Recently, the National Universities Commission (NUC) announced the release of a new curriculum to be implemented by Nigerian universities. The new curriculum tagged Core Curriculum for Academic Standards (CCMAS) has a lot reforms which make it different from the former curriculum. The Susa Africa Team had an engaging conversation with Dr. Simon Samson, Head Research for Innovation and Commercialization Division, Opolo Global on the new curriculum and how innovation could be fostered in Nigerian universities. Here are excerpts of the interview
Susa Africa: With the recent change of the universities’ curriculum by the National Universities Commission, it is expected that the curriculum is now strengthened. What do you think?
Samson Simon: The National Universities Commission (NUC) has deemed it fit to change the curricula of the Nigerian university. This is in order as the NUC has such mandate and this change should have even come earlier as we do not review and update the curricula regularly enough hence lagging in terms of providing up-to-date skills for a modern economy. These new documents enforcing the much needed reforms in university education will go a long way in government’s commitment to strengthening institutional structures and establishing innovative approaches that would quickly revamp the education. The reforms are expected to be far reaching enough hence the need to radically review the curricula. The last updates of these curricula for universities have largely become too old for addressing local issues and meeting international standards. These changes will hopefully make education at the university level fit for purpose for the training of 21st century graduates.
Susa Africa: Now that the curriculum is now unbundled, what are your own expectations especially in terms of addressing the menace of unemployment among the Nigerian graduates?
Samson Simon: The new Core Curriculum and Minimum Academic Standards (CCMAS) came about as a result of sustained stakeholder interactions over two years. These stakeholders were empaneled to make far-reaching changes to the curriculum including unbundling and tweaking of key courses. The panels got on board academic experts, academies, government (represented by NUC), professional bodies and of course, the private sector represented by the NESG. These astute professionals have streamlined GST from 36 credit units to a third of that. Agriculture, Mass Communication and Architecture have been unbundled to create fit for purpose graduates. Allied Health Sciences was also carved out of basic medical sciences. This has increased the number of faculties from 13 to 17.
Furthermore, the CCMAS documents are uniquely structured to provide for 70% of core courses for each programme, while allowing universities to utilise the remaining 30% for other innovative courses in their peculiar areas of focus.
Considering the fact that the new curriculum is supposed to help Nigerians acquire an education that is most relevant to the 21st century, this should help them with employment as they become more employable hence hopefully reduce Nigerian unemployment levels.
Susa Africa: Innovation and venture management are two new components of the curriculum. Do you think the universities have the capacities to deliver these courses in an impactful manner?
Samson Simon: Nigerian universities cannot deliver on innovation and venture management unless the necessary mechanism is put in place to ensure such. Professors need to be groomed to deploy and encourage innovation in their classes. Venture management should be pushed by getting the teachers/lecturers to be intentional about drilling it into students.
There is a need to set up innovation hubs within these universities. These hubs will nurture innovation and scale them up. For example Bank of Industry (BoI) is working with public universities in Nigeria to set up innovation hubs that will help business ideas be incubated and accelerated. Furthermore, offering a springboard for innovators to succeed should be the mandate of the universities in Nigeria.
For the university delivery to be impactful must be an intentional act and be vigorously pursued. As paying lip service to such will yield nothing.
Susa Africa: What do you suggest should be done to make the teaching of innovation and entrepreneurship deliver more innovators within the higher institution in the country?
Samson Simon: To deliver more innovators within Nigerian universities then teaching of innovation and entrepreneurship should be more hands-on and less theoretical. The curriculum should not only be more and more innovation-friendly but also set up a mechanism to ensure these innovation curricula are pursued relentlessly. There is a need to bring in people from the private sector deliver these courses. Nigerian universities should ensure that courses on innovation and entrepreneurship are taught or co-taught with experienced and successful business managers. Lecturers should be encouraged to go for post- doctoral or sabbatical programmes in places that would expose them to the nitty gritty of building a business from the idea stage to product development. They should know how to nurture start-ups and emerging entrepreneurs from their different courses.
