Falola at Tech-U lecture: Universities must develop indigenous solutions to African problems

WITH thumbs up in the air, and voices in unison, visibly excited staff and students of the First Technical University, Ibadan, chanted the Tech-U anthem to a thunderous applause from the audience. To many present at the first distinguished annual lecture of the university, held on July 4 at the university’s library complex, it was clear that these are a people on a mission.

The novel idea of a technical university initially elicited some measure of apprehension from some stakeholders when it was mooted, but if there were any such doubts left, they were dispelled by the display, before the lecture was delivered, of products of entrepreneurship and vocational training by students of Tech-U – from just about two years of studies – effectively signposting a university focused on realizing its vision of becoming a world class institution fully grounded in entrepreneurial practices, unique innovation, and exploring technology for development.

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Present at the event were academics from several institutions, traditional rulers, leaders of socio-cultural groups. Dignitaries included the university’s chancellor, Dr Tunde Afolabi; pro-chancellor, Professor Oyewusi Ibidapo Obe; vice chancellor, Professor Ayobami Salami; pro-chancellor, Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Professor Dapo Afolabi; Governor Seyi Makinde, represented by his deputy, Mr Rauf Olaniyan; representative of the former governor of Oyo State, Dr Isiaka Kolawole; chairman, governing council, Lead City University, Professor Jide Owoeye; cinematographer, Tunde Kelani; and president, Central Council of Ibadan Indigenes, Chief Yemi Soladoye.

The guest lecturer and renowned historian, Professor Toyin Falola, soon took the podium to deliver a lecture entitled ‘Technology, Culture and Society’.

Falola began by decrying the failure of the African continent to develop its cultural ideas and myths, but allowed the developed world utilise science to transform what Africans classified as ordinary to modern inventions. He blamed the centuries of depletion and colonisation as the reason for the lag between developed and developing economies.

Falola lamented that Africa which should have been a centre of development had continued to allow the developed world take away its muscle power, brain power and raw elements, as, according to him, businesses, health care, education and other crucial services have become intrinsically tied to technology.

He said that with evolving technological advancements, developing countries would continue to be exploited unless African universities develop indigenous solutions.

Without universities responding to current age of industrial revolutions which will make people shift their skills, Falola warned that more Nigerians would be jobless. He said that beyond the theoretical teaching of various courses in universities, institutions must recognise the impact of technology on the society and infuse it into their teachings.

More than ever before, he said there is a need for Nigerian universities to teach social entrepreneurship, and particularly fuse technology with the humanities.

“A computer can be programmed, for example, to determine ideal aesthetic ratios in a work of art, but without the emotional and creative thought process that comes from a humanist point of view, the art would not be as impactful,” Falola said.

In responding to societal needs, Falola stressed that courses that should take pre-eminence in the country’s universities include robotic engineering, cyber security, mechatronics engineering, biomedical engineering, food sciences and technology, computer science, culture preservation, software engineering, physics with electronics, petroleum engineering, industry chemistry and statistics.

In creating the needed linkage between university and the city, he stressed that universities should also engage people of the informal sector who possess hands-on skills. He called for a redefinition of the curriculum, such that students of mechanical engineering, for example, are mandated to do their internship at mechanic workshops.

Falola stirred the audience into nods of approval when he stressed that universities should not only recruit staff with PhD to teach, but also recruit outside the formal academia so as not to continue to throw away several persons in the informal sector with tremendous skills.

According to Falola, going by the mission of the First Technical University to marry knowledge and skill, classroom and industry, theory and practical, the university is in a vantage position to pioneer the need for a shift in the focus of Nigerian universities. Located in the largest city in West Africa, Falola stressed that Tech-U must key itself into Ibadan’s socio-technological needs and play crucial role in the transformation of the city.

Specifically, he noted that graduates of the university could provide solutions to the needs of the city like waste collection, infrastructure decay, uncontrolled noise pollution, traffic gridlock, agricultural revolution and security surveillance.

“A tertiary institution like the First Technical University is long overdue in a country as big as Nigeria. Therefore, the First Technical University must be alive to the daunting tasks ahead of it as it is saddled with the responsibility of resetting this city to a default mode where there would be adequate allowance for science and technology to help shape this environment for a better future,” he said.

He challenged Nigerian universities to be up to speed with the demands of a knowledge-based economy, and also charged the management of Tech-U not to stray off its initial mission for establishing the university. He particularly expressed disgust at the failure of universities to substantially contribute to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as compared to the music, film and fashion design industries.

To engender increased interest in technology, Falola noted that government at different levels should award scholarships to people, particularly women interested in technology.

Visitor to the university, Governor Seyi Makinde, who was represented by his deputy, Rauf Olaniyan, agreed to the need for recalibration of the university system, stressing that universities must think outside the box and come up with solutions that address societal challenges.