Achieving global competitiveness: The place of science and technology

Isoung

Isoung

LET us look at the title together: Achieving Global Competitiveness – What does that mean? And for whom is it necessary to be globally competitive? Are we talking of global competitiveness for individuals, companies, institutions, communities, or nations? How do we measure global competiveness? What are the bench-marks? Who determines the bench mark? What are the objective criteria to determine global competiveness – market forces, quality of services or products, peer review, or global acclaim and acceptability?

In a public lecture of only a few minutes, it is impossible to go into the details of these questions, but let us accept that there are elements from all the questions that will help us to define the meaning of ‘global competitiveness.’ The bottom line however, is that global competitiveness is expected to contribute to the job creation, wealth, and improving the well-being and quality of life of our people – through the production of products and services and the promotion of the human qualities required for such production.

How do we help to create global competitiveness in individuals who eventually contribute to the overall competitiveness of nations, companies, institutions and agencies, and communities?

I would like to approach this question holistically; starting with family upbringing, then pre-school, nursery school, primary school, and finally through secondary schools. Central to the input of these various training settings is the issue of formation of character traits: which can be decomposed into discipline and hard work; problem solving, innovation, and creativity; and also, persistence and perseverance – acknowledged by the OGS through its motto: perseventia vinci (persistence conquers). In addition to these character traits, – there are essential foundation skills that must be acquired by age 7 and built on continuously thereafter; these skills include the ability to read very well and to handle numbers and to enjoy playing games that intelligence-requiring and competitive. These foundation skills are critical for all future learning and skills acquisition.

I just read a book by David Brooks (New York Times OP-Ed Columnist) entitled: The Social Animal: the Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement. His central argument is that your family must help create the values and character in you that are required for you to do well in school. OGS had a different challenge with respect to building values and character. OGS brought into the boarding school environment boys from Nigeria’s elite, urban middle class and rural villages. Boys from rich homes bought corned beef to ‘smoked’ gari. Boys from middle clas homes ‘smoked’ gari with tinned sardine and those of us from the villages (including me and – where is Lambert Eradiri?) – ‘smoked’ gari with ‘songu’- locally smoke-dried sardines. I believe the village boys gave the elite and middle class boys good competition in school academic work and sports because OGS intentionally and resolutely instilled the character traits of persistence and perseverance, and discipline and fairplay in competition, into these boys. By the way, OGS, was created by the Christian Missionary Society of the Anglican Church for boys by acknowledged the importance of gender equality through establishing nearby, the Elelenwo Girls Secondary School.

Before I leave the issue of family upbringing, primary and secondary schools, I must mention the issue of subject matter. At OGS, I had always had the ambition to have a double degree: BA, BSc! Don’t ask me why. I just felt it was the right thing to do! Time is providing that this apparently irrational ambition was correct for meeting the diverse needs for involvement in technology and innovation.

We must ensure that at primary and secondary level, students are comfortable and knowledgeable in science, technology, engineering and mathematics as well as in reading, literature, arts and writing. A tall order is it not? But only with basic core values and character, and armed with the ability to read, handle numbers and innovate, our young boys and girls will be ready to transit – to institutions of higher learning.

I wish to thank OGS on behalf of the old boys and society for getting its students started on this path, for propelling them towards tertiary education and subsequent contributions to global competitiveness.

The importance and features of global competitiveness of tertiary institutions, undergraduates, graduates, staff and their programme is a huge topic to which I cannot do justice to in a few minutes of a public lecture.
However, from my perspective, the main challenges to today’s Nigerian tertiary education system hindering institutions, students and academic staff from being internationally and globally competitive include issues of quality, access, and relevance; and productivity, research and innovation. We need to redefine and then internalize a tertiary educational system which will reward the demonstration of core values, as well as respect the need for frugal and careful economic planning that will serve our purpose within the framework of real academics.

Quality. To be a bit specific, when the University of Ibadan started nearly 67 years ago and it admitted and graduated just a few hundred candidates each year. From their performance, our students were evidently of the highest quality within the commonwealth and many were globally competitive. The University of Ibadan, Legon University in Ghana, and Makerere University in Uganda were classified as world class universities.

Access. But a major problem has evolved: that of access. Many of the young men and women though potentially qualified, could not get access to be admitted to the University of Ibadan and indeed the subsequently established ‘first generation universities’. Today, we have about 146 universities – federal, state, and private. From available statistics, we have about 500,000 (or about a third) are gaining admission.

Relevance. A recent publication quoted the National Universities Commission (NUC) as lamenting the death of research in Nigeria Universities. Even more serious, is the fact that, with respect to that our universities understand the seriousness of the need to address in curriculum and research, the vital issues that will meet the country’s socio-economic challenges.

The issues of quality, access, and relevance must be addressed before Nigerian Tertiary institutions can be globally competitive.

One approach to addressing the tertiary institutional challenges identified above, is to find ways to do things differently. Einstein is often quoted as saying: “You cannot continue to do things the same way and expect different results.’