Making a curriculum as well as teaching of innovation and entrepreneurship give the desired results will require being intentional and focused on what is required for such to succeed.
Susa Africa: Recently, policies around digital economy including block-chain technologies were released by the outgoing government of President Muhammadu Buhari. In your opinion, what are the implications of these policies on the Nigerian economy?
Samson Simon: The outgoing government of President Muhammadu Buhari seems determined to set the ball rolling for the digital economy, so policies and laws such as the Start-up Act and the National Blockchain policy have all been deployed. This makes the digital economy to be better organised with direction, guidance and focus to get things done. For instance, the Nigeria Startup Act provides a comprehensive roadmap to establish supportive policies, regulations and programmes that can create a flourishing ecosystem that fosters innovation, attracts investments, and generates much-needed employment opportunities for the country’s vast population of unemployed youth. So, it has a lot of potential to impact greatly on the economy.
However, it requires the sub national government to key in to the idea by domesticating the Act at the state level. This is important because research has established that 65 per cent of the young people for whom empowerment such as poverty eradication and employment programmes are targeted at are in the states. So, adopting the Act by state governments and creating a conducive environment for citizens to thrive are important in making the move more sustainable. In the same manner, the blockchain technology has as one of its objectives the stimulation of innovation and entrepreneurship.
The policy also has the potential to impact the economy. Still, until there is continuity with the new administration and intergovernmental cooperation in the country, the potential to impact would not manifest. In all, the digital economy is the future of any economy hence we have to ensure the right policies and programmes are put in place for Nigeria to make the most of this space. AI, Big data, blockchain and digitalisation generally are some of the key things taking centre stage in the fourth industrial revolution and for Nigeria to position itself to maximise opportunities she must ensure her education covers these areas to a very large extent.
Susa Africa: The direction for the tertiary education in Nigeria seems to be focusing on innovation especially with the TETFUND seeking to build six innovation hubs across the six geo-political zones in the country. What do you think the government should do in managing these hubs to deliver expected results?
Samson Simon: The government through its agent TETFUND has good plans about having innovation hubs in all the six geopolitical zones. This is a welcome development and if well managed will help Nigerian universities turn the corner. However, there is no guarantee that it will succeed as expected unless proper mechanism that would ensure its success is put in place. A major move from government would be working with experienced private sector in delivering and running these hubs at least for the first two years of their operations.
This would ensure that the universities learn how to maximize the benefits of the hubs for students and researchers on those campuses. These hubs should be made to serve as a haven for student entrepreneurs and start-ups to ideate and launch their ideas.
They should also serve as a place for researchers to see the viability of their research products and thus commercialize their research outputs. Furthermore, these hubs need to be made largely fool proof by making them sustainable. Sustainability can as well be achieved by making sure a time-tested private manager manages these hubs just to ensure that they succeed and deliver on desired results.
Susa Africa: The complaints about the researches conducted in Nigerian universities has always been about the inability of the studies to solve societal problems. What are your recommendations on making researches conducted in our institutions solve problems on a commercial level?
Samson Simon: Well, the issue of researches not solving societal problem is a systemic one which must be addressed with data. I have read that Nigeria has more universities than South Africa, yet, South Africa produces more quality research that have impact more than Nigeria. We have a large research ecosystem, we turn out very low in terms of output compared with South Africa. But the systemic problems are there- poor funding, capacity, time devoted to research and heavy administrative workload at the expense of research work. All of these are established by studies. More importantly, researchers in Nigerian institutions publish for promotion.
Obviously, it is not good at all if research outcomes are limited to the bookshelves or become about bragging rights because of the number of citations of articles. This is especially because Nigeria is a developing country and researches done in her institutions should be targeted at addressing her myriads of problems.
Therefore, there is a need to address the systemic issues within the tertiary institutions to enable researches have practical benefits to the Nigerian society. When this is done, we can then begin to talk about research commercialization where we can scale research output for wider solutions to issues.