Doubts trail universities’ ability to engender socio-economic development
As the country grapples with dire economic situations, sceptics are beginning to doubt the capacity of Nigerian universities to positively impact national growth, UJUNWA ATUEYI writes.
According to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), “teaching and research” are part of the intellectual functions that universities are expected to play to facilitate nation building.
In other words, universities are supposed to be engines of national development as a result of the socio-economic benefits they bring about since their social and economic roles range from increasing skill acquisitions among the populace, supporting and creating new innovations, attracting investments, to becoming effective partners for global development.
They are also expected to play a revolutionary role in addressing problems of poverty, unemployment, inequality, hunger, illiteracy, diseases, and underdevelopment.
These, they are expected to achieve, through teaching, research, innovation and community services, in addition to helping to ensure that their host communities remain competitive in the global market.
For universities to achieve all these, their proprietors should provide them with adequate funds, necessary facilities, faculties and investments, all of which are tools for translating the teaching and research into public and economic goods.
Given the downward spiral the country’s economy has experienced for several months, observers are worried that Nigerian universities are yet to proffer lasting solutions.
They alleged that the country is not feeling the impact of her ivory towers, even as some conclude that Nigerian higher institutions are not living up to the purpose for which they were established.
Furthermore, these stakeholders accuse Nigerians varsities of not opening up new research grounds, and also allege that most scientists and researchers in the country conduct researches that produce publications for purposes of gaining promotions only, rather than those that are capable of addressing the country’s needs.
One of those displeased with what the university system is offering the country is a company executive, Mr. Kunle Phillips, who, in an interview with The Guardian, averred that Nigerian universities are not doing enough to offer creative solutions to the many challenges confronting the nation.
He is also of the view that their contributions are even insignificant, when compared to government’s investment in the sector.
Former vice chancellor of University of Lagos (UNILAG), and immediate past vice chancellor of Ondo State University of Science and Technology (OSUSTECH), Okitipupa, Prof. Tolu Odugbemi, holds the view that universities are not doing enough to facilitate nation building.
Speaking during a public presentation of his book entitled, “Experiences on Starting a New University in a Developing Country Setting, Nigeria– OSUSTECH,” he asserted that most Nigerian universities and their research centres are not showing sufficient relevance to the socio-economic development of the nation.
“Corruption is drawing back this potentially great country. What roles are universities playing? Researchers have unbelievable huge research topics to address. Imagine the ongoing allegation of billions of naira or US dollars being stolen by individuals. What are our university social scientists doing, are these not potential topics for research…?
“What about Psychologists? Writers? What are psychiatrists waiting for in researching into these social anomalies? Pathologists should be struggling to have pieces of the brain samples of those stealing to detect defects, which may lead to discoveries of new syndromes. This is a serious matter. Our universities should pay more attention to researching into social and economic ills, hunger and ill health, dirty environment with heaps of garbage adding to ill health, atmospheric pollution and current trends of local and global climate change,” Odugbemi submitted.
For President, Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS), Prof. Oyewale Tomori, some researches and studies conducted in Nigerian universities hardly address national issues.
Tomori, who also lashed out at the Federal Government for its poor investment in the education sector, stressed that until government redefines its objectives and expectations from tertiary institutions, the situation might remain.
He said: “First, government investment in the university is as insignificant as contributions of the university system to national economy. This is an issue that requires detailed discussion, but let me give a few examples. The indiscriminate and unplanned establishment of universities by the government, without consideration for the chronic shortage of qualified staff, and insufficient funding for research contribute to poor performance of our universities.
“You will remember that Nigeria met only a third of one of the Millennium Development Goals’ (MDGs) targets. We failed woefully, despite funds and resources poured into the MDGs projects because we failed to address the issue of our population, and diluted the impact of the funds and resources poured into the projects. So it has been with government’s spending on our university system,” Tomori stated.
He continued: “If you check you will see that most of government’s allocations through the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) go for construction of buildings by politically favoured, and often incompetent contractors. Go to many of our universities and you will see abandoned or incomplete TETFund buildings. So, I ask, where are qualified staff members? Where are the well-equipped research laboratories? Where are up-to-date libraries? And you want these academic “carcasses” to contribute meaningfully to national economy and social wellbeing? As computer people would say RIRO- Rubbish In, Rubbish Out.”
Lack of collaboration between the university, which is the research centre, and industry, he added, is also another reason why matters are the way they are.
“Go to the Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi (FIIRO), and you will see tens of research products begging to be commercialised gathering thick dust. Our universities will remain poor contributors to national development so long as we create universities based on considerations alien to merit, and use them as drain pipes for looting our natural resources.”
On the way forward, the NAS president who said the country has little respect for her scientists, but has more respect for foreign products said, “I think we should declare a moratorium on the establishment of new universities. After that, we should go ahead to re-define the objectives of what the nation wants from her universities, and then carry out a critical evaluation of existing universities, with a view to retaining only those that are structured to meet set national objectives.
“Next, we should provide adequate funds to equip the universities with resources for teaching and research- books, research equipment, reagents etc. In this regard, it will be helpful to waive taxes on books, research reagents and equipment.”
Corroborating Tomori’s views is the Vice Chancellor of Redeemers University (RUN), Ede, Osun State, Prof. Debo Adeyewa, who also blames the government for poor funding of the universities, and the exclusion of private varsities from TETFund.
He added that creating an enabling environment remains a prerequisite for achieving developmental and other goals that universities are expected to achieve.
Said he, “The unfortunate fact is that Nigerian universities, particularly universities are not properly positioned for optimal performance in terms of contributing to the economic and social well-being of the nation. Poor funding is to blame for this. Although the basic functions of a university are to conduct research, disseminate this through teaching and the provision of services, which would have impact on the economic and social wellbeing of its immediate and larger communities.
“Institution that are struggling to survive in terms of meeting their basic necessities (salaries, electricity, water, roads, accommodation, security, etc.) would hardly look beyond solving their problems. Government is therefore to blame for not providing municipal facilities, and an enabling environment for the achievement of set goals. Government is also to blame for not providing adequate funding for research. It would rather spend money on other issues that are less important. Progressive governments actually provide adequate funds for running of universities, challenge their researchers to solve national problems, and thereafter reward them appropriately.”
Adeyewa did not spare the institutions either as he blamed some of them for not setting up internal quality assurance units to ensure that academic staff members deliver on their mandate.
“This would involve motivation for research and proper monitoring to ascertain that researches are not just conducted for mere advancement of self promotion. Government should also remove the unnecessary clogs preventing private universities from accessing TETFund.
“Notwithstanding, I strongly disagree that the contribution of universities to the country’s development is insignificant. Nigeria is so blessed that many of her researchers are conducting impactful researches at home and abroad. We need to celebrate these achievements. With all sense of modesty, the fact that the Ebola virus and Lassa fever, which are deadly diseases, were tackled through appropriate researches and technologies by RUN, than any institution abroad, should provide the assurance that our universities are equal to the task of solving our societal problems.”