The tertiary educational system can use ICT (Information and Communication Technology) tools to address the above challenges to tertiary education above. I am happy to report that the Niger Delta University (NDU) where I serve as Chairman of Council has all it campuses – the Main Campus, Extension Campus and the College of Health Sciences in Amassoma – and the law Campus in Yenagoa – connected to the internet with Wifi, utilizing bandwidth from the Nigerian Communication Satellite (NigerSat 1R) that we launched about four years ago.

The implication of this is: the NDU staff and students have access to the same information in science, technology, research, arts and literatutre, etc. as their counterparts in Harvard, MIT, Johns Hopkins, Cambridge and Oxford. This provides the opportunity for staff and students to have access to the information that will make them globally and internationally competitive. It is my hope that Nigerian higher institutions and other schools will take a cue from NDU to utilise ICT for enhancing the quality of the education of their students.

How to we ensure that all that knowledge – indeed expensive knowledge – gathered over the years – particularly the knowledge of science, engineering, technology, mathematics – is mobilised to work for us – to be globally competitive in terms of our ability to create jobs and improve the quality of life and sustain the well-being of all our people?

I am now forced to refer to my book published 2 years ago, titled “Why Run Before Learning to Work: Reflections on High Technology as the Strategic Tool for Development in Nigeria”. N the introductory page, I state that Nigeria as a country – its government and institutions – have not fully utilized our natural resources and human capacities and knowledge of science and technology to make us internationally competitive. So what are key things we must do to ensure our capacities, products and services are globally competitive.
Federal, state and local governments must initiate policies and laws to ignite the use of science and technology for development.

There must be public/private initiatives and venture capital to support innovation leading to production of products and services.
We must encourage entrepreneurship.
We must ensure that our institutions do not exist as silos, sequestering brains, and talent apart from other human activity. Universities, research institutes, banks, polytechnics, and businessmen, entrepreneurs, and uncles with money, must work together to create complex multi-skilled companies to creatively and innovatively produce useful products and services.
Apple – a technology based company – has the largest private company assets in the world – out pacing – natural resource-based – companies like Shell, Exxon, and Mobil.

In Nigeria, NigComSat Ltd. Is a technology based company that was created by Government, private institutions, and investor markets. It is now ten years old worth over 500 million US$ – and has no natural resource requirements.
Let me now refer you to ‘Why Run’ on how technology can spark global competitiveness in the areas of:
ICT – information and communications technology for education, engineering, and the new ‘internet of things’ among others.

Space and satellite technology for remote sensing, security, and communications.
Biotechnology, particularly where agricultural biotechnology is increasing agricultural productivity supported by irrigation, drainage and mechanization technologies; and where biotechnology inputs to medicine are beginning to solve health challenges once considered intractable.

Energy technologies in the oil and gas extractive sector, renewable and in alternative energy.
Small and medium enterprises using advanced technologies for small scale production or processes and services with huge market potentials. Technology is the most critical factor to success or failure of SMEs.
The ICT revolution in Nigeria was sparked and driven by government policy. Specifically in March 2001, I submitted a memo to the Federal Executive Council on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology to create the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). Federal government subsequently created the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) in 2003; the Nigerian Communications Satellite Ltd in 2006; and Galaxy backbone Ltd in 2006. These ICT institutions, their capacities and innovations and services have contributed to the ICT sector and currently contribute 10% of Nigeria’s GDP; they have created over ten million jobs in the past ten years and made Nigeria and Nigerians globally competitive in this area. And similarly, there ar4e huge untapped (and inter-related) opportunities in space/satellite technologies, energy, technologies, and biotechnology. Equally, my brothers and sisters, it is technology, not money, that is the key driver in SME enterprise development. Until we put technology as the number one requirement for SME development – we as a country, are going nowhere!

The Chinese say: for every challenge there is an opportunity. I wish to appeal to our political leaders, academic leaders, business leaders, entrepreneurs, elders and youth – not to lament or complain about the falling oil prices and dwindling state and institutional revenues, leading to inability to pay salaries; rather we should mobilize and diversity our economy – using technology, engineering, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Our success in meeting this challenge can be achieved – based on the blessings of Nigeria’s:

Huge African market of over 179 million Nigerians, 300 million people in the ECOWAS region, and over 1 billion people on the African continent.

Huge renewable natural and mineral – and bio-resources.

Huge human resources including scientists, engineers, technologies, mathematicians, innovators, bankers, entrepreneurs and technically skilled and unskilled manpower.
By tapping these resources, there is no reason for Nigeria not to be globally competitive, and create a prosperous and wealthy country for all of us.

I now come to the second part of this presentation. I have faith in Nigeria’s young men and women, to use their God-given intellectual talents to adopt science and technologies, and innovation to provide globally competitive goods and services that will create jobs and improve the quality of life of our people.

• Isoun, former Minister of Science and Technology, presented this paper at the 75th National Convention of Okrika Grammar School Old Boys Association on November 12, 2015 in Port Harcourt.

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