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Bridging the gap between universities of now, future

By Opeyemi Babalola
31 October 2021   |   4:04 am
Series of issues emerging from Nigeria’s ivory towers have been raised and thrashed by panelists who spoke at the 2021 UNILAG Second International Week held recently.

Oluwatoyin Ogundipe

Series of issues emerging from Nigeria’s ivory towers have been raised and thrashed by panelists who spoke at the 2021 UNILAG Second International Week held recently.

Many speakers who presented their papers, of course, spoke from their different points of view, raising diverse issues from bridging the technology gap, internalisation, empowering students who are business inclined, combination of degrees, and lots more, which they projected as what the future of the university will definitely look like.

These issues according to many scholars who participated virtually demand urgent solution in order to have a better future for the universities as the main theme of the conference indicated, ‘Universities of the Future’.

The event, held for three days – October 12 to 14, 2021, had discussants who shared ideas on how the universities can create a better future for students by growing the knowledge base towards enabling leaders from the citizenry to co-create a better future for the Nigerian society, as well as the world all over.

The University of Lagos conceptualised and flagged off the international week in 2018 to attend to many issues, which the universities are likely to face in the future.

Regrettably, it is also very visible that some of the issues identified were not supposed to be talked about most especially in this 21st century. This, however, shows how our institutions are lagging behind in some of those things they are supposed to have achieved and their failings to adapt to how the world is evolving.

The Vice-Chancellor of the University, Professor Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, made a point for how a university of the future was supposed to look like in his own viewpoint.

In his description, he said universities are supposed to be an eye-opener for students who don’t have a clear vision about their purpose in life.

He narrated how the University of Lagos has been preparing and working towards achieving a better future for itself and others to emulate.

According to him, “We did online examination for the UTME students and we invited pressmen to look at what we did. Prof Oloyede came and saw what we were able to do through the POST UTME exam.

“Over 22,000 students came on board. We also have the virtual lectures with the quality assurance in place and Servicom unit were on ground to monitor the lecturing and also to caution some of the lecturers for them to do better.

“Also, our year 1 and 2 students had their exams online and the university paid N18m to get data for the year 1 and 2 students, so that they will give excuses of not having data to do the exams.

“For the years 3, 4 and 5, they came to campus and thereafter we decided that any large class because of obedience to the COVID-19 protocols, the lectures will be blended and the classes will be held in groups so that the lecturers can interface with them.

“The future is such that information can be transmitted through contacts, also virtual so it means that Open Distance Learning (ODL) education has come to stay whether we like it or not. In the US now, you can combine ODL and contact learning and you will graduate earlier than others,” he added.

Chaudhuri

In his keynote address, Country Director, World Bank (TBC), Shubham Chaudhuri, chided the federal government over its low impact in equipping its young people with the skills and human capital they need to thrive with.

He charged all universities to think through in identifying the challenges of their students, saying the issues could be more tackled if all institutions followed those necessary steps that would be discussed at the conference for a better future of the university.

“As you rethink your role going forward, please recognise that without concerted national effort on the kind of human capital that a child born in Nigeria will have the opportunity to acquire by the time they reach you, UNILAG’s own effort will only be half effective,” he warned.

Chaudhuri further explained the need for universities of the future to embrace the digital technology in learning, which he said, was part of what the global environment is looking forward to.

He said providing specialised courses on some critical functions and not just relying on awarding students Bachelor’s degree is a preparation for universities of the future.

“We are very happy at the World Bank to be supporting several centres of excellence schools in Nigeria through the NUC in providing specialised courses on some critical functions which we think are very important to the Nigeria public sector like procurement, environmental safeguard and social safeguard.

“The whole partnership with NUC and the centres of excellence is about offering a range of training and learning opportunities from three months courses to full year courses to eventually having to be part of a longer three to four years or two year masters.”

He added that universities should take into consideration, the orientation and effort of enabling and really equipping students towards productive employment, noting that human capital through this effort will help graduates in attaining professional opportunities they hoped for.

Summing up, he said the module on how universities are funded and governed will determine more of the future of the institutions, adding that universities that are willing to be part of the ‘Universities of the future’ should seek other means of getting financial aids other than relying on public funding which will leave them to nothing but being vulnerable.

In his opening remarks, the Chairman of the event and Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, said universities need to control and create the future they desire by being proactive in solving the lacunas drawing them backward.

Represented by the Secretary to Akwa Ibom State Government, Dr Emmanuel Ekuwem, lauded the management of the University of Lagos, for taking a bold step in realising the gaps between the students and their future through the theme.

According to him, “The theme is really apt because that is a proactive response to the challenges the country is facing today as a nation. We heard what was presented today, staggering data, and horror statistics that Nigeria has the largest number of out-of-school children in the world. That is frightening.”

The CEO, Learning Possibilities Group, Mehool Sanghrajka, while delivering his paper virtually, said the transformation from class learning to online learning which took place during the COVID-19 pandemic last year has now become the ‘new normal’ as students get engaged with their lecturers, urging universities that still want to be relevant in the future to embrace the challenge.

Speaking about how the transformation is possible, he argued that building infrastructure was not something necessary before learning can take place since the role of global technology is known with today’s cloud technology that is global, scalable and secure.

“Over the last 10 years, massive open online courses (MOOCs) have made it possible for anybody, anywhere to take their learning into their own hands and make it work for them no matter their circumstances. Many of them have struggled with this idea because of exams and because when they started the idea of exams wasn’t in place but what they have done is working with the appetite of some people to be able to do a course at the institution that you have chosen whenever they want to do it and they were able to do this despite their circumstances- not many of them will be able to travel to that country or afford the accommodation or tuition fees but all of that has now changed.

“This has already started to happen so just thinking a little about what this blended learning might look like, what we see globally is first the idea of flip classrooms where students are given work to do in the long time and online time will be used to solve problems, given them both a critical scheme but also using the time for application of knowledge.”