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Business News of Sunday, 26 June 2022


UNILAG, European universities institute ‘partnership for change’

The photo used to illustrate the story The photo used to illustrate the story

Green energy, artificial intelligence, medical interventions and entrepreneurial innovations, especially in the fintech sector, are some of the targets of a new partnership between the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka, and some European counterparts.

Championed by UNILAG, and with the support of Nigeria’s Consulate Office in Frankfurt, Germany, the initiative, which is tagged, “Partnership for Change,” is, according to the organisers, aimed at building symbiotic relationships between Nigerian universities and their select counterparts in Europe.

The collaboration, the director of UNILAG’s Office of International Relations, Partnerships and Prospects, Ismail Ibrahim, a professor of mass communication, said, will address contemporary issues of concern, especially in Nigeria.

To kickstart the process, a team led by the vice-chancellor of UNILAG, Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, with the collaboration of the consulate office in Frankfurt, recently crisscrossed some universities in Germany.

The purpose of the visit was to dot the i’s and cross the t’s towards firming up the arrangements to bring more academic institutions on board.

A similar engagement also held between UNILAG and some Scottish universities, where presentations on different areas of partnership were made by the concerned parties.

The vice-chancellor described the initiative as mutually beneficial, “and not parasitic.”

He said the university was welcomed by the European institutions because it was not coming into the partnership empty-handed.

According to Mr Ogundipe, the ongoing industrial action by both the academic and non-academic staff unions of Nigerian universities, like many of such witnessed in the past, has done more damage to the image and prospects of the nation’s academic institutions.

“There must, therefore, be deliberate efforts to build global competitiveness and drive the institution’s desire for impacts,” Mr Ogundipe said, adding that the institutions should not be allowed to be held back by the circumstances beyond their control.

According to Mr Ogundipe, whose tenure as vice-chancellor will be over in November, building a sound future for the university should not be about an individual but a system that can continue to run even after his tenure of office.

He said since 2017 when he assumed office, the university has attracted not less than N18 billion worth of grants in research. He added that unlike before when only researchers in pure sciences and medical fields would win grants, “all faculties and even non-academic staff now regularly win grants in one field or the other.”

Mr Ogundipe, a professor of Botany, said: “We must work towards covering the grounds lost in classrooms by building on partnerships, so that once we resume academic activities, we can easily switch on our initiatives for prosperous future harvest.”

Strike impactsFor more than four months, many Nigerian universities have been under lock and key over yet-to-be-resolved conflicts between the government and the institutions’ workers’ unions.

Apart from staff and students who have been negatively impacted by the industrial action, various other members of the universities’ communities including transporters, food vendors, shop owners, artisans and others in need of one service or the other from the universities such as collection of transcripts, certificates and results, have all continued to suffer significant losses.

The development has also further limited the chances of the universities’ quest for improved global ranking and the nation’s drive towards socio-economic recovery.

Partnership to the rescueRather than folding its arms while the system is grounded, the UNILAG’s partnership office said to address gaps that limit their ability to meet the Agenda 2030 and the African Union Vision 2063, Nigerian universities must turn to collaborations to leverage opportunities that internationalisation and regionalisation provide.

The UNILAG deputy vice-chancellor in charge of development services, Ayo Atsenuwa, who oversees the university’s partnership office, in her presentation during the meetings with the new partners, said with a student population of 62,215 across 12 faculties, six institutes and 26 centres, UNILAG runs 88 undergraduate and 129 postgraduate programmes.

Mrs Atsenuwa, a professor of Law, said the university is coming into the partnership fully prepared, especially with many concluded and ongoing innovative research outputs such as the cassava concrete mixture for building, ambuvent medical ventilator and vehicular road advanced electronic flood caution device, among others.

She said; “We are encouraged to champion this partnership having experienced the significant impacts of other similar collaborations such as those under the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA), UMOJA and AFROPEAN Global.

“Our artificial intelligence and fab laboratories, the UNILAG-BOI business incubation hub, and the NITDA ICT hub, are in need of meaningful partnerships for exposure and knowledge sharing.”

She said the partnership is aimed at building a global community of shared future through student and staff exchange programmes, running of joint degrees and programmes, curriculum development, hosting joint conferences and research collaborations.

“Our entrepreneurial centre is one of the best around but we must endorse continental collaborations to achieve greater impacts and exposure for students and staff,” Mrs Atsenuwa said.

She said compared to many of the German universities being courted, UNILAG is relatively young, and thus requires partnership with such older institutions like Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz, to share ideas, and technical know-how for comparative advantages.

German universities on boardDuring different meetings held at the Goethe University, Frankfurt, and in the city of Mainz, the University of Applied Sciences, Mainz; Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz; Schmalkalden University of Applied Sciences, Schmalkalden, and University of Münster, Münster, all expressed their commitment to making the partnership a worthwhile venture.

The representatives of the Johannes Gutenberg University, which houses the global COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing giant- Biopharmaceutical New Technologies (BioNTech), expressed commitment to the partnership, even as they pledged knowledge transfer among staff and students.

Speaking on behalf of Schmalkalden, its Mayor, Thomas Kaminski, said as a host to a university and many small scale industries, the community is building green energy solutions and would be glad to partner Nigerian researchers.

He expressed his readiness to ensure knowledge transfer among concerned experts, saying the green energy solution will not only address the issue of ozone layer depletion and the attendant consequences but will also make power affordable, especially for the university communities where uninterrupted power supply is much a prerequisite.

Mr Kaminski said; “We are a small town but one blessed with talents to build livable societies. Nigeria also has its strengths, especially in human and natural resources, we must combine our knowledge to make our communities habitable for our people.”

Other universities, especially, University of Applied Science in Mainz, said it was interested in introducing double degree programmes in partnership with UNILAG, among other qualified Nigerian universities.

The programmes, which will be taught physically on the two campuses, will, according to the university, also offer the beneficiaries an opportunity to receive stipends through the German government’s scholarship scheme.

Scottish universities tooApart from German universities, the UNILAG team had also earlier met with the management of some Scottish universities including Universities of Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

At these universities, just as witnessed in Germany, the details of the partnerships were spelt out and each parties signed relevant documents for smooth take-off.

At the University of Aberdeen, the UNILAG team was welcomed by Principal/Vice Chancellor, George Boyne, a professor, and the Vice Principal/Deputy Vice Chancellor International, Alan Speight, a professor, among other officials.

There were presentations on Science and Technology, Energy, Environment and Entrepreneurship research, among other fields.

Consulate offices speakBoth the Nigeria’s Consulate General in Frankfurt, Wahab Akande, and his German counterpart in Lagos, Bernd von Münchow-Pohl, have expressed their commitment to the partnership.

Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES, Mr Akande said his experience gained over the years as a diplomat in Europe inspired him to be a part of the initiative.

He said; “The truth is that Germany is known for her manufacturing capacities, hence the popular phrase of ‘German Machines.’ But German industries rely on universities to achieve their dream. This is what Nigeria must learn. This is why this engagement is dear to us at the consulate office.”

On his part, Mr Münchow-Pohl, a PhD certificate holder, said the commitment of the German government to academic partnership is evidenced by the funding support to the country’s institutions in charge of international academic cooperation.

“The Germany Ministry of Foreign Affairs, together with the Federal Ministry for Science and Research, gives significant budgetary funding to our institutions in charge of international academic cooperation such as the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) or the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation,” he said.

Meanwhile, on the trip to Europe were also the director of the university’s distance learning institute, Uchenna Udeani, a professor of science and technology education, and senior lecturer in the university’s department of statistics and deputy director of the partnership office, Mary Akinyemi, among others.