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Launching Nigerian universities into global ranking via research


By Chijioke Okoronkwo,
The continued absence of Nigerian universities in the global ranking of best universities has been a source of worry for concerned Nigerians and members of the academia.
Observers, however, insist that the poor rating of Nigerian universities globally cannot be solely attributed to the quality of teaching, infrastructure or research but to other factors, including the availability of research findings online.
In the 2013/ 2014 Times Higher Education World University Rankings, there was no Nigerian university listed in first 400 best universities across the world.
Consequently, stakeholders maintain that the findings of numerous researches that go on in our universities should also be published online so as to facilitate their accessibility and global recognition.
They say that more efforts should be channelled into research and publication of research materials
Prof. Julius Okogie, the Executive Secretary of National Universities Commission (NUC), blamed the poor rating of Nigerian universities on the dearth of their research findings on the Internet.
According to him, Nigerian universities are at par with renowned universities around the world in terms of academics and research but their findings are not available online.
“The people that do these rankings do not visit university campuses; they get their data on the Internet but most of our research findings are not there.
“What makes you a professor is that people have read your works somewhere else.
“We have to use Information Communication Technology (ICT) to enhance our learning; our children have all the ICT they need but they are not using it to enhance themselves,’’ he said.
Okojie said that for Nigeria to achieve the objectives of the Vision 20:2020 programme, there must be appreciable advancement in ICT usage and applications.
The NUC boss reiterated that Nigeria’s pioneer universities could match renowned universities elsewhere knowledge-by-knowledge and research-by-research, conceding, however, the university system had been on the decline in the last two decades due to social, political and economic challenges.
“Today, our university system is struggling to regain its lost glory. For example, University of Ibadan, University of Lagos, Obafemi Awolowo University and University of Nigeria, Nsukka, which were amongst the global best in the 1970s, are now struggling to find places among the best 10 in Africa.”
Okojie, nonetheless, insisted that issues concerning the universities’ ranking ought to be put in proper perspectives.
He stressed that whenever people complained about the low grading of Nigerian universities; they should be reminded that there were 6,000 universities in the U.S., adding that one of them, Yale University, which was established in 1701, now had a student population of over 12,000.
On his part, Prof. Michael Faborode, the Secretary-General, Association of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (AVCNU), said that paucity of publications had obviously contributed to the poor grading of Nigerian universities in global academic rankings.
He, however, expressed optimism that the efforts of the Federal Government, through the NUC and the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), to promote research and publication of journals, would enhance the status of the universities.
Faborode made the remark while speaking at a recent workshop on “Deepening Research and Development, Output Dissemination through Publications and Uptake of Innovation’’, jointly organised by AVCNU and CVC-Elssvier B.V of Holland.
He said that AVCNU had entered into a partnership with the Elsevier B.V Netherlands to promote the publication of research results in the Nigerian University System (NUS).
“The overall goal of our partnership and workshop is to enhance Research and Development in the NUS, increase international visibility and impact of the NUS on national and global development.
“We are convinced that this effort would engender the indexing of many of the journals and books, now supported by TETFund, accentuate their global citation and further promote access to and use of global database by university staff and students,’’ he said.
Faborode expressed the desire of AVCNU on using journals and tools in the package to elevate the research output of Nigerian universities; enhance their visibility and upscale their ranking in Africa and the world at large.
Also speaking, Chief Afe Babalola, the President of Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, said that academic liberty and autonomy were prerequisites for true research and learning.
He stressed that universities must be free to innovate and try out new approaches to teaching and learning.
He noted that many Nigerian universities were weighed down by the bureaucratic demands of political correctness, reporting and regulation, which stifled productivity and capacity to innovate.
“University scholars must be free to air out results of their researches without fear of backlash from funding agencies, governments and authorities.
“Of what use is knowledge that cannot be freely disseminated?
“The freedom to disseminate research knowledge is often hindered by internal screenings and vetting to avoid regulatory backlash; thereby diluting the very essence and key findings of many important research endeavours,’’ he said.
Babalola underscored the need for academic freedom, saying that scholars should have the right, in their teaching and research, to follow the truth, without fear of punishment for violating some political, social or religious orthodoxy.
Sharing similar sentiments, Prof. Banji Oyelaran-Oyeyinka, Professorial Fellow, United Nations University Merit, said that the continuous rise in students’ enrolment had not been matched by a corresponding increase in staffing and research grants.
He also said that the dearth of research endowments had forced university researchers to rely considerably on funding and collaboration from foreign agencies.
Oyelaran-Oyeyinka particularly noted that African universities had fallen short in the area of Research and Development, which was a critical function of the university.
“New science areas such as biotechnology are an example of an industry whose locus of knowledge creation lies entirely within universities.
“Its evolution, not only underscores the importance of university-industry collaboration, but also suggests that the 21st Century university could influence the direction of the economy in very significant ways.
“World-class universities possess key knowledge infrastructure and are characterised by three sets of factors that help guide inter-organisational interactions in a desirable way.
“A world-class university tends to work with a network of collaborative partners but this requires funding; funding can be used to encourage collaborative research patterns in an effective way,’’ he said.
Nevertheless, Prof. Kimse Okoko, the Chairman of Committee of Pro-Chancellors of Nigerian Federal Universities, regretted that research grants were often diverted by lecturers, the beneficiaries, to other purposes.
He said that in most cases, the beneficiaries of research grants spent the monies on other needs and end up doing shabby or sub-standard research; thereby defeating the objectives of the research grants.
Okoko called for greater transparency in the management of research grants, insisting that research could never flourish if an enabling environment was not created.
The pro-chancellor stressed that research grants should be given to the best and brightest academics, while the focus should be on the most productive areas of specialisation.
“There are such academics in all our universities and they must be challenged.
“Besides, there is sufficient empirical evidence that there is a correlation between how much a nation or an industry spends on Research and Development and the level of development of that nation or industry,’’ he said.
All in all, stakeholders insist that Nigerian universities should make pragmatic efforts to improve their research efforts, while making their research findings available, so as to attract global recognition. (NANFeatures)
**If used, please credit the writer as well as News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

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