Revitalizing The University Through Research and Advancement
By NIMI BRIGGS
Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council, Federal University Lokoja. Emeritus Professor, University of Port Harcourt.
Paper Presented at the Executive Development Programme for Council Members of Nigerian Universities.
Best Western Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos.
Wednesday 2 November, 2016.
The number of universities in various countries differ remarkably. India, with a population of 1.3 billion – the second largest in the world, has the largest number – about 8,500. United States of America (USA), population of 320 million has the second largest number, about 6,000 while in Nigeria, with an estimated population of 180 million, the number currently stands at 144. Of these, 40 are owned by the Federal Government, 43 by state governments and 61 by private concerns. However, it is not so much the number as the success of these institutions to contribute substantially to transformational changes that benefit their communities and their peoples that many expect of universities as such enhancements are considered as intrinsic values of higher education. Universities in the USA have for centuries played vital roles in the social and economic upliftment of the people while in India, universities are at the very core of the galloping strides being made by that country in adapting Information and Communication Technology (ICT), especially in software industry and outsource management to create jobs, improve income and elevate many out of poverty, ignorance and disease.
On their part, universities in Nigeria, have, since the debut of the University College Ibadan in 1948, to a good extent, addressed the manpower needs of the country through the production of graduates in various fields of human endeavour. However, many would admit that their research profiles and the adaptation of knowledge into goods of value and much-needed services that are required to create job opportunities to alleviate hardship and enhance the quality of life, has been less than satisfactory. The need for retooling and revitalizing universities in the country, as is envisaged in this development programme, becomes evident. I congratulate the authorities of the Committee of Vice – Chancellors (CVC) for bringing this about.
I was requested to speak on the topic Revitalizing University Education Through Research and Advancement. But I have rejiged this slightly by dropping education and adding an article the, to modify the title to read: Revitalizing the University Through Research and Advancement. I have done so because, to my mind, education, knowledge generation and its propagation and exploitation is the overall currency of a university with which it buys and sells all its goods and services; the very medium through which it transacts all its businesses. Thus, revitalizing the university, is revitalizing its educational activities.
Following this track, I will commence by indicating what universities are set up for and then go on to define research as well as advancement. I will show how it is that education, with a strong research component, places a university in the best stead to achieve what it is set up for – knowledge generation, its propagation and exploitation, manpower development, human advancement and the cultivation of a more hospitable and sustainable environment that is preserved for future generations while at the same time takes care of the needs of the current one. Thereafter, I will show that it is the university that is strong in research that also best attracts good will, respect and philanthropy: the bedrock of Advancement. I will comment on how universities in Nigeria have fared in these important areas and then make some recommendations.
What Are Universities for?
Universities everywhere are established for similar motives to which they commit themselves, using diverse approaches that are dictated by their circumstances and the challenges that confront them. As tertiary institutions at the apex of the educational pyramid, universities are expected to generate the knowledge and develop the skills required for educational pursuits in all their ramifications. It is their responsibility to cultivate an investigative and inquiring mind in their body of students and scholars so as to produce creative and thinking people, capable of searching for the common truth about the universe and all its content. Knowledge that is generated in this manner is expected to be exploited by universities and their body of students and scholars to answer questions and to find solutions to the problems that beset communities and humanity in general to improve the quality of life of all. So strong a case does this proposition make for tertiary education that even the poorest countries seek to have such institutions because of their profound enabling effect on the enlightenment and development of the individual and the community.
Thus, teaching, learning, discovery, knowledge conversion into goods and services and community involvement which are constant aspirations and to which universities obligate themselves to varying degrees, offer universities a wide latitude for differentiation, specialisation, uniqueness and utilization of different approaches to finding pathways to mankind’s development. Their common commitment to these objectives ensures that even in their diversity, universities’ role in revitalizing and invigorating society remains paramount. Accordingly, from the community college responsible largely for manpower production for basic human activities, to the comprehensive university with a much broader base, to even the specialised ones that are designed to address areas of specific concerns like food, health care, infrastructure, commerce, right up to the highly technical institutions dedicated to rigorous enquiry on how things were, how they currently are and how they might be in the future, universities have become vital incubators for human and societal development.
