Presentation on theme: "A Speech Delivered at the CPN 2014 Information Technology Professionals Assembly and Induction of New Members. Abuja. 18 th June, 2014 By Distinguished."— Presentation transcript:
A Speech Delivered at the CPN 2014 Information Technology Professionals Assembly and Induction of New Members. Abuja. 18 th June, 2014 By Distinguished Prof O. Ibidapo-Obe, FAS, FAAS, FNCS, OFR Vice Chancellor Federal University Ndufu-Alike Ikwo (FUNAI) IMPROVING IT EDUCATION, RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT IN NIGERIA.
It is a great honour for me to be here to present this brief talk on ‘Improving IT Education, Research and Development in Nigeria’. The thrust of my delivery will be on “ Enhancing Research Collaboration between the Academia, Government and Industry ”. I wish to thank the Computer Professionals Registration Council of Nigeria (CPN) for organizing this important Assembly which provides a platform for scholars, industry representatives and policy makers to share ideas and discuss critical issues in Computer Science/ Information Technology Research and Development.
The work that CPN do to regulate and promote ICT knowledge and human development resonates deeply with efforts in which we are engaged at the Federal University Ndufu-Alike Ikwo (FUNAI). Since assumption of office as the pioneer Vice-Chancellor of FUNAI, I have been focusing my energy on providing leadership to ensure that the University evolves into a model of world Class University in Nigeria. We are paying attention to university-government-industry linkage, commonly referred to as the “ Triple –Helix” nexus. We recognize that a key aspect of being a world class university entails collaborating in research endeavors and conducting research that make significant contribution towards creating innovation for the growth and development of industries and government businesses, thereby promoting social, economic and national development.
Over the years; the focus of research and development (driven by IT), is Biotech. Nanotech, Materials, Space, Manufacturing and Communications. The evolving National IT policy has also embraced these major thematic areas for the purposes of advancing agricultural sustainability and self sufficiency in national development. As the global competition for technological innovation and excellence gathers pace, the need for more research endeavours intensifies. Nigeria cannot afford the luxury of lagging behind in this quest for knowledge fuelled by research in Computer Science/Information Technology.
Research on computer science and information and communication technology is a broad field that involves disciples such as artificial intelligence, informatics, cognitive science, and microelectronics as well as language and speech technology. Computer science/ information technology research collaboration across sectors (academia/ government and industry) entails working together to achieve a common goal of producing new scientific knowledge for national development. It can take different forms ranging from one sector (e.g. academia) offering advice and insights to another sector (government/ industry) to the three sectors actively participating in a specific piece of research. I will approach the topic of discussion from three key perspectives:
The need for research collaboration between the academia on one hand and government and industry on the other; Some challenges facing this kind of collaboration in Nigeria today; and The benefits of enhancing such collaboration.
THE NEED FOR RESEARCH COLLABORATION In Nigeria today, the link between university research and industry is at a generally low level, and policies are hardly derived from the results of research conducted in our universities. There is a growing need for collaborative research that addresses the complex questions that matter most to our county. High quality innovative research in ICT has the potential to address the complex and pressing issues that confront us today in Nigeria.
These problems relates to Security (cyber security, the menace of Boko Haram and others such as kidnapping in South-South and South-East), Graduate Employment (employability and the redefined entrepreneurship concept), Food Security (the challenges of Biotechnology and Plant Breeding), e- government (automation of government operations and development of a unified government portals that brings together all tiers of government services), Power and Energy, Water, Infrastructure such as Roads, Rails and even Water transportation. Through collaborative research we can achieve IT breakthroughs that can lead to public safety, new medical treatments, agricultural improvements, healthier foods and sustainable national development.
One of the key reasons why IT research collaboration is important is that no one sector is a repository of all knowledge and skills. Modern research is increasingly complex and demands a wide range of expertise and experience. Thus, it is necessary to form research collaboration across the three sectors. Further, it is clear that the academia do not have the necessary financial muscle to fund high impact research efforts alone. The rising financial costs of conducting high quality research suggest the need to pool resources across sectors. This therefore calls for partnerships between the academia and both government and industry. Such collaborative efforts would help in increasing the number, frequency and diversity of research endeavours to cater for the various segments of the society.
