Repositioning varsities for greater economic contribution

Professor Pat Utomi. PHOTO: Youtube

A new report published in the University World News, shows that Finnish universities are making “very substantial” contribution to Finland’s economy, a feat, which academics say, Nigerian universities must strive to attain, UJUNWA ATUEYI, writes.

Education, no doubt is the most powerful weapon in alleviating poverty, stimulating economic growth, producing skilled human resource, promoting healthy and enlightened social environment and creating self-sufficient individuals, among others.

The impact university education can have on its local and national economies was recently revealed by BiGGAR Economics, which assessed the economic contribution generated by Finland’s public universities through its operations.

The key findings of the report titled “Economic Contribution of the Finnish Universities,” shows that in 2016 the Finnish public universities played a vital role in supporting long-term economic growth and ensuring that Finland maintains its competitive position in the global economy.

The universities it also revealed are active contributors to the wider economic, social and commercial life of the country. The report claimed that for many years the institutions adopted a culture of knowledge exchange, collaboration and innovation, which has been vital for ensuring that the benefits of higher education and research are widely disseminated and has been a key driver of long-term economic growth.

The testimonials from Finnish university when compared to the narratives surrounding Nigerian system infers that most higher institutions in the latter are deviating from the traditional roles of research and teaching to drive the development of economies.

From the summary of the report, it was estimated that the public universities activities “generated more than €14.2billion Gross Value Added (GVA) for the Finnish economy in 2016 and supported around 136,000 jobs. This represents around six per cent of the entire value of the Finnish economy. The impact beyond Finland was estimated to be even larger, contributing an estimated €15.5billion GVA and supporting around 148,000 jobs across Europe and €16.1billion GVA and supporting around 155,000 jobs worldwide.

Vice Chancellor, Joseph Ayo Babalola University (JABU), Osun State, Prof Sola Fajana,

“This implies that, for each €1 Finnish Universities generated through their direct operations, they generated €7.76 in total benefits for the Finnish economy; and each person directly employed by the Universities supported more than four jobs throughout in Finland. The economic contribution made by the Finnish Universities compares favourably to other leading Universities elsewhere in Europe.

“The results of this study were compared with the results of a similar study of the 21 Universities that make up the League of European Research Universities (LERU). This showed that for each €1 Finnish Universities generated as a result of their direct operations, they generated €8.50 in total benefits throughout Europe. The equivalent figure for the LERU Universities was €5.88, suggesting that Finnish Universities are significantly more effective in driving economic growth than their European counterparts.”

But the report also cautioned, “any changes in university funding could have disproportionate effects on the Finnish economy.” This however implies that Finland universities in the first instance are well funded.

Discussing the development with The Guardian, Vice Chancellor of Joseph Ayo Babalola University (JABU), Osun State, Prof. Sola Fajana, asserted that the economic contribution of Nigerian universities though unmeasured is invaluable.

Nonetheless, universities he added can do more to realign itself and its programmes so as to begin to contribute more to the national economy.

He said, “Presently, Nigerian universities are contributing to the overall wellbeing of the nation. But the unfortunate thing is that in this part of the world, universities activities suffer an inglorious measurement deficit. This lack of measurement is typical of all educational professional services. In other climes, where social services are adequately captured in the national accounts, it would be easier to estimate the contribution of universities to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

“I suspect therefore that lack of measured figures in Nigeria has served to fog the present invaluable contributions of the education sector to the GDP. Notwithstanding, the present level of contribution to the GDP, unmeasured as it were, more could still be achieved if we are able to draw the attention of the statistical authorities to the economic activities currently running in the universities towards a more accurate measurement.

“There is need to set up industrial liaisons in each university to ensure that the products of researches and innovations in universities are made available to potential users in industry, thereby enhancing the financial fortunes of researchers, who can in return concentrate their efforts on research and development rather than look for buyers for their extant inventions.

