Unarguably, the 21st century socio-economic dynamics are rooted in knowledge economy. Throughout the history of human civilization, no country has become economically prosperous without discovering what others are yet to know. In other words, at the root of every sustainable national prosperity is the priotisation of science and technology.
Research is the key to solving problems, and any Research not tailored at solving problems is a colossal waste of time and energy. It was in a bid to set Nigeria on the path of sustainable prosperity, through breath-taking Research, like other advance nations, that Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) was established. Until this era, most researches were for academic purposes. This explains why Research outcomes litres the shelves of our highier institutions without practical utilization by industries.
However, all that has started changing. Since the reappointment of Prof Suleiman Elias Bogoro as Executive Secretary of TETFund, research endeavours have shifted from mere academic exercise to problem-solving inquiries. Seeing the purity of Bogoro’s commitment to a result-oriented TETFund, President Muhammadu Buhari and the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, have left no stone unturned in ensuring that TETFund meets its target in research and development.
Recently, there has been increased solicitation of even non-education ministries like Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), Federal Ministry of Health (FMH), Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy (FMCDE), Federal Ministry of Environment, among others, as partners of TETFUND to collectively leverage Research and Development for National Development and respond strategically to national aspirations.
These series of steps culminated in the establishment of first ever 12 New “TETFUND CENTRES OF EXCELLENCE” in December 2020. Similarly, towards strengthening Research, Enhancement of Staff development, provision of cutting-edge laboratory, engineering and workshop equipment as well as virtual Libraries, Manuscript and Book Development, Indexed Journals. TETFund, in agreement with Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), decided that from the year 2019, more money should be deployed for the core non-tangible academic, and gradually decreasing the funds for physical infrastructure like buildings in favour of the aforementioned core academic needs, which are the main criteria for the rating and ranking of Universities, which are traditionally natural leaders of research.
To achieve the aspiration of Nigeria’s greatness through Research and Development, TETFund decided to adopt the triple helix model of innovation, which refers to a set of interactions between academia (The University), industry and government to foster economic and social development as described in concepts such as the knowledge economy and knowledge society.
To address the negative trends in the developmental parameters, The TETFund boss re-enforced his passion for Rearch and Development as the main agenda towards re-energising the business activity sectors of the economy and overall development of Nigeria.
Against the backdrop of a 5-year plan, Research & Development/Centres of Excellence Department was created in TETFund. The Department was a deliberate effort to institutionalize R&D in Nigeria and deepen research in tertiary institution, including research partnership between the research community and industry, with government creating the enabling environment through policies and laws in the TRIPLE HELIX Model.
The foregoing development led to series of collaborations among which is the agreement between TETFund and the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology (FMST). Research Partnership MOU was signed in mid-January, 2020, towards strengthening the cooperation between the research community of tertiary education subsector with the FMST, signalling a new era of widened collaboration, thereby collapsing the hitherto artificial walls between the two in Nigeria, consistent with modern global practices in the more developed countries of the world.
This was followed by unprecedented approval of N5billion and N7.5billion by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019 and 2020 respectively, with plan for gradual increment to N8.5billion in 2021 to increase the R&D capacity and consciousness by researchers and the private sector. TETFund has adopted Front loading Agric R&D through international collaborations and partnerships with top notch institutions in Brazil, US, UK, Israel, UAE, Germany, France among others.
As Prof Bogoro once noted: “This age, science and technology have become the key factors in development. The Industrialized nations directs the international knowledge system. The Third World countries that desire development have to join the race, if they are to attain economic independence”.
In our conversation last month in Paris, a Professor of Princeton University, Kennedy Bowman, confided in me that about three international universities were proposing to meet with Professor Bogoro to hold talks on research designed to add more value and principles to Nigeria’s educational research system. The move is instructive. In a world that is intricately inter-dependent, no nation can afford to be left behind in research and innovation, for there lies the true wealth of any nation.
The overall intent of TETfund ntervention programmes is targeted at a huge potential to contribute to the drive for the institutionalization of R&D through ground-breaking research outputs and commercializable research breakthroughs that can improve the economy with potential industry-relevant patents.
There is also the need to seek new ways of partnering between public and private institutions so that their best efforts can be synchronized to drive this paradigm shift, propel and sustain Nigeria’s drive towards economic prosperity. This brings into immediate focus the need to canvas the urgent development of new partnerships between the public and private institutions across the spectrum of Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education to consolidate the centrality of the academic mandate of the various Tertiary Education Institutions.
Tertiary Educational Institutions the world over are positioned to be the bridge between a productive society and knowledge growth. There has to be a strong collaborative partnership between Higher Education Institutions, Government and the Industry, the “Triple Helix”, the confluence of which is a powerful one that drives the economy of nations.
The Prof Bogoro-led TETFund is on the right path, hence the need for more government support, as research is capital intensive. Collaboration between University/Research Institutes on one hand and industry on the other is one of the most effective strategies for technology development and a useful tool for assuring the effective and efficient application of science and technology to the resolution of social problems.
Such partnerships take many forms, including the joint execution of research projects, exchange of faculties, the award of research contracts, the development of curricula and the provision of continuing engineering education for practicing engineers and scientists, including specialized capacity building programme for the laboratory technicians.
Ibrahim is director, Communications and Strategic Planning, Presidential Support Committee (PSC)