For a nation that is perpetually engaged in seeking for solutions against its numerous challenges confronting its development, reassessing the mandates of the ivory towers and roles of scholars in broadening prospects of growth is imperative. It is on this basis that universities and other research-based institutions play the roles of being major drivers in illuminating paths for both local and national development.
The role of universities in embarking on researches and embracing community services for national growth was the focus of the 11th Convocation Lecture of the Nile University of Nigeria, Abuja, that was delivered by the former executive secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), Professor Suleiman Bogoro penultimate Wednesday.
Creating platforms for innovation
Speaking on the title, ‘Reasserting the Pivotal University Roles of Research and Community Service for National Development,’ the consummate Professor of Animal Science and one of nation’s technocrat whose public service record made him an inaugural recipient of the first Nigerian Prize for Leadership (NPL) in 2021, challenged Nigerian universities to rise up to the imperative of seeing themselves as beacons of innovators for national development.
For universities to attain such a feat of driving the Knowledge Economy through research efforts, the need for community service to develop the university environment, the Professor from the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU) maintains that would naturally pave the way beyond university community areas to encompass the national platform. Describing the citadel towers as a platform of reinvention of national goals and objectives, he was quick to remind his audience, comprising the Academia, top leaders of the public and private sector, of how Britain, then under Theresa May as prime minister, had to fall back on their universities to “re-invent” themselves, following the difficulties encountered during the post-Brexit period.
From the cerebral presentation of the erudite scholar, it is obvious that universities the world over are heartbeats of civilisation and constitute the pathway in turning around the fortunes of development. Perhaps, it is in recognition of that fact that the Bogoro recalled the words of the former United States of America President, Thomas Jefferson, who, when asked what he would like to be remembered for after founding a university in 1819, responded, “I preferred to be remembered more as the founder of the University of Virginia, rather than being remembered as the former President of USA.
Research for development
Identifying the “ultimate objectives for both theoretical and applied research embarked by researchers are clearly targeted at arriving at a conclusion”, the former boss of the TETFund noted that for research efforts to be justifiable as contained and clearly enunciated in all proposals, it must be geared towards solving problems plaguing society. Going down memory lane, the injection of science and innovation for Malaysia to have imported our oil palm and has over the years, according to the Convocation Guest Lecturer, has led to the expansion of palm oil into innumerable value chains of goldmine.
Recalling the excellence of relationship between universities and industry partnership that provides the oxygen in transforming these researches into problem-solving endeavours, Bogoro recalled “the example of the TETFund Research and Development Standing Committee (RDSC) whereby academic and industry were remarkably blended, is a good reference for this partnership. Their recommendation for the establishment of National Research and Development Foundation (NRDF) remains a pace-setter and most desirable bold step to place our country in the right trajectory for the Knowledge Economy”.
Describing the need for universities to carry out services around their areas in order to for them as relevant in both local and larger context, the former TETFund executive secretary notes, “For universities to be relevant in both local and larger contexts, they must be seen to undertake Research and Community Service that address and solve problems and needs of the university community, but more importantly, the needs and demands of the immediate community and Nation. In many cases, some community services also serve as avenues for additional income for the Faculty members, thus becoming a win-win situation for both the community and the lecturers. Unfortunately, this is one area that has not been explored enough to the benefits of universities and the Community. There is a need to review the current status and relationship between universities and communities for both local and national interests.”
Can universities become hubs of innovation?
There’s no doubt that there are bright prospects in turning the uninspiring past faced by universities in the promotion of research. Past efforts that are now being expected to be sustained by the present administration headed by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu in the area of providing funds for research ought to be cheering news. The recent approval by the president for the payment of four months out of the eight months of withheld salaries owed to public university lecturers is commendable and a pointer that the incumbent administration is ready to walk its talk as declared by the president when he vowed, during his inauguration on May 29, 2023, to end the recurring strikes by members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
With increased Education Tax from two and half to three percent through TETFund, more intervention priorities can be achieved in turning and sustaining our ivory towers as centres of academic research for re-inventing our nation for local and national development.