Time to restore ‘universe’ to our universities – Martins Oloja

As I had noted earlier to my friends and colleagues across platforms, the wind of convocation time blew me to the Sunshine state, Ondo on Thursday December 7, 2023 where I delivered the 12th Convocation Lecture of the Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba Akoko. The Vice Chancellor, Professor Olugbenga E. Ige, led me into temptation of writing 11, 544-word lecture. The lecture titled, “Internationalisation of Universities for Global Relevance”, was quite remarkable for various contexts and contents. In some historical excursions, a correlation between federalism and internationalisation was established to the extent that both concepts aren’t new, after all. We lost federalism we are begging for now specifically in 1966 when the soldiers of fortune struck down democracy and federalism through Decree No.34 and institutionalised the federal republic of the Nigerian army.
It isn’t however clear when we began to lose the universse of the universal city also known as the university. But it is clear that the universe in the university has been markedly affected by a combination of factors you will find in the lecture. We can’t publish the voluminous lecture in one fell swoop but here are some of the highlights from 8725th word. Let’s serialise the first two pages here:
Wole Soyinka
‘Where do we go from where Wole Soyinka once lamented?’
Since the education sector at home isn’t good where will the condition to internationalise come from? Isn’t it therefore a time to interrogate Professor Wole Soyinka’s suggestion some years ago about the expediency of closing down all the Nigerian universities for a year or two with a view to restructuring them into “Ivory Towers”, citadels of learning and centres of innovation that they should be?
As I had indicated, this is not a seminal paper on the role of the university in a developing country. Nor is it a research topic on the role of public intellectuals in development. Rather, it is a thought-provoking discussion point on why all our representatives in government should halt the “hollow rituals” called licensing of new private universities and the federal government’s own obsession with political project called federal universities in all the states of the federation.
I am persuaded that elders of the land, notably those that had enjoyed ‘the good old days’ in this same country when universities were universities, to support a motion that governments at all levels should stop all priority projects and declare genuine emergency on education with a view to investing in them consciously and sincerely.
This means there had been good times here when some Americans were applying to read even English language at the University of Ibadan. In 2008, I met an African American, in Miami Florida who claimed to be a classmate of now Professor Gordini Gabriel Darah at the University of Ibadan where she completed her PhD in English in the early 1980s. The woman gave me a note to her radical classmate, G.G Darah. She was at that time a President of a University in Florida. That was internationalisation mode when an American could hear about a great university in Nigeria without the Internet then. There were stories of foreign students in the universities of first generation when there was indeed a universe in the universities then. How do we regain the paradise lost when we can be part of the universe again?
The highway universities without universe?
What is more horrible than a situation whereby most Nigerian universities have become mere factories for producing unemployable graduates at all levels? Most of the major highways have become attractions for private universities, most of which are suspected to be part of the ways of laundering money for some crooks who can no longer hide such slush and stolen funds abroad because of the danger in illicit money transfer now that we have the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU). But sadly, most of the lecturers of the universities cannot allow their children to be admitted into the universities where they teach. I know many of them, who would still have to struggle through thick and thin to send their wards abroad where real learning takes place, where there good ratings.
But let’s reflect on this classic. According to Gasset (2005) on the Mission of the University. Why University Must Be Primarily: the University; Profession and Science.
(A) The university consists, primarily and basically of higher education which the ordinary man should receive.
(B) It is necessary to make this ordinary man first of all, a cultured person: to put him at the height of the times. It follows then that the primary function of the university is to teach the great cultural discipline namely:
1. The physical scheme of the world (Physics)
2. The fundamental themes of organic life (Biology)
3.The historical process of the human species (History)
4.The structure and functioning of social life (Sociology)
5 The Plan of the universe (Philosophy)
(C) It is necessary to make the ordinary man a good professional. Besides his apprenticeship to culture, the university will teach him, by the most economical, direct and efficacious procedures intellect can devise, to be a good doctor, a good judge, a good teacher of mathematics or of history. The specific character of this professional teaching must be set aside, however for further discussion.
Whether it is local or ‘glocal’, the university should be equipped enough to play its primary role of turning the ordinary man to be what he wants to be: professional But can the university play this role today in our milieu, in this age of digital technologies?
Nigerian Universities
Professors of practice to the rescue?
