Reimagining Higher Education And Knowledge Management In Nigeria
(Being address delivered as Chairman of a Roundtable on ‘Reimagining Higher Education in Africa’ by the Graduate Research Clinic Network to Commemorate its 3rd Year Anniversary on Sunday, 28th of February, 2021)
The Graduate Research Clinic (GRC), an online platform of eminent scholars, erudite intellectuals and budding researchers, has thrown the gauntlet on the state of higher education in Nigeria’s national development agenda. And it did this through a most timely roundtable on the theme, “Reimagining Higher Education in Africa: The Role of Learned Communities and Professional Associations.” With the array of invited speakers and discussants, the GRC leaves no one in doubt as to how serious it is taking, and wants Nigeria and Nigerians to take the issue of higher education. The keynote speaker is by no other scholar than the president of Nigerian Academy of Letters, and a professor of Linguistics, Francis Egbokhare. And the discussants are two able scholars from two different but significant spectrums of the academy. Professor Moses Ochonu, from Vanderbilt University, has demonstrated his concern for Nigeria’s higher education dynamics over and again through many engagements with several dimensions of it. And Professor Yakubu Ochefu is eminently involved with the administration of higher education in Nigeria; first, as the vice-chancellor of Kwararafa University, Taraba and then as the Secretary-General of the Association of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities.
To have been invited to chair the occasion of the roundtable is a huge honour. The Graduate Research Clinic, over the three years since its establishment, has grown to become one of the reference points for how a professional and academic platform ought to be — sane, informative, engaging, and the very essence of scholarly discursivity. This is a site that makes intellectual dispute and informed narratives a beauty to be involved with. And there are arrays of academic benefits flowing daily from the platform—from a daily English refresher course to nightly cultural proverbs that sting one into awareness. And in between are myriads of timely and urgent discourses on the state of nearly everything in Nigeria. The roundtable on higher education is therefore a natural concern for a network that has as one of its objectives the facilitation of academic and scholarly interaction among scholars and academics of all hues. I think it is high time that the GRC started the process for its own institutionalization as a professional network, with a pride of place among the already established high-end networks.
I am not new to discourses on higher education in Nigeria or on the continent. My reform philosophy and advocacy have brought me to that axiomatic moment about the relevance of education not only to the human capital development of any state, but also to the development of other institutional dynamics that all cumulate towards national development and good governance. Right from my time as the coordinator of the education sector analysis and head policy division at the federal ministry of education, I have been opened to the multiple deficits of Nigeria’s education system compromised politically, infrastructurally, academically and policy-wise. Without mincing words, the Nigerian education system is not capacity and intellectually ready to backstop Nigeria’s entry into the knowledge age or even support her aspiration to be a top contender in global competitiveness in the twenty first century.
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The recent celebration of the University of Ibadan among the top 500 hundred universities in the world is a good place to start reflecting on how to move the Nigerian education system forward. That achievement, for me, speaks to a lone feat; the sustained desire of one university to keep pushing the boundaries of qualitative and competitive tertiary education in Nigeria. Unfortunately, a lone effort, or a series of lone efforts, is not sufficient to catalyze Nigeria’s human and national development. The challenge is to deeply rethink the fundamental philosophy of education in Nigeria in the light of global benchmarks, continental peculiarities and national imperatives. Let me start my brief diagnostic analysis with one of the issues about higher education that is close to my heart—the sidelining of the humanities and the social sciences (HSS) in the overall scheme of things, according to the Nigerian Policy on Education. The disturbing issue here is that Nigeria is conceiving of a robust understanding of higher education by simply unreflectively following in the market-propelled neo-liberal ideological tradition with a low ratio for the HSS. The question then is one of how development could be holistic within a context that favors the physical and managerial sciences to the detriment of the HSS? True, the global benchmark for development now references STEM education. But then, STEM education cannot be regarded as a one-size-fits-all solution for all national education and development need. Rather than STEM, we need STEAMSS—Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics and the Social Sciences.
It is also high time we began to rethink the complicated relationship between the concept of autonomy and the funding of the universities in Nigeria. The nature of autonomy is such that it provides a university with self-regulating capacity not only to generate its own sustenance but to also calibrate its own research designs that speak to the context that gave birth to the university. In both cases, funding becomes very significant to the idea of autonomy, and demands some modeling that will catalyze the creativity of university administration to transform the university into an institutional driver of change. Unfortunately, our present reality is such that universities go cap-in-hand to Abuja every month in search of subventions that are grossly inadequate to cater for the twenty-first century needs of a functional and innovative university. The simple implication is the current model is not working. In essence, waiting on government hands-out forecloses the possibility of strategic planning for any creative vice-chancellor. This is even more so in an undisciplined governance environment where establishment of universities fulfils political consideration with scant regard to their viability and sustainable funding.