It is not only in the funding of research efforts that government and industry should collaborate with the academia. There is also a need for sponsored industry-relevant research aimed at addressing specific problems emanating from industry. For instance, a software engineering company can give research grants to some universities to investigate, design and produce a particular application that is capable of achieving a new approach to a particular game, or product or service of their choice. There is an overriding need for public private partnerships (PPPs) in funding research in Computer Science/Information Technology in particular, and in all other spheres of academic Endeavour in general.
These research funds, when made available, will no doubt increase the momentum and variety of research efforts in the academia thereby enhancing Nigeria’s strategic competitive advantage in global technological innovation while at the same time being of tremendous benefit to the wider society. Research collaboration across sectors can also enhance the potential visibility of scientific discoveries. This implies that the academia must share their research findings with government, industry and the general populace. By so doing, the academia will become more relevant to the society they serve.
CHALLENGES FACING EFFECTIVE COLLABORATION BETWEEN ACADEMIA AND GOVERNMENT/INDUSTRY There are many challenges facing effective research collaboration between the academia, industry/ government. Suffice it to reflect on two key challenges.
Firstly, the collaboration of scientists across university industry boundary has long been shown to be problematic, partly due to the dissimilar research goals and work norms governing the two knowledge production systems. Generally, university research is based upon the norms of ‘open science’ which promotes free pursuit and open disclosure of knowledge. This seeks the rapid growth in the stock of knowledge accompanied by the reputation reward system based on publications and peer review. This has led to the recent proliferation of ‘open access’ (OA) journals which aims to provide unrestricted access via the internet to research outcomes. The rationale is that restricted access to the outcome of research adversely affects growth, innovation and public services.
By contrast, industrial research is based on the norm of ‘proprietary science’ whose central aim is to gain commercial value from the knowledge produced. It builds on an ethos of intellectual property protection and a reward system based on the appropriation of knowledge for economic gains. The productive collaboration of scientist from the university and industry requires a social infrastructure that allows the co- existence of interconnections of the two communities, and an organizational framework that can reconcile the demands of the two systems. The development of appropriate career structures that motivate scientist to engage in collaborative research projects while remaining firmly integrated into the academic scientific communities is very imperative. This will lead to joint new production of knowledge with commercial applications and continued interface between the sectors.
Secondly, another major factor that constrains research collaboration across sectors is research funding. On the one hand, there is the reluctance on the part of some businesses to participate in the funding of research. Some key industry players still find it difficult to set aside some financial resources for research purposes. Perhaps, this can be attributed to the recent global recession. The issue of dwindling resources, especially on the part of the industry, hit a lot of organizations very hard that a lot of businesses could not muster enough resources to participate in research efforts in the academia.
On the other hand, the inconsistency of federal government allocation to universities affects cross sector research collaboration. The level of university funding has a serious impact on the maintenance and development of the research infrastructure needed for advanced research for the achievement of valuable result. It goes without saying that without good and stable funding, universities will not be able to provide state of the art research facilities that are crucial for scientific discoveries. Unfortunately, federal government funding for federal Universities has been anything but stable, and at both the institutional and individual levels, and the consequences have been damaging. The political budget process and the challenge in passing the 2014 budget at the national assembly provide a prime example of this problem.
The last decade has also provided us with a particular poignant example of this phenomenon. The implication is that scientific priorities that need years to nurture when initiated may not be sustained. This was not the case many years ago when I was embarking on my academic and professional career at the University of Lagos. In those days, the Vice-Chancellors of University were given their yearly allocation at the exact beginning of each year. This means that the careful and effective planning that ensures the wise allocation of resources for research was possible.
However, it is important to note that the establishment of Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) by the government is a welcome intervention and a step in the right direction. The programme has helped in fostering interdisciplinary research, the development of human resources and the development of research infrastructure in public universities in Nigeria. It also has the potential to increase the country’s capacity for innovation and technological development. I still wish to call on the private sector, particularly the financial and industrial sectors of our economy to increase their level of partnership with governments (at all the three levels of government – local, state and federal) in sponsoring research efforts in the universities and other research institutions in the country. Adequate funding of research endeavors would guarantee us the security of our technological and infrastructural attainment. It would also make us to be less dependent on imported expertise and machineries thereby driving up our levels of self reliance and revenues accruing from exported technological innovations.
