Using varsities to drive change

GOVERNMENT policies in Nigeria are rarely informed by rigorous research. More often than not, it does appear that planning is done amid the near absence of hard facts. This aversion for information-based planning partly explains why most incumbent governments overturn the policies of their predecessors while introducing new and often conflicting policies. This practice is not costless as the masses bear the brunt of such policy inconsistencies.  More disturbing however is the origin of the ideas driving these policies. For the most part indigenous researches are taken to be inferior to imported/expatriate evidences. These imported policies mostly are misfits due to the lack of proper grounding in the peculiar realities of the Nigerian context. The world over, successful countries are typically those that prioritize the researches from their universities and other research institutions. This they do by allocating sufficient funds to these institutions.  In these countries, research outputs are not only critical drivers of their economies but also the harbinger of rapid transformation in technology, infrastructure and the like. Little wonder that our gluttonous politicians run to these places with our stolen money for holidays.

It is incontrovertible that we can neither grow nor develop without funding policy-inclined researches. There is, therefore, a correlation between research outputs and economic transformation. Evidences of the societal functionality of this important nexus abound with Israel, China, USA, UK among others reaping the dividends from research.

The proponents of the “Change” mantra need to drive it beyond mere rhetoric by committing adequate funds to research. Developed countries base their policies on researches which proffer solutions to identified problems. It is the same research that makes technologically advanced societies to develop products like phones with ‘torch-light’, rechargeable lanterns which become major consumption items for our own economy.

Through this, they rake in substantial foreign earnings into their countries. Another case in point is the fairly recent ‘Ebola’ episode.

Recall that it was easy to transport medical doctors infected with the deadly ‘Ebola’ back to Emory Hospital, USA, where they were treated. Of course, this was a specialized institution where huge financial resources had been invested into researching uncommon diseases. To be factual, Nigeria in particular and Africa in general needs to fund research to understand its economies in order to be able to solve the seemingly intractable problems of insecurity, health, agricultural productivity, low ranking of universities, militancy and the rise in insurgent citizenship.

The foregoing and allied issues took center stage when leading African Development Economist and Vice Chancellor of University of Ghana, Legon, Professor Ernest Aryeetey delivered the 67th Interdisciplinary Discourse of the Postgraduate School, University of Ibadan on the topic “Developing Research Universities for Africa: Some New Approaches.”

He stressed the need for Nigeria and Africa to invest in university research in order to have globally competitive economies. He noted that low investment in research-focused universities accounts for why many African universities are lowly ranked and cannot be globally competitive. According to him, it is impractical to contemplate competing with Havard, Cambridge, London School of Economics and other top rated universities if Nigeria, and Africa at large, is not ready to invest massively in boosting the research capacities of its Universities.

By implication, Africa must therefore consciously and concertedly develop research universities that will help in providing sound knowledge economy for its transformation and positive change. Professor Aryeetey averred that universities must specialize either in teaching or conducting research noting that not all universities should be combining teaching with research. He noted that African Universities must collaborate and carry out researches on problems facing the continent. He further noted that some progress is being made along this route with the formation of African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA).

To quote him verbatim, “Having research focused universities is important but expensive but the end product is total transformation and economic growth. Innovation comes from research which leads to transformation. We need to pay more attention to research in Africa. Our governments complain of low ranking universities and want us to compete globally but can they do what Harvard, Yale and Princeton universities are investing in Research? They must invest in Research to have their economies change and the continent can be competitive with the rest of the world.

We need to change the face of infrastructure in our universities and attract leading scholars through attractive incentives and train more faculties that can conduct transformational research. African problems are of different nature. Our problem is about low productivity in agriculture, health but we must conduct researches that will solve our own problems.

We must formulate policies based on researches conducted by African researchers not on imported policy from another clime which is at variance with realities on the continent. It is sad that Africa accounts for a disappointing 1 percent of world research outputs at present.”

Since there is a strong and positive relationship between research outputs and economic growth, Nigeria and other African governments must fund research for the transformation of Africa. Otherwise, it will be difficult for the continent to experience transformation. Aside the dismal performance of government on this metric, how many of our industries fund researches? These private sector entities rather sponsor singing competitions, beauty pageants and so on.

Funding research will drive growth and development. Change by word of mouth is and will perpetually remain theoretical. Only the practical recognition of the role of universities in national development will suffice for the kind of progressive change our nation desperately needs.


  • Dr Tade lives in Ibadan.