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Strengthening town and gown relationship to lift sector


Minster of Works, Power and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola.

To lift the country’s education sector to an enviable height, public office holders and key industry players have been advised to partner and create robust synergy with the nation’s ivory tower to enable them to rejig the curriculum and produce self-reliant graduates, writes Ujunwa Atueyi.

One of the major problems confronting the nation is graduate unemployment. This has prompted calls from employers for urgent changes in the sector. They premised their argument on the fact that what is being taught in schools are no longer relevant to the industry and the world of work, hence the need for schools to place emphasis on skills acquisition and practical training to enable school leavers to transit into the world of work effectively.

Citing poor teaching and learning methodology, outdated curriculum, obsolete facilities and poor funding as major causes of producing unemployable graduates, they maintained that schools must alter the context in which they previously operated.

They also canvassed a strong relationship between the town and gown, a synergy between the industry and the universities to enable the partners rejig and develop curriculum that would produce independent graduates. The need for those who have worked in the industry and those that have served in the public sector to join the university system was also imperative.

It was the Director, Centre for Value in Leadership, Prof. Pat Utomi, who once argued that the teaching orientation of a university teacher who moves from one classroom to another cannot be compared to that of an academic who has worked for so many years in the industry, before going back to teach in the university.

For Utomi, those who have worked in the industry offers a better theoretical and practical training to students, which gives learners a holistic approach to real life learning. Today, as evident in the population of unemployed youths, Utomi’s assertion remains indisputable.

Even educators, policymakers and training organisations are not pretending about the situation, as being a degree holder in the country meant nothing to them than demonstrating the required skills.

Recently, Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, was at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), where he presented a paper titled, “The Power Sector Reform in Nigeria: Challenges and the Way Forward.” The lecture was organised by the institution’s Department of Economics.

Fashola at the event underlined the need for a strong interaction between the town and gown to end graduate unemployment. He also urged public office holders to reconsider returning to the ivory tower.

Such reunion he said, will not only influence the universities’ pattern of teaching and learning but also guide them towards churning out graduates who are analytically-minded, problem solving and independent individuals.

Besides, he said it would also give room for routine review of the curriculum as the meeting of the town and gown has the capacity to connect public policy with human capacity development.He said: “There is an urgent need to connect public policy with human capacity training and this can be achieved through the regular meeting of the town and gown. The relationship between the town and gown offers opportunity for concerned stakeholders to share their views on developmental issues.

“It is a purpose that helps to review the curriculum. A country that has so many challenges shouldn’t have unemployment if the town and gown are linked. Coming together of the town and gown brings opportunity to share the areas government is planning to invest in over the next decade and then allows mentors and career advisers in our higher institutions of learning to prepare students to see where the jobs are and courses that should be offered.

He continued: “I’m happy to see the Pro-Chancellor and chairman of council of the institution, Dr. Wale Babalakin’s involvement and I hope that many individuals like him who are minded to academic and human capital development will come back to the universities. Many people who serve in the public sector are not coming back to the universities to teach and that is a very critical point of meeting between the town and the gown.

“What our students learn in Economics, Banking and Finance, and Engineering, are very basic principles, but when they have been taught how to generate power, why is it that power is not being generated? So, it is those who have served in the public sector that must come back to prepare our students for what they will see in real life; what happens in the ministry, on the construction field and in other fields, so that the curriculum will be adjusted and updated to prepare them for real life challenges.”

Insisting that education and industry links remain the best option for the country’s education sector, the minister urged university administrators, public office holders and industry players to heed the call and restructure teaching and learning in the nation’s higher institutions for better results.

Appraising graduate unemployment situation in Nigeria, Covenant University scholars, Segun Joshua, Dominic Azuh and Faith Olanrewaju, in a journal titled “University-Industry Collaboration: A Panacea to Graduate Unemployment in Nigeria,” observed that some of the courses available in our higher institutions are far removed from the needs of the society which is partly responsible for the mass unemployment of the nation’s graduates.

The authors noted that the country is bedeviled with severe problem of graduate unemployment pointing out however that some developed countries were able to overcome the problem through careful planning and university-industry collaboration.

“Graduate unemployment is brought about by mismatch between graduate training and the world of work. Little surprise that thousands of graduates that are turned out every year end up roaming the streets for years for jobs that are not just there after sacrificing a year to serve their fatherland.”

To effectively implement the town and gown relationship, they said, “A deliberate planning and university-industry collaboration is a must. For instance, Microsoft, Cisco and Intel are in collaboration with the University of Melbourne; AALTO University is in collaboration with the industrial sector; Technical University of Munich (TUM) is in partnership with Audi Motor Company; University of California is also in partnership with the industrial sector of the economy to mention just a few. The essence of this collaboration among other things is to identify the higher order of skill needed by the students for success in school and in the work place after graduation so as to inculcate it in the students.

“It is believed that Nigerian graduates do not possess the requisite skills needed by the industrial sector of the economy which is why they find it difficult to get jobs. This is as a result of many years of neglect; higher institutions in Nigeria lack the tools needed to inculcate in the students the skills needed by employers and this is applicable to all disciplines. Also most curricular of Nigerian universities have little or no practical relevance to Nigerian economy. This is because teaching in Nigerian universities is theory-oriented with little or no practical training.

They emphasised complete review of the curricular by making them national development oriented, noting that many universities are still operating with the curricular they started with. “African universities have been tagged as ivory towers noted for churning out graduates and research outputs that are not relevant to the needs of employers as well as socio- economic and technical challenges facing African economies.”

They argue further “knowledge and skills acquired by students at African universities do not meet industrial requirements and the wider economy. This mismatch in addition with inadequate training in critical skill areas like problem solving, analytical thinking and communication combined to exacerbate the unemployment status of graduates of African universities.

The authors observed that employers see graduates problem solving and creative thinking skills not to be adequate to perform the tasks required on the job.
Corroborating Fashola’s call for public office holders and industry experts to partner universities for optimum progression, Babalakin said all hands must be on deck to address the challenges in the sector.

Noting that education is the engine room for the revolution the nation yearns for; Babalakin said the country needed a well thought out solution based on creativity, which could be achieved through a robust synergy.

He said: “We have what it takes to rebuild our education sector, but indeed we need to work on our attitude. I am calling on all to join hand in reforming the sector, which is key to any developmental stride. Education is the engine room for the revolution of Nigeria and it must be fostered,” he said.

Babalakin said there must be an agenda for rethinking in academic setting among students and lecturers, adding that science, technology, research and knowledge from both the public and private sector must be combined to accelerate national development. He concluded that the institution is open for any individual with great ideas on how to accelerate development.

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