TETFUND: Tackling Capacity And Relevance Of Scholarship, by Zubaida Baba Ibrahim
It is heartwarming to learn that the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) has set up training programmes for lecturers and heads of public tertiary institutions in the North-Eastern region of Nigeria to enhance their writing skills, especially in research grants proposals.
As part of efforts to concretise this arrangement, a workshop was organised recently due to the low level performance of some of the university teachers in the geopolitical zone.
The Executive Secretary of the TETFund, Professor Suleiman Bogoro, in the workshop opening address, was full of lamentation on why Nigerian universities and academics have failed to gain respectable global recognition.
While tracing an historical perspective, he observed that much of the past research from the region were not solution-driven, which led to the lack of major recognition of these academics. Interestingly, it is equally noteworthy that many outstanding academics do not possess the same distinct prowess in communicating, and they also lack the skills to play the role of educators in public discourse.
This tendency is also because many do not see it as part of their role to be enablers of the making of public policy, and as a result of this, academics only focus on linking up with and communicating essentially within their scholarly communities, and remaining disconnected from the general public, which reduces their relevance in society.
An example is evident with the advent of the Internet and social media. While these have been disruptive in the way information is being exchanged, the huge uptake in the use of these technologies now reveal that society presently has instant access to news, stories and general information at they happen. In terms of its implication for the academy, although there are numerous platforms for open access journals, open online courses and other emerging forms of educational technology, neither the general public nor policy makers have sufficient information on or awarenes about the value or utilities of these platforms for the promtion of the public good.
Therefore, instead of expecting people outside the academic world to go to them, academic researchers need to find creative ways of bridging the gap between the town and the gown, by connecting the world of arcane scholarship with the provision of solutions to local problems in communities through the writing of commentaries or contribution to columns in popular newspaper/magazines in their respective specialities. Or even by working with social movements that enable the presentation of their research findings to the public.
The above development will not only give them and their works visibility to be placed into practice, but also opens academics to the unvarnished truth of socially relevant concerns that require their intellectual engagement.
Supporting the stance of the TETFund boss was the Vice Chancellor of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU), Professor Mohammed Abdulazeez, who stated that the institution he leads is working firmly to proffer solutions to the highly voltile and protracted farmer/herder crisis across swathes of the country. Abdulazeez also further revealed that ATBU has found out that herders actually need not move around from place to place with their cattle, and ranching could essentially even increase their yield.
Although, many Nigerians, both literate and illiterate, can testify to the numerous issues affecting the country, from huge challenges in the security, economic, health and education sectors of the country, yet there is need for a deeper concert with the government by the intellectual and scholarly community in finding ways of tackling these issues.
Certainly, research activities and fields vary significantly in terms of their quests and objectives, and furthermore, the utility of research is highly dependent on the discipline and scope of the researchers. Still, academics well positioned and equipped with the skills to contribute greatly to current knowledge on emergent issues in the world today.
The processes of research and the application of its findings for social utility and the betterment of the nation have in recent times emerged as central activities the the Western academy. And, this is directly linked to how research has become the most long-lasting and effective means of boosting sustainable development in health, economic, education and security sectors.
To exercise the pertinence of academic research, the main criteria for selecting ‘World Class Universities’ are based on the ability of these centres of excellence in scholarship to push out recommendation that impact the resolution of real life situations, in manners that advance the trajectory of the human experience.
In Nigeria, despite the series of developmental strategies put in place by successive administrations, all attempts to generate meaningful progress has failed. One may even be curious to ask if those development plans were mere façades for the prententions of governments at working, or why was it so difficult to generate epistemological schemes with favourable and life-enhancing outcomes, despite the bountiful intellectual and natural resources in the country?
In Asian countries, which have as much diversity as the Nigerian society, a good number of them have maintained consistent growth patterns over several decades in sectors such as agriculture. They have also developed highly sophisticated systems of mass education, which have advanced their huge technical and technological capabilities. These were achieved by the development of socially relevant knowledge, which was a synergey between scholarly research and development in application to social needs. The roles of the intellectual and scholarship in these spaces were of primal essence, and these keep evolving and expanding.
Of course, the point of our situation in Nigeria is not so much about the possibilities of what academic research can and should do, but about building a sturdy national culture of engagement between the scholarly outcomes of academia and public policy makers. There needs to be continuous support and dialogue between these critical flanks and also the general public, to generate and culture of socially relevant research that that have wider uptake in society.
While there are government agencies and organisations that have the mandate to serve as catalysts for the production of the knowledge thats usable for social advancement, notably the TETFund, the very tenuous and fragile connection between the town and the gown needs to be upgraded and strenghtened. This would be an antidote to the issue of policy failure in the Nigerian environment.
One way this relationship can be strengthened is through the creation of advisory committees; for instance, an ad-hoc or formal forum of academics and other experts that can provide advice on how to enhance usable knowledge, alongside the development of expert networks in this regard.
While TETFund has been playing an inspiring role in promoting the production of knowledge in Nigeria, it needs to deepen this role by helping to bridge the gap between the town and the gown in the creation of more usable scholarships that solves social problems directly. And also by further serving as a catalyst for the synergy between academics involved in novel scholarship with the world of public policy-making, and governance. This would ultimately enhance the mandate and impact of TETFUnd as a socially relevant intervention agency.
Zubaida Baba Ibrahim writes from Gwarinpa, Abuja. Email: [email protected]