Academics want policy direction for varsities to deliver mandates
Universities are established to, among others, introduce new ideas that enhance the progress of society through a knowledge-based economy. But is that the case with Nigerian universities? Stakeholders say a well-defined national policy on research that will order universities to deliver their mandates of establishment is one sure way of getting higher institutions to impact the society meaningfully. Ujunwa Atueyi reports.
As far as Nigeria is concerned, the impact of research on the society has not been significantly felt according to experts.Universities firstly are meant to play an increasingly important role in society to enhance economic prosperity. This they supposed to achieve by sharing novel ideas that can help in innovations and economic benefits for society through their research findings. But this is not happening in most Nigerian universities.
In fact former Vice Chancellor of Bells University of Technology, Ota Ogun State, Prof. Isaac Adeyemi was emphatic when he stated that what has been happening in Nigerian universities over the years is more of an experiment than research. Also, Professor of Drug Development and Drug Resistance, Mathematical Modeling and Molecular Epidemiology, University of Ibadan, did not mince words when he stated that Research and Development (R&D) in the contemporary Nigerian universities is at a low level.
Specifically, they said in the last 25 years R&D has continued to decline in so much that it has failed to yield the expected results in the society.Ademola in particular canvassed a deliberate policy of the federal government that would request the universities to deliver on their mandates especially in the area of R&D. This deliberate demand he believes will translate to competitive advantage for the nation as well as spur new innovations in the sector.
Evaluating the present state of R&D in the country, Prof. Adeyemi said, “Research and development have been on the decline, at least, in the last 25 years. I would describe most of the research outputs, especially in the sciences and technology, as mere experiments. Only researchers that collaborate with their colleagues outside the country are able to do meaningful research, especially in foreign laboratories.
“There is no doubt one of the main benefits of outcome of research is impact on the society in terms of economic development and improvement in conditions and standard of living. As far as Nigeria is concerned, the impact of research on the society has not been significantly felt. That would partly explain why it is difficult, if not impossible, for the man on the street to appreciate, apart from production of graduates, the other meaningful importance or existence of many universities in Nigeria.
“At times he cannot fathom the apparent ‘huge’ budgetary allocations to universities as he considers universities not to have direct impact on his sustenance and way of life.”This scenario he said is detrimental to the wellbeing of the nation, thus the need for the government, the private sector and all concerned stakeholders to rally and give R&D the attention it deserves.
In doing that well-defined policy framework that will mandate universities to live up to their obligations through R&D is a must. Also funding should be prioritised as meaningful research can only take place where facilities and environment are adequate.
He said, “The paltry sum allocated for research in Nigerian universities, especially in the last couple of years has adversely affected procurement of new and modern equipment, and related facilities to replace obsolete ones. Secondly is the problem of infrastructural facilities, electricity and water. There is no research institute and tertiary institutions in this country that can boast of uninterrupted power and water supply, at least six months of the year.
“No meaningful research can be conducted in an academic environment devoid of water and electricity supply. Furthermore is a dearth of trained and experienced research personnel, especially in specialised fields of research. There are situations where meaningful researches are done despite all odds. There are several research outputs that are deposited in laboratories. The constraints of lack of dissemination of such findings to users are as a result of lack of funds to do such.
“It should be noted that cost of commercialisation of research findings could be enormous most times. Hardly could researchers use their hard earned income to do such.”Adeyemi who was recently appointed by the Oyo state government to chair the governing council of The Polytechnic Ibadan, argued that Nigeria does not need a rocket science to improve R&D in the country, upholding that improved level of funding and infrastructural facilities, as well as defined research policies by government and the private sector, will suffice.
“Both government and the private sector must give priority funding to target research; that is, research that will translate into production for home consumption and export purposes, thereby impacting positively on the lives of the people. “Government, the private sector, foundations and other relevant stakeholders such as alumni associations and government and non-governmental agencies must be prepared to invest in manpower development up to doctorate level in all identified disciplines where there is a dearth of research personnel. Conducive working environment and adequate remunerations are sine qua non for optimum level of performance,” he said.
Prof. Ademola on his part stated that R&D in the contemporary Nigerian universities is at a low level because the “development” side of R&D is poorly understood by many academics.Not only that, it is not encouraged or demanded by any national policy neither is it facilitated by active industrial collaboration. For the research side of R&D, he said it is largely driven by individual efforts with the sole aim of accumulating sufficient academic publications required to earn the next promotion.
“The culture of long term research projects that is designed to solve a real world problem is alien, because immediate gratification makes that culture unattractive. The few researchers who truly understand the concept of R&D and are committed to it may not be able to fully implement their ideas, for lack of institutional framework to drive the ideas to a logical conclusion. Further to that is the process of appraisal of academics that could be mechanical rather than objective. A reward system that is not driven by performance and meritocracy soon become demotivating,” he said.
He further regretted that no serious national policy makes a demand on the academia to innovate, adding that over-dependence on oil as the source of revenue has weakened the demand for process development and process improvement required to add value to other potential sources of revenue like agricultural products. Process development and improvement are tasks that could profitably engage the expertise of researchers and innovators. These he added are among the factors inhibiting universities from achieving their mandates.
Highlighting other areas he said, “A technically weak private sector that requires little research and development input in their routine operations as such interfacing with the academia to tackle real world problems is often considered unnecessary. A largely illiterate populace do not have the capacity to fully appreciate the significance of innovative research; hence the populace do little to engage political leaders on the need to drive this agenda of revitalising the university system. These are some of the challenges,” he stressed.
Emphasising that lack of interface between the academia and the industry is posing a big problem to the sector, he expressed, “ In other climes, the academia has evolved to become ‘knowledge industry’, so that the capability to spin off a company that will commercialise innovative research resides in the university.
“That capacity to translate research findings to solution options for real world problem is not yet strong in the university system in Nigeria and not well integrated into the management structure. Every effort in that direction is at infancy. The University of Ibadan, for instance, only recently created an office of Deputy Vice-Chancellor to oversee ‘Research & Innovation’ within the university. That is to complement existing Centre for Entrepreneurship. Beyond this structure however, is the expertise and solid commitment required to nurture translational research over the long haul.”
Ademola therefore stressed that the way forward for R&D is for universities to improve the research management structure on one hand by developing structures and capacity to advance intellectual property rights to become products that meet the needs of society at a reasonable cost.
“In order for this to happen, a deliberate policy of the federal government will be required to make a demand of the universities, with timelines to deliver on their mandates. For instance, a deliberate demand can be made for universities to create a process or product that will translate to competitive advantage for the nation in specific sectors of the global economy,” this he assured will definitely change the face of R&D in the country.
Also “Due rewards driven by performance will serve as a good incentive for the initiative to flourish. Direct project funding should also be allocated to concrete areas of research and implemented through programmes. This funding will not only benefit universities and research facilities, but also companies. However, unlike direct institutional funding, project funding is short-to medium-term in nature,” he said.
Affirming that academic research carried out in collaboration with practitioners is a valuable combination, Ademola said academic research has the potential to create new knowledge and expand the scope of usefulness of existing knowledge. By collaborating with practitioners, creative solutions can be offered to routine processes, such as to improve quality of service, quality of products while reducing the cost of quality.”
To Adeyemi, “This implies that rather than embark on solo research work that will yield little or no results, academics should begin to collaborate with industry players in their research work. In developed countries, there is always a synergy between academic research and the private sector. Developments in the private sector are hinged on research outputs.”Now the question is will the adoption of these suggestions spur Nigerian universities to begin to project universality of knowledge that concerns all human beings? Only time will tell.
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