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The university, the student and the workplace

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students. PHOTO: bellanaija.com

In most countries as it is also in Nigeria, the university is the apex institution of the educational system which starts from the primary, the secondary and the tertiary institutions which includes the colleges of education, the polytechnics, other professional and specialised institutions of higher education with the university as the crown jewel. What do we understand by the word education and what is the university? Education has been defined as:

“That aggregate of ideas, methods, institutions, facilities (including) personnel designed and deployed by society to teach its members how to get through life by doing or by pursuing and realising set goals (of the society)…education is thus an instrument, a matter of ways and means and to that extent strictly speaking a neutral social force.”

It can however be argued that the process of education serves to establish through the socialisation process the succeeding generation on the value system of the society. To that extent, it cannot be a neutral force. Rather apart from teaching and learning the cognitive aspect of the educational enterprise, the socialising dimension extends the educational enterprise into the cultural domain. We should note that although the Al Azar University in Cairo is the oldest university in the world, the universities of the West (Bologna, Paris, Oxford and Cambridge) helped to define the idea and function of the university. It was from their Western location that the idea spread to the rest of the world. It should be noted also that:

“The universalisation of the idea (of the university) has meant that each national or regional context had left its imprint on the organisation structure and functions of the university as an international community and institution. While the basic features have remained recognisable in different cultural milieu, its relevance and critical importance as the vehicle for the search for knowledge and the application of such knowledge to the problems of the society have redefined its relevance in the development of nations in the knowledge – driven 21st century… By providing the environment for critical enquiry into socio-political economic and cultural questions, it has become the purveyor of values in the society and the catalyst for socio-economic development…”

A society’s pursuit of higher education is meant to achieve three basic goals in the society:
-To develop the human capital in the society by increasing the productivity and efficiency of individuals through the upgrade of cognitive skills of the work force. This is achieved through increase in investment in education and health facilities as well as on-the-job training;
-To transform through education an individual’s values, beliefs and behaviour. Thus higher education aims to produce men and women who possess the mien of a cultured man as well as possessing a diversity of expertise and specialisations.

We must further note that each society with its social values and belief system is the creation of its elite. The elite generally are the most highly educated and the best informed of their age and nation. In addition their earning capacity is generally above the average. Hence the schema of education that attains these ends goes beyond knowledge that conveys information about things but education that induces what Afigbo called knowingness and understanding – a process which induces wisdom, love and human sympathy: (empathy, compassion) thus abolishing man’s preoccupation with the self and engendering the genesis of social cohesion. Against the background of the place and role of an educated elite in relation to Nigeria, Adiele Afigbo has observed also that:
…the new complete political, economic and moral collapse of the country is the collapse of the educational system. It is the total failure of that system to produce in a hundred years or so, men and women who are able to plan and run her economy and politics honestly and efficiently. Such social virtues as hard work, honesty and patriotism on which the well-being of any nation rest are the products of a sound education. They are not inherited. Even those virtues which are intrinsic in the soul are awakened and made to… blossom by means of a sound education…

This observation emphasizes the challenge you must face as you hope ultimately to join the ranks of the educated class.

The transformation of our world into the global village through the agency of technology particularly has had far reaching consequences for the university as previously conceived. Given the ubiquity of the internet, knowledge is now available from varied sources 24/7 often thousands of miles away at the touch of a button. The identification of a university as a centre of knowledge and research specified by its location has been drastically modified. This has also transformed the university’s interaction with industry since cooperating industries can be located thousands of kilometers away sometimes even on different continents such that they are in virtual communication. Indeed, technology has made possible the notion of virtual universities. All these developments have modified the approach and strategies for learning and teaching in the twenty first century universities. In consequence the behaviour patterns amongst the teachers and the students in relation to pedagogy had to change.

In the long established universities of the Western world the function of the university was not only as a centre of teaching, learning research and acculturation but was also recognised as being in the words of the Latin phrase “in loco parentis” (– in the place of parents). In other words, the university was also viewed (as a community) as standing in the place of the parents of her students. As parents it was expected to inculcate values and virtues of the society. The transformation of student bodies into culturally diverse communities has modified the mode of interaction in the university making for less cohesion and cooperation in the residential universities. The challenge of moulding the character of the community – staff and students – becomes herculean.
Being excerpts of an address at the maiden matriculation of the Christopher University, Mowe, Ogun State, by Prof. Anya O. Anya, Pro-Chancellor, Michael
In such circumstances can we continue with veracity to intone at each convocation that these are the ones we have found “worthy in character and learning” to be admitted into the community of the educated which is the university?

