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Friday, January 06, 2017

Do we need another ICT University?

Recent times, the media has been awash with the news of advanced plans by the Federal Government (FG) to enthrone an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) University, probably in the first quarter of 2017.

According to DigitalSENSE Business News findings, the Minister of Communications Technology, Adebayo Shittu, emphatically revealed this at the first annual workshop of the Nigeria Computer Society (NCS), Abuja chapter, saying that the global technology establishments in Nigeria, like Ericsson, Microsoft, Motorola among others, will be part of the management.

The key plan is to convert the Digital Bridge Institute (DBI) headquarters in Abuja to the ICT University and establish campuses in the six geopolitical zones across the country, with a bottom-line argument that Nigeria loses approximately $2.8 billion annually from the importation of ICT goods and services, including $1 billion spent annually on software imports, even as it will boost indigenous capacity of Nigerians to perform outsourcing in most of the areas that Nigerians spend huge money on importation.

The question arising thereof is whether Nigeria in the first instance needs another ICT University?

Records available to DigitalSENSE Business News from the National Universities Commission (NUC) shows Nigeria currently has some 152 universities, across the federal - 40; states - 44 and private - 68, as at time of filing this report. Among the 152 universities, there are four federal universities of technology, namely, the Federal University of Technology, Akure; Federal University of Technology, Minna; Federal University of Technology, Owerri; and University of Technology, Yola.

Also, out of 152, there are three states-owned universities of science and technology; comprising Enugu State University of Science and Technology, Enugu; Ondo State University of Science and Technology Okitipupa; and River State University of Science and Technology, Port Harcourt.

Just as there are three privately-owned universities of science and technology, precisely the African University of Science & Technology, Abuja and Wesley University of Science & Technology, Ondo, both established same year, 2007, while the third is Bells University of Technology, Otta-Ogun State, founded since 2005. Thus, the Nigerian state has some 10 universities of technology despite the nomenclature.

In the same vein, Digital Bridge Institute (DBI) was established in May 2004 by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to change the narratives of dearth of trained and suitably qualified human resources in ICT sector, and to continuously foster rapid development and growth of the Nigerian telecommunications marketplace. Currently, DBI prides itself as a Centre of Excellence in ICT training and education with campuses in Abuja, Lagos and Kano, which could pass for some geo-zones.

DBI academic courses run under four principles; within the accreditation of National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), professional courses, International Telecommunications Union (ITU) accredited courses and Electronic Learning (e-Learning).

Whatever is the shortcoming of DBI in achieving its original mandate is not farfetched, including lack of local patronage by those telecommunications and ICT companies which Minister is anticipating to run the ‘ICT University’ with as Public Private Partnership (PPP). So, what stops the Ministry of Communication taking a second look at DBI in terms of existing infrastructure, syllabus and patronage, in order to make the needed change required in DBI effective, rather than starting a new capital venture, if at all in the geozones in the name of making a record of six campuses nationwide?

If the Federal Government under President Muhammadu Buhari since inception has been lamenting lack of finance to build infrastructure will now go into establishing another set of universities with campuses in six-geozones, what will be the fate of existing DBI, which already has campuses in some zones?

If the argument of the Minister is anything to go-by, is the fact that the current 10 universities of technology and the entire university system in Nigeria have failed to produce indigenous capacity capable of salvaging the whole ICT eco-system and nation at large. It is worrisome too since building indigenous capacity has been ordinarily DBI sole mandate in ICT sector.

That Nigeria loses an estimated $2.8bn annually on ICT imports, cannot be attributed to lack of manpower in Nigeria no matter how feeble the Nigerian university systems, may be, but largely for lack of patronage and craze for anything foreign even from the Government, across all tiers and private sector.

So, instead of creating ICT University, one expected this Buhari cum Adebayo Shittu administration to prevail on the private sector players to assist the existing higher institutions including the 152 universities and DBI to have endowment of chairs in all faculties and departments, but not limited to Computer Sciences or Science and Technology, even as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme.

This has become imperative, given that the world has not only become a global village but has since been knitted with ICTs, which means every faculty if not departments must as matter of urgency have distinct computer laboratory with requisite software developed locally for education purposes, installed and maintained by local software companies, who can confidently take-in undergraduates as interns and eventually take-in graduates as employees, without spending another round of annual year budget on retraining of such candidates.

If all things were well with Nigerian universities, they should be producing turn-key students that are trained as complete package for employment or innovation. Definitely not another university is required but maintaining that which we currently have coupled with adequate patronage above board will make the difference.

Except for the sake of nomenclature, DBI is already serving the purpose of which Minister Adebayo wanted Nigeria to have an ICT University. A change of name and accreditation from NUC will get this done. He needs to conduct ‘unofficial visits’ to the existing campuses to basically know the challenges facing the likes of DBI, and computer science departments of 152 Nigerian universities. 

This could lead to perhaps a dialogue with stakeholders championed by the Nigerian Computer Society (NCS), Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON), Information Technology Association of Nigeria (ITAN), and Nigeria Technology Impact Group (NITIG) among others.

For instance, its heart-breaking to see lately some Federal Government’s agencies and departments tender, requesting foreign computer brands when Nigeria has the likes of Zinox, Omatek, Veda, SpeedStar, Brain to name a few, who have their Completely Knock-Down (CKD) factories locally in the country, thereby creating jobs and reducing the gap in technological transfer.

Maybe as a government that reputed with “change mantra,” the Federal Government under President Buhari should lead by example, when it comes to patronizing locally made ICT facilities including educational institutions like DBI.

If Nigeria and the ICT sector are searching for a solution, already DBI is the solution with a little improvement across board, especially using typical workable PPP model.

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