Earlier in this paper, I had stated that knowledge generation and skills development constitute some of the core expectations of most universities. To achieve these objectives, universities use research which is a process of scientific and analytical enquiry that leads on to the emergence of new knowledge, beneficial revelations and better understanding. Not only are such new disclosures and discoveries propagated for mankind’s edification, they are also adapted into tangible innovations that lead to the production of goods and services of utilitarian values. These tangible innovations with practical values help mankind understand the environment better, do things in better ways and so, attain better quality of life. Thus, research and its multiple consequences have become some of the most expected outcomes for which universities are established. These outcomes and the contributions that universities make to the course of mankind’s progress, truly define universities and serve as some of their most vital performance indicators. Thus, universities that excel in research gain respect and global recognition and are generally regarded as satisfactorily fulfilling an important aspect of their mandate. It is for this reason that the quantum and quality of research constitutes an important yardstick used by various agencies for ranking universities. It is also in recognition of their prime importance to the core value of universities that evidence of research activities as provided partly by the quantity and quality of peer-reviewed publications in reputable journals constitutes a major factor used in assessing academic staff for advancement from one cadre to the other. Therefore, because universities take on research as duty and responsibility, it is not surprising that most ground-breaking researches that have led to quantum leaps in human advancement and covering all fields of human endeavour – food production, wealth creation, health and longevity, environmental management, energy, safety and security, aviation, marine and land transportation, and much more, have come from such institutions.
Furthermore, research boosts scholarship and academic activities. Committed researchers inspire students with the passion for investigation and analysis. They understand their fields of interest better and incorporate latest research findings in the courses they teach. They share the prestige, state-of-the-art facilities and sometimes benefits that come with research with their students who are thus motivated and commit to lifelong obligations to become scientific leaders and innovators. Bright students therefore often indicate preferences for universities with records of high quality research in their choices for admission.
Universities that seek for excellence must therefore provide a conducive environment for research to flourish and encourage national and international peer assessment for the quality of their research programmes. Furthermore, they must get their staff to understand that research is an integral part of their responsibility to the institution and the nation. Indeed, it is an important way by which a university retains its relevance, renews and revitalizes itself.
Governing Councils in their supervisory roles over the affairs of universities, must encourage them to place appropriate weighting on research activities. They can do this through many ways including:
Placing emphasis on research in formulating management structures for universities. Many universities do this by charging a very senior academic – usually at the deputy vice-chancellor level, at the highest level of management, with the responsibility of planning, overseeing and coordinating the research trajectory of the institution. A survey of highly ranked universities in the world, show that they all have deputy vice-chancellors in charge of research and in some cases, development. In Nigeria, it is probably only the University of Ilorin that does so.
Preferentially seeking for and hiring, research oriented academic staff. Such persons have high research reputation, are frequently cited in internationally indexed journals and are well sought after by industries, development agencies and global organisations of repute. Many commodities and development clusters have emerged from research by students while working under eminent professors. This is in addition to the tremendous fame and prestige such researchers bring to their affiliated institutions of which the Noble Prize and the Nigerian National Order of Merit (NNOM) are good examples.
Encourage universities to create policies on research, innovation, patenting and intellectual property in order to establish the framework needed to fast track research findings into much needed goods and services and also, to enable both the researcher(s) and the institution benefit materially from research outcomes. This is an important way by which globally recognised universities, acquire wealth and obtain funds to run their operations.
Seek for funds to encourage research in the university through direct allocation and the establishment of viable research institutions and endowed chairs. Funds disbursed in this manner may not reveal immediate discernible benefits; they are well-meaning investments in the greatness of the university and the country.
Sadly, in Nigeria, not only is the quality and quantity of research short of global standards, but also, efforts are hardly made to convert research findings into products and services due to lack of focus and absence of research and innovation management structure. So, for well over sixty years that universities have thrived in Nigeria, their contributions to innovation and national development has not been spectacular.