Universities, he continued, “May also set up industrial incubations on-campus through private sector collaborations to ensure that the feasible ideas from staff and students can be tried out and commercialised profitably.

“The Ministry of Science and Technology should strengthen its policy to encourage research and development activities by incorporating gifted citizens whether or not they are currently members of the university community, in a well-funded research village. I have every assurance that the future of the universities in Nigeria is glorious, but we need to move away from informality that currently characterises our systems, causing a lot of wastages and inefficiencies, which are unthinkable in other climes.”

Fajana said when all these are properly harnessed and implemented, the economic role of universities can easily be captured and measured while all participants in the scene would be spurred to continually seek relevance and viability.

He assured that when economic activities in the country’s ivory towers are measured and acknowledged, it would help the country become more visible in the global education scene.

For the Founder, Centre for Value in Leadership, Prof. Pat Utomi, university administrators must reappraise their roles and functions to ensure it is in sync and also achieves the purpose of education.

Since the study, painstakingly measured a wide variety of different types of activity including the universities core operations and the activity of their students as well as the wider catalytic effects that the universities have as a result of their teaching, research and knowledge exchange activities, Utomi said it is important to change the pedagogy in teaching method and goal in Nigerian higher institutions, if the nation must witness visible economic contribution from the sector.

According to him, “The dominant pedagogy in our school system today reflects very much on what the Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire refer to as the ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed.’ It is the title of a book he wrote back in the 70s. It is System Maintenance Pedagogy. It does not teach people to be creative and problem solving rather it prepares people essentially to maintain the statusquo. So what we need is a transforming mindset and orientation that will spark up economic development.

Utomi said the second factor that should be harnessed is entrepreneurial orientation. “Universities are talking a lot and doing something in recent years about this, but I believe the strategy is not quite right. My orientation about entrepreneurship is not to make students take entrepreneurial classes. It is about training professors/university teachers in such a way that they take entrepreneurial orientation to any subject they teach, in a way that learners will use the knowledge to add value, create wealth and opportunities for employment. That is how we can advance.”

Highlighting the importance of strong synergy between the business and the universities sector, the professor of political economy, says with such synergy the business sector will directly influence the universities in terms of what they need.

“Presently, we are in a situation where many university graduates are not ready for the work place. They don’t know what the employer wants. If business works more closely with the universities, the curriculum can be shaped. Liaising regularly with the business sector can influence how teaching is done. Those in the sector can even make themselves available to be part of the teaching.

“One of the great secrets of Lagos Business School (LBS) is that in the days when we are starting out, the significant, if not the majority of the faculty were actually adjunct professors. They were people who were working in the business sector, people from the industry. So teaching at LBS was very practical… If you have academic background with PhD and you have worked for so many years in the industry, your orientation in teaching will be sort of different from a man who moves from one classroom to another. It is another important thing to be looked into,” he said.

Another important issue to be harnessed in seeking how varsities should improve their economic contribution, the management expert said, the idea of consulting or private practice as it is called in public universities should be embraced.

“This issue is also imperative though people always missed the point, when university lecturers do consulting or what we call private practice, people frown at it whereas it should be welcomed. At LBS, consulting is a requirement. In fact when we started at LBS, we use to calculate salaries based on expectations that every faculty will make at least 30 per cent of his income from consulting. So if we paid you N1m for instance, we assume that your income was N1.3m because we expect that N300,000 will come every month from consulting business.

“We will not evaluate you as having met your goal in those early days at LBS if there is no significant part of your income coming from consulting industry. The benefits of consulting are enormous. It does not only give you income, it gives you closeness to the industry; helps your understanding of what is going on in the industry; and therefore enhances the quality of your teaching. So consulting should be enhanced and made compulsory for our higher institutions to begin to contribute more to the GDP,” Utomi suggested.

Before now, observers of the sector have urged education policy makers to understudy Finland’s education system, if they are genuine about rebuilding the sector, as anything short of that remains a lip service and cosmetic repair.

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