Nigerian ICT University Coming Soon
First of all, these kinds of universities are not at all common; as I am not aware of a single legit one in the US, for example. The US leads the world in matters of technological advancement, giving the world the Internet for free and virtually all the engines that drive the computers and smartphones that everyone anywhere uses. Yes, Nigeria could decide to leapfrog technology in this aspect, but then the path to success has to be very clear.
What will departments look like in the ICT University? What will constitute the faculties? Are the programmes going to be Science, Technology, or Engineering, or a combination of these? Any Social Sciences? What accreditation landscape are we looking at, with respect to ensuring quality and standards? Where will the university draw qualified pool of lecturers from? Will the current space at Digital Bridge Institute (DBI) – for example in Abuja – meet the National University Commission’s (NUC’s) minimum 200 hectare land size required for a university? What will be the development cycle for the university, and how will the university scale up? And so on.
The objectives stated for establishing the university are not very convincing, although I am hoping that the minister has more important ones than those stated in the papers. The minister alludes to exporting trained skilled facilitators to other African countries. However, this is hardly a meaningful objective for establishing a university. The minister also says: “We are looking at a situation, within one or two years, in which various files in offices will disappear and digitization takes over…” Needless to say that we do not need to establish a university to teach people how to digitize paper documents; as folks in many establishments in Nigeria have been doing this for almost a decade now; and doing so without a university degree! The descriptions of the ICT University in the papers point to a technical school, not a university!
The minster is quoted in the papers as saying, “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 campus as their own.” Really? Asking Facebook to help develop an ICT university in Nigeria and adopt the university as its own? This is obviously a joke. First of all, why would Facebook do this if indeed it knows how to? Secondly, shouldn’t we be talking to world leading universities in technology and engineering who train the programmers that work in Facebook and the like? The technology behind the development of the Facebook platform is kind of ordinary from the grand scheme of Internet technology. (Remember that the original developer of the Facebook platform did not have a university degree!) In a university, perhaps unlike a polytechnic, foundational knowledge is key. You teach the foundation to the students and let them run away with it; of course, with generous practical components to boot. This kind of foundational knowledge cannot be provided by Facebook, Motorola, or Ericson. On the other hand, Nigerian universities, such as Obafemi Awolowo University, may be able to provide students with the background required to develop Facebook-like platforms. Let us improve existing Nigerian universities and use them. Asking Facebook and the like to own a Nigerian university campus is honestly a very strange proposition. A question to ask ourselves is “What is in it for these for-profit organizations?” The minister says “They can bring in money, facilities, and logistics to assist in training Nigerians…” Can they and why should they?
The press release also doesn’t let us in on the state of readiness of the proposed university. It says we should have the university by the first quarter of 2017 – which is just a few months away. Meanwhile, NUC’s requirements for establishing a university take considerably longer than that to meet. There are currently 14 steps required to establish a university, 13 of which are major and can be excruciatingly demanding. It’s doubtful that the promoters of the proposed ICT University have gone through most of these steps. Thus, assuming that NUC wouldn’t be cutting the federal government some slack on the requirements – which it shouldn’t for quality control purposes – it’s going to take a while to the get university fully operational if we are going to do things right.
In conclusion, while this column revels in matters concerning ICT, it should not be forgotten that manufacturing is indeed the old guard of the economy, deserving as much, if not more, attention than ICT. The Nigerian power supply problem is also certainly a show stopper.