Rethinking the model of autonomy implies that funding could be generated to allow university administrators the leeway to deepen a university’s administrative and academic traditions. And without totally taking the government out of the autonomy picture, the idea is to factor the cost of educating an average student into a benchmarking of a negotiated financial model between the university, the government and the private sector. The negotiation is to arrive at a mutually agreed framework with inbuilt flexibilities to accommodate variability in government earnings. Government, through the National Universities Commission (NUC), can then empower such institutions like the Education Bank, Students Loans Board, with other stakeholders contributing to ameliorate equity concerns through bursary, scholarship, etc. This will ensure that the craving for sustainable funding does not snowball into untrammeled commercialization of higher education.
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We cannot emphasize enough the relationship between universities and industries/private sector which, to all intents and purposes, has not really taken a firm root in the operation of Nigerian universities. This relationship has a lot to do to backstop the financial modelling of university funding. And this is even more so because such a partnership also suggests a collaborative dynamic that facilitates the research focus and direction of universities. As we noted earlier, a university is responsible to its context. This means that a significant aspect of the research framework of any university ought to be channelled towards meeting the challenges of where the university is located. This truism plays right into an industry’s research and development framework geared towards meeting the development needs of any state. The universities ought to be the natural point of call for all industries and the private sector in terms of R&D. Outside of this urgent collaboration, the universities will keep on with abstract research that fails to impact, while the industries will not enjoy the benefit of sustained and robust research. Such a collaboration defines knowledge management for the greater good.
The last point is definitely not the least. The notion and nature of community of practice and of professional associations is one that I am grounded in as an institutional reformer. A community of practice (and even of service) is a gathering of a group of people who are united by an endeavor they are passionate about and which they learn, through the sharing of experience and competences, to do better through critical collaborations, engagement and interactions. And the trajectory of this community of practice to the evolution of institutional reform is something I have charted for many years. In public administration, the communities of practice challenge researchers, scholars and practitioners of public administration as to the new frontiers and research issues that could facilitate breaking new research grounds and problem-solving framework for moving public administration theories and practices forward. The beauty of such a framework comes out fully in the emergence of the scholar-practitioner paradigm—a professor of practice that unites in her person the dynamics that bring town and gown together in deep and mutually beneficial relationship. The universities do not need less. Each discipline has its own professional association which acts as the gatekeeper for intellectual and academic agenda setting. But I will go further to recommend cross-disciplinary communities of practice that will be founded on the scholar-practice paradigm. Such communities serve the greater purpose of achieving a knowledge management framework that utilizes the professional competence of different disciplines and discourses. Universities certainly do not exist for the sake of producing unusable knowledge.
I sincerely hope that this roundtable will further tease out the other dimensions of the issues involved in making higher education more effective as a system from which to commence the transformation of the Nigerian state and her governance.
Prof. Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary & Directing Staff, National Institute For Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos. He can be reached at email@example.com
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For The Record
Acceptance Speech For Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award By Canadian Association Of African Studies
By Toyin Falola
I am grateful to Mr. President, the Vice-President, the Past President, the Director, the Board Members, and all the members of the Canadian Association of African Studies (CAAS). Having been conferred with the Distinguished Africanist Award by the African Studies Association in 2011, I never expected that another one would follow by yet another global preeminent academic association.
I stand before you at this honorable time, emotionally touched by your generosity towards me and greatly inspired by your rare gesture of recognizing the little I have contributed to knowledge production and the rejuvenation of African epistemic traditions. The decision to acknowledge me, perhaps unknown to you, rekindles in me the spirit of continued dedication, for it reveals that the ability to make changes is unrestricted by age or location, especially when the soul is involved. Meanwhile, change is necessary for sustainable and transcendental transformation; without change, ideas would die of exhaustion, creativity would cease to be itself, and productivity would be sabotaged in the process.
Mr. President, it was within the foundational philosophy of this noble Association to promote the study of Africa in Canada and the world. Over the years, CAAS has done so as a moral and ideological responsibility, thereby contributing to African-Canada relations. That philosophy has yielded substantial results and that we are here today to produce rounds of knowledge affirms the sanctity of this togetherness. When I contributed my tiny quota to your goals by way of once organizing a conference for you, giving two Keynote Addresses, serving on the Joel Gregory Book Prize, and evaluating manuscripts for your preeminent journal, I never knew that a day like this would come. I feel most humbled and grateful, and with limitless appreciation for the confidence you have reposed in me and an unalloyed dedication to honor your belief in me, I accept the Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award from CAAS.
