be well grounded in both theory and practical skills before graduating.

Boosting the project with electricity 

Ogunbiyi, who spoke on the importance of electricity to the ICT Park project, called on the federal government to assist the university in its campus electrification project.

“OAU has been listed among 10 institutions by the federal government through the rural electrification agency to boost electricity in tertiary institutions. We need stable electricity to drive the project and we are appealing to the federal government to assist us on this. The campus electricity project will provide uninterrupted electricity for the ICT park 24/7, if completed and it will ease academic research that will be going on in the ICT Park. We are expecting 8.03 megawatts up from the 6.0 megawatts that is currently existing on our campus, when completed,” he said.

The value of OAU ICT Park

The ICT Park, according to Aderounmu, would add value to students’ learning in acquiring practical skills that meet industry demand. Most of the industry players are complaining that the students that graduate from universities nowadays, are half-baked because they are only grounded in theoretical skills without the actual practical skills in their disciplines.

“The ICT Park will afford the university authority, the opportunity to liaise with industry stakeholders and get them invited to visit the ICT Park regularly, to engage with the students in practical skills that are in line with industry trend. They will work with the university authority to produce robust curriculum on practical skills that could be infused into the university curriculum, with the approval of the National University Commission (NUC),” Aderounmu said .

He further explained that the university authority has added active participation of long and short-term courses and that about 14 short-term courses ranging from Cybersecurity, Cloud Computing, to Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI), have been introduced in the ICT Park. He further said that the University Senate has approved five disciplines for the ICT Park, which include: Masters and Doctorate programmes in Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Intelligence System Engineering, Software Engineering, and Information System. He said the essence of the ICT Park is to train students to be employable and to become self- employed as at the time they are graduating from the university.

The keynote speaker, Dr. Monisoye Sola Afolabi, who gave detailed information about the ICT Park project in his presentation, discussed extensively the roles of the manufacturing industry in the society, the roles of universities as manufacturing industry, the challenges of the universities in training students for the manufacturing industry, as well as the need for academia-industry collaboration in order to achieve the vision of the World Bank, the NUC and the university authority.

He concluded that the major role of the universities is to produce goods and services for the industry and that the goods and services produced from the universities, represent the group of students from various disciplines that graduate from the universities every year. He, however, emphasised that the goods and services from the universities must be in line with industry needs, hence the need for collaboration between the academia and the industry stakeholders to further boost the initiative of the ICT Park project in OAU.

The vision of OAU

According to the Vice Chancellor of OAU, the university has signed several Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) with industry stakeholders as partners to the ICT Park project and they need more partners that will support and finance some projects in the ICT Park initiative.

“We have the facilities on ground, we have the enabling environment as approved by the NUC and the World Bank and our vision is to train full-baked students who are knowledgeable in both practical and theoretical skills, with the collaboration of industry stakeholders,” Ogunbodede said.