Forging Noble Partnership between Academia, Industry 

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Funmi Ogundare reports that the recent National Universities Commission and National Economic Summit Group academia-industry retreat is aimed at ensuring that higher education works for Nigeria

The importance of repositioning the education sector to deliver national outcomes and impact cannot be overemphasized. However, due to an unwholesome combination of neglect and mismanagement, the Nigerian higher education system, especially, has over the years, fallen into a squalid state of disrepair, requiring serious concern and immediate attention.

With this in mind, stakeholders drawn from the National Universities Commission (NUC), government parastatals, Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) and the industry converged on the Ijewere Hall, Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN), Victoria Island, Lagos, for a two-day NUC-NESG academia-industry retreat with the theme ‘Making Higher Education work for Nigeria’.

The retreat commenced with a current state analysis that assesses and analyses the past and present. It saw stakeholders leveraging the strategic analysis conducted by NUC and NESG microanalysis, emphasising on the role of industry practitioner clusters and communities of practice while preferring options for collaborative mechanisms between academic/theoretical and industry professional/practical.

Discussions at the retreat focused on how university curriculum will be reviewed to drive industry competencies for socio-economic performance and impact; how teaching and research can be retooled to fit in and produce a graduate workforce that can deliver the national development mandates.

Issues on how university system could develop proactive mechanisms for monitoring and assessing the evolving of industry competencies and requirements as the impetus for research and innovation; facilitating industry competencies revalidation and accreditation alignment, as well as how cross-fertilization of competencies and skills across university and industry could be better managed, among others, were emphasised.

In his remarks, the Head, NESG, Human Capital Development Policy Commission, Mr. Tope Toogun, said already, his organisation has adopted the concept of the triple helix of university-industry-government relationship model, as the core operating framework for setting and delivering the university education reform agenda in the medium term (2019-2023) and the long term (2023-2050) focused on repositioning the education sector to deliver national outcomes and impact.

“The retreat will seek to upgrade the current NUC blueprint by inspiring, informing, discussing, debating and reaching consensus about the necessary short, medium and long term objectives for the future of our national university system.

“The retreat will seek a consensus for academia and industry as to what the future, state of national university system should be; fit for purpose and capable of ushering Nigeria into peaceful, prosperous and productive future, where its millions of citizens are equipped with quality education to make significant and tangible contributions to the advancement of the Nigerian state,” he said.

The Executive Secretary of NUC, Professor Abubakar Rasheed commended NESG for its enthusiasm to work with the commission for the future of the country, Sub-Saharan Africa, adding that with the MoU signed, the future of the Nigerian university system will not be the same again.

“We have been challenged to know what is outside and inside the classroom. If Nigeria as a nation is to develop truly, we need the interaction for the development of the blueprint.”

The Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education, Mr. Sunday Echono emphasised the importance of human capital, saying that this can be developed through tertiary education.

“We believe that the university system plays a critical role in the development of the country. The figure at the tertiary level is still very poor in terms of number. We need to quadruple the number of students to sustain the academic system.

He also emphasised on the critical features countries adopt to determine what human resources are and ensure that they build a consensus around them, while expressing concern about the low output of human resources in the country.

According to him, “how many doctors are we providing in the country? How many should we have? The reality is that people are depending on quacks because of the small number. At the basic level, we have students that are being taught by teachers that are not qualified. What kind of a country is this? We are marginal in terms of production, but higher in terms of consumption.”

He said a synergy between the academia and industry will be important so as to produce people that will solve problems and create jobs, adding that there should be a cross fertilization of ideas between them such that would allow people from the private sector to share their experience with those in the classrooms and vice versa.

The programmes featured panellists having conversations centred on the future of education in 2050 and the role of university-industry-government nexus.

Rasheed said universities must create knowledge-based innovation for invention, which he said would translate into product that will be utilised by the industry.

A Director on the Board of NESG, Mr. Doyin Salami said the dynamics of the industry must be relevant to the university curriculum, adding that academics must be compelled to look beyond the environment in which they operate.

“The Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) must begin to deemphasise physical infrastructure while university can generate resources from entrepreneurship rather than just depending on internally generated revenue (IGR),” he said.

The Executive Secretary of TETFund, Professor Suleiman Bogoro, who commended NESG for supporting NUC’s idea, stressed the need for a strong investment in research and development with less emphasis on teaching and that the role of government must not also be underplayed.

He also commended the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) for its role in deepening TETFund and former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega under whom the fund operated.

“Most researches are funded and ASUU came up with out of the box budgetary window which today. The creative thinking and innovation by ASUU today led to the creation of the research and development department.

“Since 2011, when ETF changed to TETFund, the idea was to go into the content component unit including research, academic staff and library development, as well as student attendance library. Today there are 70 per cent overall of staff with PhD because of TETFund’s support.”

Bogoro promised to make a case at the board of the fund’s committee meeting this week so as to increase funding for non-infrastructure components.

Jega, a Professor of Political Science, Bayero University, Kano in his submission stressed the need for universities in the country to go back to the fundamental objective of promoting learning and character aside just entrepreneurship, adding that entrepreneurship could be emphasised in their curriculum and programmes.

“The primary challenge is to ensure that our universities contribute to national development. We need to go back to the objective of ensuring that students are found worthy in learning and character. How can we recreate an environment for the university that chose to be entrepreneurial and ensure that they do it? We need incremental changes in our education sector,” he said.

The Organisation /Human Resources Director, Lafarge Africa, Mrs. Fidelia Osime regretted that graduates lack the initiative when they get to the work environment, while explaining how her organisation has been training and retraining graduates so that they fit into the work place.

She said there is need for the curriculum and the books used by the universities to be updated for current realities.

“When we employed graduates, we found out that they don’t have the initiative, they want to be told what to do, so we had to take them through our training school and at the end , we get people who are able to work and add value to what we do. The challenge is that students only want hand-out.”

Osime said conversations should be held around vision 2050, adding that stakeholders should begin to look at how to harness the skills of graduates.

Emeritus Professor, University of Port Harcourt, Nimi Briggs said since institutions are producing workforce for the country, there must be clarity of purpose between the academia, industry and government.

“The industry should work with the university in partnership. We will start with the triple helix and at the same time, we should put the university system in order,” Briggs, who is the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council, Federal University, Lokoja, said.

The Dean, Lagos Business School, Dr. Enase Okonedo highlighted the manpower needs of the country, saying that universities must endeavour to produce people that have skills needed by the industry.

“We could do a lot more in imbibing in people the creativity and skills required by the industry. The industry has a role to play to determine their needs. We need to marry practice orientation with practitioners’ perspective.”

The President of ASUU, Professor Biodun Ogunyemi said government must create an enabling environment for the industry and the university to thrive, adding, “The university seems to have become a constituent to the government, rather than improve on what they have, they keep on establishing more universities.”

The Director, Accreditation, NUC, Dr. Noel Salisu said it is imperative for universities management, directors of research and development to attend the annual economic summit to set the agenda for the country’s development and take it back to the academia.