By Ademola Adesola
Nigeria’s and, undeniably, West and Central Africa’s first technical university, The Technical University (Tech-U), Ibadan, could not have come any other time other than now. A product of structured and strategic thinking, the university answers to the crying need to reclaim the university ideal and stem the raging tide of scotching youth unemployment arising, in some measure, to a consistent inadequacy in entrepreneurial and vocational trainings. The glaring limitations of the conventional universities in this regard provide a good ground for the take-off of an institution like the Tech-U.
In his peroration on the history of universities in the United States of America, Robert Church brilliantly stresses the essence of university to be an emporium of learning and knowledge production for the continual advancement of society. He credits America’s vast progress in different areas to the great ideas which resulted from the workings and exertions of its higher institutions. It is in that connection that what he regards as the “university ideal” manifests – knowledge generation and dissemination, and the building of human capacity for the development of society. The university ideal, as he argues, is to “foster the search for new knowledge necessary to meet the ever-changing needs of modern society, to train intelligence and direct it to the service of society and [humankind …] These expectations form the essence of what may be called the university ideal.”
In Church’s submission above, it is clear that a university does not begin to have any relevance until it is capable of generating and transmitting ideas that inspire and sustain human progress. The continual timely essence of the university inheres in its progressive enhancement of societal development in all humanly feasible ramifications. What this also means, as numerous examples from different advanced countries of our planet show, is that no nation can develop beyond the capacity or scope of operations of its educational institutions. Put another way, a nation whose educational bodies do not contribute consciously and largely to its quest for progress is a nation for whom development is a mirage.
Indeed, such a nation can be viewed as existing in organic disorientation and disorganisation – more or less like a human body disconnected from its brain motor neuron. For the advent of the university, both as an idea and as an empirical reality, is a signal testament to the progressive evolution of human creative realisation of the need to build a self-sustaining system of human organisation for the auto-generation of societal development and human progress.
In consequence, at the very heart of the structuration of any modernising or modernisation-oriented state is a prime place for the university (or its universities). A modern state is thus a spatio-human universe that cannot do without the university as an indispensable component of its organic whole. And an extension of this logic is the fact that a university cannot reasonably justify its existence without being relevant to its human and social universe, for this sums up a large part of its raison d’être.
Where Nigeria and its educational institutions stand in the context of the foregoing submission regarding the university ideal is not a matter for conjecture. While very few universities are still struggling to maintain the reason for their being, oodles of others are caught in the maze of irrelevance which reveals their dissociation from the objectives of their existence. The telling consequences of this disconnect are of course evident in their products and how they in turn affect society. This worrisome reality forms the core of the dominant discourse on how to rework higher education in Nigeria to enable it contribute substantially to the enduring socioeconomic development that the country sorely needs.
It is in that connection that the entrance of the Tech-U to the higher education industry in Nigeria requires some attention. Established by the Oyo State Government under the leadership of Governor Abiola Ajimobi, Tech-U seeks primarily to embody the university ideal through the efficient and responsible use of science, technology, engineering, and innovation in solving societal problems. It is founded on the principle of unique innovation, research collaboration, exceptional service, integrity, excellence, and the uplifting of human condition. This university, which will commence academic activities next October with two faculties (Natural Sciences and Engineering and Technology), and Centres for Language and General Studies, and Entrepreneurial and Vocational Studies is not in existence to serve some political aggrandisement need nor is it in place as a mere inconsequential addition to the ordinariness of many existing universities in Nigeria.
Tech-U is a science-oriented institution with strong interest in generating solutions to the avoidable problems plaguing our society. Indeed, its focus on STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics – education is strongly informed by the fact that development education is critical to the actualisation of progress for any country. This institution is out to produce young minds who are not only scholarly rounded, but who are equally soundly innovative, skilful, ethically sturdy, and wired to generate solutions to problems. The resolve of the management of the university is to see to it that the institution operates in all critical areas as a university whose existence means something to societal pursuit of progress through a constant conflation of old and new knowledge, and wide-ranging development of human capacity.
