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Why Nigerian universities are incapable of research

Whenever the teacher was not in class, these two delighted in compiling the names of noise makers.  The punishment for noise making was immediate: we…

Whenever the teacher was not in class, these two delighted in compiling the names of noise makers.  The punishment for noise making was immediate: we were asked to remove our uniforms until completely naked, then with eyes closed, we were told to put up our hands.  It was the same punishment for everybody in the class – boy or girl.

I still can’t fathom how Dare and his accomplice got away with such crime.  It was a fairly large school; teachers came and went all the time but Dare was never caught punishing us.  What was also astonishing was that we didn’t think of reporting him to our teachers.

Even when I decided that I had had enough of the flesh show and stood up to him, Dare chased me around the school for more than thirty minutes without any teacher, prefect or any of my giant cousins coming to my rescue.  Maybe Dare was lucky?

Although the episode occurred in the twentieth century, whenever I look back, it’s like our class lived in a different era.  

It’s now twenty-first century but the behavior of Nigerian universities evokes the same thought in me.   While other nations are busy building knowledge societies with their universities leading the parade, our universities live in the age of ignorance – completely clueless.

Universities are typically concerned with teaching and research – and some also engage in consultancy. I don’t know how our universities fare in consultancy but their combined output in the primary areas of teaching and research is woeful.  While   Nigerian universities are messing up teaching also deserves analysis, my concern today is on research.

Research activities in our universities is almost zilch.  How do we know that? Many ways.   We can know if universities are doing research from publications, inventions, commercialization,  research awards and – to stretch it a notch – Nobel Prize.

The world has left us behind in all these categories.  In other climes, even undergraduate students make inventions on daily basis.  Here’s an example.

In April this year, one of my undergraduate students came to me with a claim that she had come up with something new in knowledge management and wanted my opinion on how to improve it.  Now, it’s incredible that an undergraduate student has invented something when postgraduate students and even professors are striving daily to push up the frontiers of knowledge.  However, when I read the paper, it’s apparent that she actually introduced a novel idea on competency voting and created a machine to facilitate the process using appropriate computer languages.

I was so impressed with her work that I told her she could make money from it after a couple of tweaks.  But she didn’t believe until an external examiner – a professor – listened to her presentation and offered to collaborate in publishing the findings.  

Only last week I chaired the first phase of the final year presentation of some undergraduate students.  And I wished I was listening to Nigerian undergraduate students.  The students whiz through Gantt chats and suggested how they wanted to change the world – it doesn’t matter how small the scope of that world is – through ideas like natural gas membrane separation technology.

These students study at a place where students are introduced to research early, where their efforts are encouraged and worthy works rewarded.  Before they graduate, these students are required to present their final year project ideas several times before experts who have spent decades doing research, affording the students the opportunities to sharpen their ideas and presentation skills along the way.  This way undergraduate education is not only about learning the fundamentals but an introduction to critical thinking and research.

(Continued next week)


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