Promoting Universities And Tech Industry Collaboration
By Inyene Ibanga

TECH DIGEST – The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought significant transformation to the learning process and transfer of knowledge across the globe. It has affected every sector, with unimaginable consequences that would be felt for years to come.

With the endemic instability in Nigeria’s education sector, there is the danger that the sector could experience more dire consequences from the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

Schools in the country had to shut down as part of lockdown measures to contain the spread of the virus. Many universities and higher institutions of learning had no choice but to hastily adopt the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to deliver lectures online to students spread throughout distant locations.
Similarly, businesses across different sectors in Nigeria have closed down, resulting in massive job losses/unemployment, while many others are adjusting to the new normal of keeping a remote workforce.

Industries are doing their best to stay abreast of the rapidly evolving digital technologies that focus on innovation, creation, and growth. But the transformative nature of these emerging technologies seems to overwhelm many players in the nascent digital economy.

Given the foregoing, academia and industry must cultivate a stronger partnership to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

Collaboration between industry and academia is vital for advancing research and knowledge in this era of digital technology. A strong relationship between them will lead to the activation of innovation and the growth of emerging digital technologies.

Academia serves as the centre for the generation of new knowledge and the impartation of education to students. Industry focuses on the application of skills and efficient management to address solutions that have commercial value.

A combination of these two can lead to accelerated advances in innovation and entrepreneurship. This will, in turn, yield economic growth, capital formation and other attendant benefits.

Innovation drives and activates growth in every society. Innovative ideas, theories, and practical applications promote the discovery of new knowledge and the advancement of research in universities.

Essentially, universities and tertiary institutions of learning are preoccupied with expanding the scope of knowledge towards producing a skilled workforce for various industries operating in the economy.

Collaboration, instead of competition, helps to foster a relationship that offers mutual benefits to all parties. A stakeholder acknowledges the fact that a partnership between academia and the tech industry would achieve great results for both parties and the national economy.

Professor Joseph Afolayan, Vice-Chancellor of Anchor University, Ayobo, Lagos, had advised the academia (universities and other higher institutions) not to view themselves as competing with industry but to regard themselves as partners in finding solutions to the various problems confronting the country.

He noted that universities cannot function in isolation, and as such, they have to continue developing staff and institutional capacities to meet with current digital innovations. And their ultimate aim should be to proffer solutions to societal problems and challenges.

“Teaching, studies, and research must produce results to solve real-life problems. Therefore, there is a need for synergy between universities and the real world’’, Professor Afolayan added.
Interestingly, universities and tech industry operators derive several benefits from such collaboration.

Through research partnerships, the parties develop inter-organisational arrangements for pursuing collaborative research and development, joint projects, and research-related services ,such as consulting, quality control, prototype development, among others.

Academic entrepreneurship allows for the development and commercial exploitation of technologies by academic inventors through companies they jointly own. It enhances shared infrastructure and equipment among the collaborating partners.

These collaborations offer opportunities for the training of industry employees, the running of internship programmes, and postgraduate training in the industry to university faculty and research staff.

Other benefits include the commercialisation of intellectual property, transfer of university-generated patents/licensing to firms, and use of codified scientific knowledge within the industry.

While there is a low level of partnership between academia and the tech industry, the regulator of the IT sector, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) has been taking steps towards strengthening the capacity of universities to pursue productive partnerships with tech industry operators.

Consequently, NITDA, through the supervision of the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, has facilitated the creation of ICT hubs in selected universities across geopolitical zones in Nigeria.

The Agency’s Director-General, Mallam Kashifu Inuwa said the ICT hubs are being established in line with the National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (NCAIR)’s mandate of collaborating with universities in empowering students with digital technology skills to thrive in the digital economy.

Kashifu said the agency is committed to implementing initiatives to foster more strategic collaboration between universities and the tech industry in sustaining a digital economy that would prepare students for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and boost industrialisation in the country.

To this end, universities need to urgently develop curricula that are reflective of the current realities to improve undergraduate and graduate studies and should focus on appropriate technologies to respond to local needs.

The stakeholders in the university should fashion out strategies of developing and strengthening innovation systems, for an improved relationship among universities and industry.

But above all, the government needs to activate its research, regulatory and administrative apparatus to fully realise the goals of the partnership.

Inyene Ibanga is Managing Editor TechDigest and writes from Wuye District, Abuja.

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