Overall, there are many more challenges, but as daunting as these challenges are, the benefits of enhancing research collaboration between the academia and government and industry far outweigh the inherent risks.
BENEFITS OF ENHANCING EFFECTIVE RESEARCH COLLABORATION ACROSS SECTORS Research collaborations between the academia, industry/ government foster joint production of knowledge which benefits humanity and national development. The evidence for this sweeping statement is all around us. Indeed, if one considers the 20 th century advances that have made the world a better place, they grew primarily out of scientific research much of it conducted in research collaboration between universities and industries. In Computer Science and Information Technology, for instance, we are enjoying the internet, a powerful tool that provides global and instantaneous access to everything from the world’s classic literary works to a myriad of social networking platforms ranging from Face book, Twitter, WhatsApp to Research gate. I can now call my friends in America and Europe using Skype, FaceTime or Viber without paying a kobo, thanks to the advent of the voice over internet protocol (VOIP) technologies.
This remarkable scientific progress did not occur by happenstance. All these and many more are results of collaborative partnerships between university researchers, industry and government (including the Military). But we still need to do more, hence the call for the enhancement of research collaboration between these bodies that have served humanity well. For us in Nigeria, enhancing these collaborative partnerships and understanding will push the level of our competitiveness in the global technological innovation to a more acceptable and deserving level than is the case now.
We cannot afford the luxury of lagging behind such countries as India, China, South Africa, and others as doing so would leave us at the mercy of those in the forefront of research and development. It is heart- warming to see that Nigeria has been included in the MINT (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey) group of countries, but we have to justify and demonstrate our ability and resolve in meeting with the global expectations and challenges which belonging to that group impose on us. Rather than consigning ourselves to be the dumping ground of technological innovations, Nigeria should aspire to join the group of exporters of technologies. This can only happen if we engage in vigorous research and production endeavours in various aspects of Computer Science and Information Technology and in collaboration with government and industry.
It is really surprising that Nigeria has lost out in the global outsourcing of computer-based technologies like software and applications development and delivery. The main beneficiaries are India, China, South Africa and others. Here, the private sector should take the lead in seeking and expanding their markets and foreign partnerships in order to exploit the ever-growing number of Nigerian IT whiz kids. The federal government also has a role to play by providing the enabling environment like legal and regulatory frameworks that would guarantee a level-playing field between Nigerian operators and their foreign business interests in these areas. In terms of specifics; what are our GSM companies, who are adjudged to be one of the largest in the world, doing in the promotion of Apps development for the Nigerian market?
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, the Triple-Helix nexus between the academia, government and industry support knowledge flows and has served our country, and indeed humanity, very well and need to be enhanced. Enhancing research collaboration between the academia, government and industry will provide an effective platform for blending industrial problem-solving with academic knowledge production, and thus facilitating the co-production of new knowledge that has commercial applications. Industries that engage in collaborative research with universities will overcome the limitations of their internal research and development and keep at the cutting edge of scientific development. Universities should also actively seek opportunities to create and share knowledge through collaborative research and entrepreneurial activity and fully embed them into academic programmes to enhance the student experience. Indeed, we have never fully as a nation tapped into the potential of collaborative research across the academia, government and industry. This is true because in this part of the world we are accustomed to considering high quality research only in terms of how much they cost us- but never in terms of how much sustainable benefit we can generate.
By assuming this fatalistic position, we deny ourselves the ability to see even the potentials and opportunities we can enjoy by embracing collaborative research. The potential reward that can be derived from enhancing collaborative research collaboration is very enormous. At the barest minimum, it will facilitate the creation of new knowledge, and provide an on-going interface between the three different sectors. I believe that it is through cross sector research collaboration informed by computer science/ information technology and based on a deep trust and profound respect for each sector that we as a nation will be able to respond to the challenges of the moment. Such research collaboration will lead to generation of new ideas and the discovery of new knowledge that lead to job creation, economic growth, prosperity and sustainable national development.
I wish to end this discussion by congratulating the organizers of this very important assembly for a job well done. I anticipate that the assembly will provide valuable insight and go a long way in deepening our understanding of how we can enhance IT Education and optimize research collaboration between the academia, government and industry. I congratulate the inductees and wish all participants very fruitful deliberations. Thank You and God Bless.