Don’t allow complacency, wet blankets and conservatism to set this back. For you to be ‘glocally’ relevant you need professors of practice to complement your manpower at this time. It is a global phenomenon.
One of the solutions I will recommend is to think out of the box on how to turn that ordinary boy into an employable professional through ‘Professors of Practice’.
A professor of practice also known as a clinical professor is an experienced and successful non-academic professional appointed in an academic role. The role is often a suitable choice for individuals who want to spread their knowledge of a specific industry. Regardless of your current back ground and experience, knowing what you can do to become a professor of practice can improve your chances of success…
It appears that Afe Babalola University and Federal University in Oye Ekiti, have adopted this strategy although without proper structure through the appropriate authorities including the National Universities Commission, (NUC) among other bodies.
In 2018, when Professor Umaru Pate, then Dean School of Communication,
Bayero University, Kano, inaugurated the School following the unbundling of Mass Communication Courses, some Professors of Journalism told me after I delivered a paper on ‘Data and Investigative Journalism’ that I should have been a professor of practice. There were 156 Heads of Department of Mass Communication of Universities and Polytechnics at the event, which also involved a professor of journalism from the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The Council and Management of Adekunle Ajasin University should look into this global practice to strengthen its manpower challenge as a result of what exodus that is ravaging the sector generally. When you can attract some experienced professionals and technocrats from Nigeria and some lecturers from abroad, that can be a difference maker and turning point on your way to internationalisation. We therefore need to revive the internationalisation model we benefitted from before everything began to go wrong with our university administration. We can begin from the homestead.
Partnership with institutions abroad
You also need to strengthen your partnership with institutions abroad. You need their libraries through strategic partnership. You need to understand the times like the sons of Issachar who understood the times and knew what Israel ought to do.
Funding dilemma
Lamentation isn’t a strategy. There is an ‘innovator’s dilemma’ as Christensen (1997) has claimed in his1997 classic. Authorities and parents face this dilemma here at the moment. If you don’t charge appropriate fees, there can’t be good funds for running the university. If you charge appropriately, parents who are generally hard hit by current economic downturn can’t pay. The other day, Matthew Ashimolowo, proprietor of Kings University, Odeomu in Osun State told The Guardian that free and quality education is a mirage. During a courtesy call to The Guardian in Lagos he said, “One of the biggest challenges we have in Nigeria is that we have failed to let our young people know how expensive education is: We are also lying to our kids that instates and federal universities that they are paying school fees when are not…” No one will buy this from Citizen Ashimolowo, though what he is saying is the whole truth about funding quality in education.
What happened to the NUC-LEADS programme?
Let’s relive the NUC’s Linkages with Experts and Academics in the Diaspora Scheme (LEADS) established by the NUC in 2007 to support the Federal Government efforts to transform the education sector.
According to the NUC, it is meant “to attract experts and academics of Nigerian extraction in the Diaspora on short term basis to contribute to the enhancement of education in the Nigerian university system”.
Besides, it is “to create appropriate engagement positions and job satisfaction for Nigerian academics and experts, so that they are not attracted away or wasted internally”
It is also “to encourage healthy staff movements, interaction and collaboration across and between Nigerian universities and other sectors of education and national development”.
Finally, it is to “encourage experts in industry to participate in teaching and research in Nigerian universities”.https://www.nuc.edu.ng/project/leads/
This is a lofty strategy that would have prevented some of today’s discussion points. NUC began this but inquiries indicated that trouble set in when some lecturers from the Diaspora that began this were disappointed because of delay in paying their salaries and other emoluments.
So, there should be a revival of the NUC’s LEADS project. The Diaspora Commission should be involved to get a proper register of our professors abroad. We can begin internationalisation by putting structures and infrastructure here and then invite our people who teach abroad at the moment. Then our people can also exploit that to go abroad on some exchange programmes and return. China and other Asian countries exploit this strategy a great deal. South Korea handles this with a Ministry for Knowledge Development (different from the Ministry of Education).
Specifically, Diaspora Commission and NUC can synergise so that what we have tagged ‘brain drain’ can become ‘brain gain’. In the private sector, industry works with academics such as visiting members of editorial boards, resource persons at workshops, academics are members of boards of trustees and professional bodies. This is a way we can broaden the scope of knowledge development for the good of the country even as we strengthen virtual learning prospects as suggested.
To be continued…

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