Distinguished scholars and members of the audience, I am now in the circle of remarkable intellectuals whom you have acknowledged for similar outstanding contributions and performances in their various fields, and I feel the burden of greater responsibility on me. Of a truth, I am an individual culturally reified in a philosophical paradigm of the Yorùbá whose axiomatic saying “Yin’ni, yin’ni, kẹ́ni ó ṣe òmíràn,” which loosely translates as a repeated shower of gratitude is a clarion call to do more, or to whom much is given, much is expected. This has often placed on me the moral burden to expand whatever it is I am recognized for doing. I am aware that it is not within the moral circumference of any culture in the world to publicly award evil, and that presupposes that my contributions to knowledge, which have been recognized, are expected to be multiplied. By virtue of my age, such consistency may be conflicted by nature, but that does undermine the reality that the manifestation of knowledge contribution is fluid and flexible. This means that even if creating a network of knowledge transmission through my books, lectures, listservs, and workshops experiences would decline, age cannot take away from me mentorship to our coming generations of Africans, assisting the academic fledglings to grow, and providing a friendly atmosphere to intending academics.
Mr. President, if we have collectively learned anything from the beautiful development experienced recently as a human family, it would be that the place of knowledge cannot be overemphasized in transforming and sustaining human society. Although this understanding should not elude anyone, we should not be ignorant that knowledge production, distribution, use, and reformation can never be as innocent as we have been made to understand it. This deduction finds its strength in the fact that if it is true that knowledge production is devoid of strange politics, this distinguished body, the Canadian Association of African Studies, would not have been birthed in the first place. However, the awareness that knowledge engagements available in the diasporic environment, especially in Canada, are potentially hostile and hegemonic necessitated an association such as this. CAAS is irrevocably committed to the advancement and upsurge of knowledge so that the epistemic traditions and foundations of Africans here would escape the compromise that the environment proposes. We have both a moral and ideological responsibility to rescue African Studies epistemically because this place has a glistering history that must never be undermined―glistering because the strength and struggles of the displaced Indigenous people have produced stellar results that today’s reality of Africans here has drawn from. Essentially, you and I owe ourselves the right to develop and build a civilization that reflects our thinking.
Ladies and gentlemen, have you not established methodologies in developing and nurturing this Association with which information is sourced and education transferred? Have you failed to raise intellectually vibrant Africans leading in several areas of their careers with excellent and exceptional impact? Have you not created a healthy academic atmosphere where knowledge about critical issues related to Africa has been consistently shared? Mr. President, within the time of establishment, you have, as a collective, harmonized the ideas of outstanding contributors to this project to drive policies and services of immense significance to the various areas of existence. Through the persistent insistence of CAAS, the Canadian Journal of African Studies (CJAS) was created. Who among us here would deny the overwhelming contributions of the journal to African academics? Is it not a journal that provides the platform and motivation for academia who have showcased brilliance and excellence in their research engagements? Have you not also created an opportunity for government representatives, leaders, non-governmental organizations, activists, and non-state actors, among others, to draw on knowledge for policies that drive critical development?
Distinguished scholars, colleagues, and friends, you have, in good dispositions, facilitated the meteoric growth of intellectualism from the beginning of our engagement, and that tradition has continued regardless of different challenges, which your dedication has helped you to overcome. How else can we reiterate the importance of CAAS to the survival of the African identity in the diaspora environment if not through the enumeration of the great things you have done as a people and as an Association? CAAS has stood up for numerous Africans who have witnessed various forms of dreadful challenges because of the color of their skin. The Association has committed itself to issues of development within the Federation to emphasize how its members are concerned about rapid progress for the generality of Canadians. The number of conferences organized by CAAS continues to grow admirably, through which they offer fresh opportunities for scholars across the globe who have brilliant ideas to share with the world, especially by looking at issues from the lens of Africa and Africans. CAAS has always taken on fundamental matters that require urgent attention, and in the spirit of humanitarian compassion, you have executed projects that bring invaluable additions to the human world. That underscores your values as a people and your commitment to making meaningful changes in the global environment. You have enlarged our desire to promote ideas that would bring rapid changes to the human world through the programs, events, and platforms you have created within the time of your existence as an association for scholarship and human flourishing.
