Why Nigerian Government is wrong on Establishing an ICT University

Why Nigerian Government is wrong on Establishing an ICT University

The Federal Republic of Nigeria is establishing a new university – the ICT University of Nigeria. This new school is designed on the construct that it will fix all our ICT related challenges. It will be the magic wand that will suddenly help take Nigeria into the league of ICT excellence.

The Federal Government says it will establish an Information Communication Technology, ICT, University …The Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, disclosed this on Monday in Abuja …By the grace of God, in the next three to six months, we should have established in Nigeria an ICT university which will be first of its kind in Africa. This is with the sole purpose of providing training environment and training facilities to make the industry have enough skilled manpower in various sub sectors of the ICT sector. I am happy to say that we already have what is called the Digital Bridge Institute which is for short term training programmes in six locations across the country and we hope to transform this institute into the ICT University of Nigeria. I am already talking to a lot of operators at the international level, Facebook, Motorola, Ericson, all of them. We are encouraging them to come and adopt the university campuses as their own. They can bring in money and bring in faculties and a lot of logistics to assist in training Nigerians and we can now export these trained skilled facilitators to African countries to work.’’

Unfortunately, the government is wrong. The government is wrong because the university will not fix anything if the secondary school system remains broken. A broken secondary education will not produce a great university system. The pipeline matters. It is very important for the government to also work on how to fix the secondary school education, where Nigerian kids, are pushed to over-specialize to the extent that those going for engineering may not have to understand anything about economics, government, commerce and literature. Unfortunately, engineering functions under economic systems and governments.

The government is wrong because ICT cannot be used to fix ICT. ICT is a consuming, application phase of engineering. It cannot evolve until engineering has evolved. Simply ICT is a downstream application of the construct developed in engineering and science. If you do not fix engineering and science, you cannot get ICT right. Sure, the government may be focusing on training maintenance ICT graduates who may not need to think deeper. But that was not the promise by the government. No nation can be great on ICT without a strong engineering education, because everything seen on ICT  is a mere application of engineering and science.

The government is also wrong because we already have many ICT Universities but named elegantly. They are Federal University of Technology (Owerri), Federal University of Technology (Akure), and more. Had the government chosen to setup specific faculties within these schools called Faculty of ICT, the road map might have made more sense.

The government is wrong because it has abandoned the existing universities. So it does not have the moral capacity to entice us with another new university. Some universities in Nigeria are still teaching irrelevant curricula. Possibly, the professor does not know the new areas and government has not provided support for re-learning. With no incentive to for teachers to innovate, it is the government that will force the schools to improve. Many of the graduates are not employable, yet, nothing is done to fix that.

The government is wrong because at the end of this exercise, government does not have the funding to spread and fund it well. Buildings will be built but attracting top teaching talent will be stymied by the federal payment structure for universities. If the universities we have now, are not right, and are not producing the best ICT graduates, who will be the teachers in this new one? The same people? So what will change? The federal government cannot break the bank to attract more talent. Even if it has the funding, it has to follow existing federal payment structure. So, at the end, it is more of the same. But focusing on the teachers may miss the point – the teachers are great, but lack of funding is what makes their works difficult. So even if you get the smartest professor from MIT, he will not succeed in Nigeria, because he may be unable to find light to power up his laptop. That is what our professors go through, which unfortunately, make most look not top-rate.

The government is wrong because our problem is not multinational corporations taking a campus to populate their programs on our young ones. The government is asking multinational corporations to adopt some of the campuses. If these firms agree, the implication is that the university will become another avenue to accelerate further tech consumerism in Nigeria, with minimal creativity and innovation. The kids will be educated on how to repair and maintain, but never on how to design.

The government is wrong because any campus absorbed by any multinational corporation should have been better called a polytechnic, because they will not educate creators and innovators, but support and repairmen and women. We have polytechnics for them to absorb. Our university system must be technology and platform-agnostic so that students focus on facts, unconstrained by technologies supporting them. It will be very toxic if they cannot use iOS because Android is what every professor adopts in programming, in case Google is taking over a campus. Sure – we welcome them to provide lab tools and support but anyone should be open to do this, without any consideration that someone else has “adopted” a territory. But the reality is that without that territoriaal control, they will see no value in spending that money. Why should they?

The government is wrong because ICT university is fundamentally deficient. Innovation in ICT thrives on the amalgam of many disciplines because products have many elements. The best of Microsoft was not just Windows but also the branding and licensing strategy. Intel accelerated its market dominance, not just because of its technology, but rather, addition of excellent marketing like “Intel Inside” campaign. The techies did not create those elements. That is why  a campus that offers many programs across many fields actually creates more excellent startups. You do not expect kids trained in a mono-focused university to be the game-changers. They may be techies but the missing elements of other variables will put them in disadvantages. There is no evidence that ultra-specialized schools deliver better innovators – they tend to be better employees in their areas. Maybe that is what Nigeria is hoping. If so, that is unfortunate. Polytechnics should be started then, not universities.

The government is wrong because it is simply expanding bureaucracy. It will have to hire a Vice Chancellor with all the apparatus of University Senate, Governing Council, etc. Nigeria cannot afford that process. This new school could have been a faculty in already existing one saving us the extra management cost. The focus should be the consolidation of all schools so that we can have at most six federal universities with campuses across the country. That means six VCs with directors in the associated regions. Nigeria will save massive money in the process.

Nigerian ICT Minister Adebayo Shittu

 

The federal government is wrong because government is broke. A new campus will not help. As noted, the focus should be expanding capacity with better structures. Have 6 universities with one in each of the geo-political zones and all the federal ones becoming specialized campuses. For example, in the East, have all the universities with the name, University of Nigeria, South East and run from UNN. All federal universities in Nigeria will then be consolidated with focused specializations. FUTO becomes the School of Engineering,  University of Nigeria, South East. Michael Okpara University of Agriculture becomes School of Agriculture, University of Nigeria, South East. The others will be structured that way to save cost. That will save government the costs of maintaining top university management. The same goes in South West with UI becoming the center as University of Nigeria, South West. The fact remains, if Nigeria does not reform on emoluments and escalating administrative costs of government, we can crash as a country, post-petroleum era. (More on this later in a new piece). This reform should go beyond education to MDAs (ministries, departments and agencies). (Please note that the universities can retain their present names, but administratively they will be run by the six VCs.)

The federal government is wrong because at the end, the ICT University will not have any chance of challenging our federal universities of technology. There is no current government, in Nigeria, with  the legitimacy to establish any new university in Nigeria when the current ones can be expanded to absorb more students.. The ones established few years ago by the last Administration are nothing but laughing stocks. Usually nations make progress but unfortunately, in Nigeria, we are not. The same country that established ABU, UI, UNN, OAU, FUTO, FUTA etc is the one establishing the ones in Otuoke, Dutse, Dutsin-Ma etc. You will ask: where is the progression that comes by learning from the past to do better.

Rounding Up

The strength of a university is not the name, but rather its purpose, executed by the finest possible talent, supported with resources. No matter what the government calls a new university, it does not change anything. The university system in Nigeria, especially at the federal level, will continue to under-perform until it is properly funded. Making the schools attractive so that former military generals, former bank CEOs, and technology leaders, can find the opportunities exciting to teach therein, is what will redesign the system. Availability of new teaching talent with relevance in the emerging skills is critical . A new university of ICT is just another bureaucracy; government could have expanded the existing federal universities of technology with faculties of ICT. This is a misplaced priority by the government. They could have given the money to Co-Creation Hub, Wennovation Hub, and other hubs across Nigeria to offer scholarships and re-train the largely unemployable graduates, produced by our university system.

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