In the conventional university of the early years of the 20th century, the stakeholders of the university were fairly and easily identifiable as the staff, the student and the local community. In the 21st century the stakeholders will include the national government, the national interest groups of each particular university and the multitude of internet communities – bloggers, and the long distance students often a continent away etc. Thus the university is no longer a close – knit community with defined and constraining interests but the globally dispersed alumni and alumnae, adjunct professors and the industrial partners of each university as defined by its area of competence and expertise. The nuances and modulation of the relationships can become varied and diffuse. The cohesiveness of a teaching and learning community become frayed with the occasional emergent new rules of engagement, cooperation and cooptation becoming evident even as it becomes a challenge to plan for, project and foresee the features and characteristics of the new emerging university in the coming years of the mid-century. How to organise and manage the conurbation of students, staff and other interest stakeholders of the university which now include those that live at home occasionally or often hundreds and even thousands of miles apart. The pattern of interaction must of necessity change. What of the new fad in which universities in the United States and some European universities are establishing campuses in the Middle East and elsewhere. Can we continue to affirm the character of our graduates or must we validate only their learning? Yet the foundation of scholarship pursued through excellence must continue to be integrity. These challenges offer new opportunities for thinking through new ideas regarding the universities: its structure and its organisation.

One of the problems of the new digital age is the speed of technological obsolescence which often induces change in our patterns and procedures of teaching and learning. While in the 19th and 20th centuries, industrial processes and procedures may take 30-50 years to take root or change the modes of operation, in this 21st century changes can take root and alter the patterns and interaction in a matter of months or few years. This necessarily impacts on the speed of change in the content and context of knowledge. It is as if we are now in a permanent roller coaster with little time to pause, to assess and to reflect on the impact of the new.

This breeds a new consciousness of instantaneous change and gratification as the new pattern of knowledge accumulation and accession. This has made it difficult to define the generalist from the specialist with the possibility of a proliferation of specialisms and fragmented expertise. This is bound to change the quality and context of new knowledge and may short circuit the opportunity for reflection which often infuses the gems of experience into the process of thought. This is the framework heretofore for inducing wisdom into the corpus of accumulated knowledge

The question arises whether this will facilitate or compromise the quality of scholarship? We already can observe the tendency to package and dispense knowledge in modules. What is the likely impact of this on interdisciplinary studies which often defines the frontiers of new knowledge? Are we at the threshold of the abolition of deep thinking in human affairs? What is clear is that in this 21st century you the acolytes in the temple of knowledge must prepare yourselves for consistently and constantly renewing your knowledge of your specialty and related disciplines. The age of the life-long student has arrived. You need to engage your discipline on a continuing basis if you are to remain the master of your practice as well as conserve your relevance as a leader in scholarly endeavours. It is now a vocation of using, exercising and developing the intellect.

As I look into the hopeful faces of you the new matriculants. I am constrained to ask you: as you have come to join the privileged club of the educated elite of Nigeria what are your expectations? What impact do you hope to make on the society with your new competences and qualifications? To earn better salaries? That is a legitimate expectation. But Nigeria expects you to do more than concern yourself with yourself. Your education should confer on you the potential for leadership. My friend the Late Professor Adiele Afigbo, perhaps Nigeria’s most notable historian, has outlined the challenges that faced and faces Nigeria as the following:
. A rickety and unbalanced political structure;
. An unjust economic structure;
. An unjust social system;
. An elite submerged in a myopic cosmology of self;
. An ethical blindness that breeds indiscipline and licentiousness.

As you survey the road ahead of you I enjoin you to commit to a leadership of service through your education that will leave Nigeria better than it is at present. Your peers in other nations have built on the foundation they found. In Nigeria, you need a new foundation that will lead to a nation determined to pursue the two fundamentals of present day Nigeria, namely, national integration and national development. It can be done and must be done by YOU the new Nigerians that are on your way to embrace your life’s mission under God. Welcome to a new beginning. I am done. God bless our new University. God bless you and God bless our Nigeria.

Being excerpts of an address at the maiden matriculation of the Christopher University, Mowe, Ogun State, by Prof. Anya O. Anya, Pro-Chancellor, Michael

Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike.



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