What this means is that for the university to translate its vision into reality, things have to be done differently from extant norm in administration, curricular policies, teaching and training of students in the country’s higher institutions. That is, certain things have to be unique. Yes, Tech-U is poised to exemplify uniqueness in technical, development education. It is ready to set the pace and become a reference point through the quality of its graduates.
More specifically, the management of the institutions has outlined certain initiatives that will enable Tech-U to accomplish progressively the university ideal. In the students of this university, the entrepreneurial spirit will be ingrained and sustained. Each student, regardless of their course of study, is required to sign up for two vocational programmes right from the 100 level. Before graduation, they must be certified as qualified in the two vocations enlisted in. It means they can begin their own start-ups. At 300 level, the students are expected to write proposals. The best of these will be selected and sent to the Bank of Industry as applications for grants, with the university as their guarantors. It must be noted that the vocational studies will be handled by experts in the various areas, not academics.
The idea here is that graduates from Tech-U are not going to be the usual, conventional graduates that have come to be infamously characterised by the twin malaises of unemployment and un-employability. Our graduates are not expected to finish their studies and be out there walking the streets in search of jobs. With their vocational trainings, they can set up their own businesses to meet real market needs through creative production of products and services. The point has to be emphasised, as Adetona Salau, a STEM education advocate avers, that for young graduates to be effectively productive and contribute considerably to the economic affairs of their country/world, they need “a solid, entrepreneurship-style education”. This education, Salau explains, must empower them “with useful knowledge and skills to become employable; to quickly be productive when hired; and to even start their own businesses if they want to”.
For us at Tech-U, our conviction is that entrepreneurship provides one of the fastest routes to socioeconomic development. It enhances job creation and lasting productivity. This is the reason for the entrepreneurship curriculums that we have designed for our students – hence the sense in the motto of the university, Building Minds, Training Hands. Theory and praxis are fittingly married in the training of our students.
Another important initiative that will distinguish graduates of Tech-U is their bi-lingual skill. This is expected to widen their sphere of opportunities and internationalise them. For example, of the 16 countries in West Africa, only four are Anglophone while 12 are Francophone. The point of this is that there are opportunities that being bilingual can enable one to tap richly from. It is in view of this that the study of French language has been decided as compulsory for all students of the university. In this too they must be certified. In fact, it is one of the conditions for graduation. Graduates of Tech-U will be empowered to fish in the waters of international markets, corporations, and industries.
As an extra boost, students will, in addition to French, register for one Nigerian language. There will be various options to choose from. Taken together, the picture that emerges is one of students who will be fully busy and comprehensively engaged. In being so intensely engaged, it does not mean that the students will be debarred from some beneficial social engagements. The goal is to build the complete person, one who is psychologically well-adjusted and truly empowered to positively advance his/her society.
As for facilities, Tech-U is well prepared to ensure that no essential equipment, tools, and other modern necessities of training in STEM education will be unavailable. Whatever is needed to ensure the quality training of students is being put in place. Moreover, the classrooms are designed to accommodate a maximum of 24 students. All the classrooms, library, and other similar ports of activities are fitted with air conditioners. Useful technological resources are richly deployed in all vital areas of the university. Quality learning must happen in conducive physical facilities. Therefore, it is not surprising that the National Universities Commission’s team that visited the university sometime in July to assess its resource readiness for take-off was largely impressed with the quality of the facilities already in place.
One other strong point of the university is the high premium placed on partnerships and collaborations with established technical institutions overseas and reputable international organisations. For instance, Tech-U is collaborating with Texas Tech University, Lubbock, USA. As a matter of fact, students from Tech-U, Ibadan, will visit the institution for one year in the course of their programmes. A university which must operate in tandem with the university ideal must not only be international but must also have international exposure and connection. It is also for this reason that Tech-U will admit students from anywhere in Africa.
Without doubt, a university that seeks to operate in this mode requires strong support from every vital sector of society.
Ademola is the Media/Public Relations Officer of Tech-U