The third in the series of expositions I am having to make in the development of today’s lecture has to do with University Advancement, which, in its broadest sense, is a platform through which universities cultivate the multidimensional relationships that they have with society for the furtherance of the course of the institutions. In Advancement, such partnership between universities and their audiences is properly structured, incorporated and managed to increase understanding and support among the university’s key constituents.
Again, the point was made earlier that universities exist to benefit society. While executing the various activities which ultimately enhance society, universities interact with various elements in society. They admit students for various educational programmes and skills acquisition who are taught and nurtured by university staff. These students, upon graduation, become alumni of their various institutions. Universities conduct research in laboratories, communities and environment by themselves and in combination with communities and industries and embark on innovations that benefit humanity. They contain establishments that treat the sick and they interact with societies to solve local problems like water supply, food production, provision of educational facilities and much more. Thus, universities in their day-to-day operations interact with large audiences and through university advancement, the institutions cultivate, promote and foster these interactions to seek the friendship, support and understanding of their communities and the public to advance the course of the universities. In effect, universities make themselves relevant to society by solving problems of society, improving the quality of life of all and making the environment hospitable and sustainable. Society in return recognizes the value of universities, accommodates them and extends a hand of fellowship to them. Thus, university advancement seeks to forge a synergy between universities and society for their benefit. Such benefits, outside the intangibles of goodwill and friendship include endowments, gifts, levies, collaboration, provision of skilled manpower, mentoring and much more. It is not surprising to note therefore that over the years, universities that possess the right appeal have used advancement to great advantage. At the global scene, well-known universities which are renowned for their high academic standards and significant histories – pedigree of graduates, standing in global ranking of universities, research output and innovation have used the platform of advancement to establish endowments that run into trillions of dollars.
In Nigeria, the early universities also benefited immensely from the kind of support, goodwill, and encouragement that is integral in university advancement, especially from corporate bodies, charities and older institutions abroad. In the 1960s, during the formative years of the University of Nigeria (UNN), the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom and that of Michigan State in the United States of America, collaborated and nurtured UNN, giving it the good head start that it had in academic structure, faculty and educational infrastructure. Similarly, the University of Ibadan benefited from the Rockefeller Foundation and Carnegie Corporation between 1962 and 1978. These charitable organisations helped with improvement in the quality of staff and indigenized key positions with trained Nigerians. They also assisted in setting up various structures which were critical for the smooth operations of the university. In the same vein, a thriving exchange programme existed between the College of Medicine of the University of Lagos and the Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in the United States in the 1960s which resulted in staff and student exchanges that fostered academic standards of international level.
These early universities could attract such international support because of several reasons. They were properly set up and without altruistic motives. Their academic standards were high and compared favourably with those of good universities outside the country. Student population was cosmopolitan and admission was strictly on merit. The quality of their graduates was high and the learning and working environment was conducive. The early universities in Nigeria therefore merited the respect and admiration of many, within and outside the country which is a prerequisite for philanthropy, assistance and collaboration.
Sadly, things changed in the country and subsequent universities were largely unable to meet the standards of the earlier ones. A combination of crippling neglect by protracted military administrations and an ill-fated structural adjustment programme that drastically devalued the Nigerian currency took a heavy toll on the universities which were thus unable to raise sufficient capital to maintain academic standards, engage in meaningful research and involve themselves in community oriented programmes – the very essence for which they were established. Their reputation plummeted and many were no longer able to meet the rigour required to attract local and international respect and friendship as well as the support needed for advancement programmes.
However, things appear to be reverting once again and several universities in the country, with the assistance of some international charities, like the MacArthur Foundation and Carnegie Corporation, local philanthropies, non-governmental organisations, have picked up sufficiently and have established advancement programmes that are working reasonably well. The Universities of Ibadan, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Ilorin, as well as Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello and Bayero universities, are among those with virile advancement programmes from which their institutions are benefiting.
Those that have performed well on this score, show a number of common characteristics which include:
Strong and shared institutional passion for the development of the university and purposeful leadership by successive vice-chancellors and governing councils.
They all have clarity of intent and focus on human and infrastructural development.
They have all created a five or ten-year Strategic Plan which defines the direction of the university and what is required to achieve the clearly defined plans, the content of which they adhere to.
