Nigerian universities are yet to address the issue of research shortfalls bedeviling the system despite grants from the World Bank, BD SUNDAY findings show.
This is as industry watchers say tertiary institutions in the country are lagging behind in globally-competitive research publications in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) which are key drivers of economies across the globe.
Experts say higher education research plays a key role in national development, but the dearth of research in Nigeria’s institutions of higher learning has meant that these institutions have not made significant impact on the technological advancement of the country and the socio-economic well-being of its citizenry.
Isaac Adeyemi, vice chancellor, Bells University of Technology, Ota, Ogun State, observes that research is very important in the life of any university because its findings are applicable to all fields of specialisation, be it science or engineering, pointing out that it should be one of the prerogatives of government to fund such programmes.
In order to boost research in Nigerian universities, the World Bank earlier this year, as part of its Centres of Excellence project in universities, approved $80 million in grants for Redeemers University Ogun State, African University of Science and Technology Abuja, Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta, Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, University of Jos, University of Benin, University of Port Harcourt, Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife, Bayero University Kano, and Benue State University Makurdi.
In spite of this grant, however, the universities have yet to tackle the research challenge. Industry watchers link this with the general infrastructure and human capacity challenges facing the nation’s education sector in general and universities in particular.
A cursory look at federal and state-run tertiary institutions in the country reveals that they still battle with inadequate and irregular funding, poor motivation, poor or obsolete research infrastructure, brain drain and rising workload, resulting from deteriorating staff/student ratio, which in all have hampered the realisation of research goals in the higher education sector, says Adeyemi.
Most of the universities are said to be grossly understaffed and rely heavily on part-time and visiting lecturers. They are also said to bear the burden of under-qualified academics and lack of effective staff development programmes, and the experts say it would take more than just grants from international organisations to solve the research challenge in the universities.
The experts also say approving grants to 10 out of over 120 universities in the country is a drop in the ocean and can hardly improve global competitiveness of Nigerian universities.
They further observe that the poor quality of research proposals put forward by universities is also hindering them from accessing idle funds domiciled at the World Bank and other international donor organisations.
Julius Okojie, executive secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC), said lack of quality mentorship and technical skills in proposal writing, had over the years robbed Nigerian universities of the opportunity to access funds that would aid faculties to attain global competitiveness.
“To make demand-driven research more effective and facilitate national development and global competitiveness, universities need to build research and development centres for the benefit of their staff and students,” Okojie said.
Peter Okebukola, a university professor, is of the opinion that with only seven universities in the country having 60 percent of their teaching staff with PhDs, competing with their foreign counterparts in the area of breakthrough research would be a tall order.
Okebukola adds that tertiary institutions have not done enough in the area of collaboration with industries in terms of sciences and technology for socio-economic development, observing that the nation’s universities still lag behind, despite grants from international donor organisations, because the policy makers and the universities themselves, are yet to come to terms with the huge advantages inherent in positioning as global academic players.
He further observes that though interventions such as the World Bank-funded ACE project aim to build capacity in competitively selected institutions to produce in-demand highly skilled labour and applied research, this will not yield the needed results, unless the right approach to intellectual exercise is given the professional support it deserves.
He adds that the huge gap between the intended and the achieved curriculum, owing to interruptions in the academic calendar, inadequacies in laboratory and workshop facilities, depressed quantity and quality of lecturers, have hampered expected development in education.
“University curriculum has the capacity to meet labour market needs but the universities fail to deliver such curriculum in a way that will meet those needs,” he said.
Anderson Ezeibe, Chemistry lecturer at the Federal Polytechnic Nekede, Owerri, says strategic investment in courses in science and technology is the driving force of development in advanced economies, while also expressing concern over the drifting of tertiary institutions from pursuing research work in science and technology.
“Failure in regulation, poor funding and other shortfalls have really hindered effective research in the country,” Ezeibe said.