Smart Universities and ICT Innovation In Nigeria
By Inyene Ibanga
Universities play a pivotal role in higher education as drivers of applied research, innovation, business, entrepreneurship and technology. They are recognized for promoting open and free enquiries, diversity of ideas and critical thinking to always advance the frontiers of human knowledge.
The creative engagements between universities, industry and their host communities are vital for creating a suitable ecosystem to facilitate steady business/entrepreneurial activities within local and international markets.
With the advent of technology, the world has become more interconnected and interdependent. This is putting added pressure on universities to intensify effort towards developing the sufficient skilled human capital required driving the digital economy.
Whereas universities in advanced economies are living up to expectation by matching this new pressure, those in the developing countries are yet to adapt to the fast-paced knowledge economy driven by technology.
Unfortunately, Nigerian universities are ill-prepared to perform their role as sources of knowledge production to service the ever-evolving tech sector with the requisite manpower and expertise.
Major challenges of poor funding, inadequate infrastructure, the dearth of skilled ICT personnel and absence of engagements with industry and government hinder universities from contributing to the expansion of emerging technologies and innovations.
Evidently, universities in Nigeria lack the resources to add economic/social value to their graduates and communities. Instead of being job creators, graduates end up as job seekers because they were never trained for entrepreneurship and innovation.
These universities are yet to align with the fast-emerging technologies presented in artificial intelligence; blockchain; big data and algorithm; robotics; 5G; quantum computing; biosensors/biometrics; virtual/augmented reality and gamification, among many others.
But the universities are gradually realizing that the new normal (technology and innovation) is here to stay, as the gap between the physical and digital worlds is becoming more blurred every day.
Everyone recognizes there is a need for our universities to reposition themselves by focusing on institutional restructuring and industry engagements for enhanced production of technology-smart and innovative graduates.
However, the problems highlighted above constitute massive hindrance for universities to integrate their traditional roles with the evolving reality and disruptions spearheaded by emerging as well as yet-to-be-created technologies.
To address the challenges hampering tertiary institutions from functioning as smart knowledge centres, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) has established ICT innovation hubs in some selected universities across the geo-political zones of the country.
Currently, some of these NITDA ICT centres are located in Universities of Lagos and Port Harcourt, Bayero University Kano, Federal University of Technology Minna, and Gombe State University.
They are geared to enable adoption of stronger collaboration and synergy among governments, industry and universities to produce highly skilled graduates, achieve the digital economy and wellbeing of the people.
Other benefits include increasing access and flexibility to digital literacy; enabling students to develop the digital skills and competencies needed to create jobs and improve livelihoods for sustained national development.
Furthermore, the projects are aimed at positioning the institutions at the top of technology developments; facilitating a digital lifestyle in the institutions as well as sharing these facilities communities with their neighbouring communities on a commercial basis for sustainability.
The Director-General of NITDA, Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, explained that the creation of ICT hubs for universities in the geo-political zones was in line with the mandate of the National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (NCAIR) to foster strategic collaboration with universities to empower youths with digital skills for innovation, prepare students for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and boost technological industrialization.
As facilitator of ICT innovation hubs in select universities, NITDA is demonstrating its resolve to ensure a gainful integration of the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and emerging Innovative Driven Enterprises (IDEs) which grow exponentially and have vast market, locally and globally.
As such, NITDA should provide incentives for universities to strengthen collaboration with the private sector to consistently carry out disruptive research projects, thereby giving graduates the knowledge to solve local problems and create prosperity.
Therefore, it is imperative for universities to engage effectively with technological disruptions by remaining market-smart to safeguard their relevance by supporting applied research programmes that will translate into economic goods and services.
Through effective management of these ICT hubs, Nigerian universities would be able to regain their relevance and original mission of functioning as generators of knowledge and technology to equip and support our youths to contribute value in the rapidly expanding digital economy.
Hope I won’t be asking for too much by requesting for establishment of more ICT innovation hubs in primary and secondary schools to expose our children to the basics of digital literacy. This, I believe, would provide them with a solid foundation to garner requisite expertise in various areas of digital technology.
I wish to suggest that NITDA must ensure effective monitoring of this ICT innovation centres and management of beneficiary universities’ should be held accountable if they are not optimally utilized for the achievement of the set goals.
The future sure holds great prospect for Nigeria’s digital economy when our higher education institutions transform smart universities imbued with the knowledge base and competitive edge to match their contemporaries in other parts of the world.
Inyene Ibanga is Managing Editor TechDigest, Wuye District, Abuja.