They vigorously sought assistance from their staff and students, alumni and outside agencies.
By now, the link between the ability of a university to properly address the issues for which it is set up on the one hand, and its success or otherwise to leverage on an advancement platform to further its purposes on the other, must have become evident.
The ultimate purpose of setting up a university is to improve the lot of man and to benefit society through the search for, propagation and exploitation of knowledge. The university is established to advance the frontier of knowledge globally while at the same time being relevant to its local community by using knowledge and ideas acquired through research to assist and educate the community for its enlightenment, self-reliance and self-confidence. Since research is central to the operations of universities, nothing distinguishes a university like the volume and quality of research emanating from it. Furthermore, in its dealings, the university must be beyond reproach and must guarantee transparency and accountability, thereby fostering credibility, respect and admiration.
Thus, the level to which a university can achieve these fundamentals determine the level of acceptance, admiration and deference it receives from its audiences and ipso facto, the level at which such audiences reach out to the university to assist, collaborate and partner with it in addressing the problems of the institution. In return, it is the extent of such support, sustenance and backing by its audiences that determine the goodwill, as well as the tangible and intangible resources that enable the university to carry out its responsibilities satisfactorily. Research and Advancement, two important activities of a university, can therefore be seen to act in symbiosis to boost the fortunes of an institution. They constitute an important tool required to revitalize the fortunes of an ailing institution.
The Vice-Chancellor and Governing Council: What Roles?
The fact that this Executive Education Programme has been organised for vice-chancellors along with members of their governing councils, including pro-chancellors and chairmen of councils, emphasizes the complimentary nature of the functions of these officials of the university. It also makes the point that a university thrives best when harmony exists between the administration of the institution which is led by the vice-chancellor and the governing council, led by its chairman, who is also the pro-chancellor of the university. The extensive structures required to be established for research not only to flourish but also to have its outcome converted to services and commodities of value are unlikely to materialize in the absence of peace and harmony between the vice-chancellor and his team and the pro-chancellor and his members of council. Similarly, the good governance, transparency, accountability that are prerequisite to the love, respect, deference that precede acts of charity and philanthropy, the backbone of successful advancement programmes, would be illusory. Thus, discord between the vice-chancellor and the pro-chancellor would serve as a strong hindrance to research and advancement: the two principal concerns of this paper.
The vice-chancellor, as the chief executive, with responsibility for the day-to-day management of the institution, should be visionary and with a strong passion for transparency and accountability. He or she should possess good public relation skills, have an amiable mien and be inclusive in his or her management style. The senate of the university which he or she chairs, should be rigorous in instituting high academic standards and should place research and innovation as priorities. Working together, the council, senate and the vice-chancellor should ensure that the university is on a trajectory that will lead it to progress, with good academic standards, conducive working and learning environment for staff and students and quality research output. On its part, the governing council should be seen to be above board in all its deliberations and actions, especially on financial matters. Members should avoid conflict of interest particularly when they are dealing with contract issues recommended to them for ratification by Tenders Board. Furthermore, using the good public standing which its members ought to have, council should take the lead in advocating and sourcing for funds for the university which it should superintend in a responsible manner, carefully prioritizing expenditure in such a manner that research in the university is given a pride of place.
Research, the process of scientific and analytical enquiry, is not only an important expectation of universities, it also enables such institutions to meet their other obligations – teaching and learning, solving problems of society. In working towards these and other expected outcomes of universities, the institutions interact with a wide range of audiences and so, can exploit these interactions to establish friendship and goodwill to enhance the course of institutions.
However, it is universities that are perceived to be effectively and efficiently managed, those whose academic standards are high, and graduates generally acclaimed to be of good quality that more readily attract voluntary support and assistance from their audiences. Conversely, universities that are unable to establish some track record of quality and consistency, and from which students exit with poor experience of university life, fare badly in this process.
The task before the leaders and apical organs of Nigerian universities, especially vice chancellors and governing councils is therefore clear as the burden of steering the institutions in the right direction rests on them. Research and Advancement are important tools by which an ailing university can be revitalized.
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