Mr. President, your decision to honor me with the Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award is a form of affirmation by you and the members of the Association to ensure that individuals like me have a continued focus on enhancing a brighter future for the African diaspora. Although I am the recipient of that award, the inspiration it would encourage will not fall on my shoulders alone, for I am confident that those who are available here today will feel that sense of commitment and seriousness, as I do, to issues that would benefit Africa and the world generally. Therefore, this honor is for us all! I am inclined to think this way because I know that the human spirit wants to be triggered by the external motivation to perform the magic already wired in them or that they are naturally capable of.
The continually evolving world, ladies and gentlemen, demands that we also reposition ourselves and understand more deeply the sense of responsibility we owe the generations of Africans to come. We must not forget that it is important that we continue to interrogate ideas produced by our forebears, for they can be more relevant in the modern world than we imagine. Ideas are the result of human mental energy put to use in the course of refining the thoughts in the mind. All we need is to intensify our research trade and ensure that we introduce ideas for the benefit of humankind.
I am most grateful to you all for the well-intentioned recognition accorded to me, leading to this exemplary award. It is mind-blowing and, at the same time, humbling, to say the least. Africa will continue to find its footing, and we will never cease to take the world by surprise.
May 31, 2023.
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Toyin Falola Honoured In Canada For Contribution To African Studies
The Canadian Association of African Studies (CAAS) has awarded United States-based Nigerian professor of history Toyin Falola the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award for Contribution to African Studies .
In a letter announcing the award, CAAS told Prof. Falola that it recognized his exceptional contributions, unwavering dedication, and profound impact on the field of African Studies in Canada and beyond.
The CAAS Lifetime Achievement Award for Contribution to African Studies recognizes senior scholars who have been engaged actively as CAAS stalwarts and have retired or nearing retirement. The requirements are (1) a lifetime of sound scholarship; (2) accomplishments (research, teaching and mentoring awards, etc.) and (3) involvement in the activities of CAAS.
The letter said: “Your achievements as a renowned historian and an esteemed member of the academic community meet all these criteria at an extremely high level.Throughout your illustrious career, you have made significant contributions to the advancement of African Studies, leaving an indelible mark on the discipline. Your pioneering research, insightful publications, and dedication to mentoring a new generation of scholars have significantly enriched our understanding of Africa’s history, culture, and society. Your profound influence extends beyond research and publications. You have been actively engaged in the academic community, serving as a keynote speaker at CAAS conferences (as we can witness at this year’s conference) and co-organizing the successful CAAS conference at York University in 1991. Your tireless efforts in reviewing scholarly works for the Canadian Journal of African Studies and your longstanding role on the editorial board of the Harriet Tubman Series on the African Diaspora at York University further demonstrate your commitment to advancing the field.
“In addition to your invaluable contributions to CAAS, your impact on the Canadian academic landscape is remarkable. As an external examiner at esteemed Canadian universities, including the University of Toronto, York University, Dalhousie, Trent University, and Queens University, you have played an integral role in shaping the academic rigor and quality of African Studies programs across the country. Moreover, your mentoring of Africanist scholars based in Canada has nurtured and inspired a new generation of researchers and intellectuals. In that regard, you have supervised more than 100 Master’s and Doctoral dissertations in your areas of specialization. Your noteworthy achievements have garnered global recognition and acclaim. You have been the recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including the 2011 Distinguished Africanist Award from the African Studies Association (ASA) and an impressive tally of over 40-lifetime awards from various countries. With 16 honorary doctorates documented in your vita, you stand as a true luminary in the field. Recently, on Tuesday, October 11, 2022, at State House, Abuja, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari conferred on you, one of the nation’s oldest and highest merit honors, the Member of the Order of the Niger (MON). This is proof of the degree of recognition that you have enjoyed in your homeland.
“On behalf of the Canadian Association of African Studies, I extend our deep congratulations to you on this well-deserved honor. Your exceptional contributions, unwavering commitment, and outstanding achievements serve as an inspiration to all Africanists and scholars in related fields in Canada and globally.”
The letter added: “Please note that the award will be formally announced at the CAAS Annual General Meeting on Wednesday, May 31, 2023, at 5:00 pm. The venue for the meeting is Founders College, FC 152, York University, and the event will be in a Hybrid format. More information will be provided to enable you to invite family and friends to witness the award ceremony segment of the AGM.” The letter was signed by Nduka Otiono, PhD.
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