The goals of tertiary education as stipulated in the Nigeria Education Policy Document are among other things, to contribute to national development through high level manpower training and to develop the intellectual capacity of individuals to understand and appreciate their local and external environment. It involves the acquisition of both physical and intellectual skills, which enable individuals to be self-reliant and useful members of society.
Therefore, the major role of tertiary education through its institutions is that of manpower development or human capital which involves the task of inculcating skills, aptitude, attitude, knowledge, morals, values and creative ability into students. Tertiary education is also expected to promote research and contribute to the development of the host communities. In achieving these roles, there is need for effective teaching and learning, research development culture, effective staff development programs and dissemination of knowledge in tertiary institutions.
This was the position of the Executive Secretary, Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), Arc. Sonny Echono when he spoke recently at the 18th Convocation Lecture of Enugu State University of Science and Technology, Enugu, Enugu State. In the lecture titled: “Education, Research and Human Development in Nigeria: The Challenges and Missing Link”, Echono maintained that when properly harnessed, education, research and development represent a triple helix for advancing the frontiers of institutional and national development.
He added that the critical positions of education and research in sustainable development underscore the basic reason for inter and intra-regional collaborations among researchers. According to the TETFund boss, research in higher institutions is necessary to enhance the institutions’ image and reputation as well as contribute to the indigenous knowledge base. He said: “Good and effective research generated and incubated in our tertiary educational institutions will not only solve societal problems but also attract the attention of industry.
The latter, with the support of the government, will translate the products of research to goods and services to be consumed by citizens. The end result is a higher standard of living and shared prosperity for all. The added bonus will be the increased relevance of academic and research institutions to sustainable natural developments.”
Speaking on the nexus between education, research and human capital development, Echono noted that whether basic, applied or experimental, research and development are symbiotic and mutually reinforcing. According to him, important qualitative changes and improvements that had taken place in the labour force were the result of the impact of formal education that resulted in an increase in productivity levels. In recent times, knowledge and advanced skills remain critical determinants of a nation’s economic growth and standard of living, especially as the outcomes of learning are transformed into goods and services, greater institutional capacity, a more effective public sector and stronger civil society.
According to a report from the World Bank, higher education is instrumental in fostering growth, reducing poverty and boosting shared prosperity. The report maintains that higher education benefits not only the individual but the entire educational system. “Tertiary education is considered the highest level of education and critical to human capacity or capital development”, he said. Echono however decried the challenges of research in Nigerian universities and higher institutions. He noted that in the post-colonial period, many countries in Africa, including Nigeria, believed that higher education was a leading instrument that would promote development.
The founding fathers of the new African states had clearly understood what role higher education could play in the newly created countries. The year 1960 when Nigeria became independent was declared the year of Africa and referred to as the development decade and the role universities as drivers of development was made clear and this led to the establishment of national universities in several countries including Nigeria.
Years later, it was argued that universities across Africa did nothing to change the narrative in terms of the development of their respective countries. In the 1990’s and 2000’s efforts were made to revitalize the role of higher education in the development of the African continent. It was in 2009 that the Association of African Universities organized a conference in Abuja, Nigeria, with a theme, ‘Sustainable Development in Africa: The Role of Higher Education’.
He frowned that the 1980’s and 1990’s saw an uncoordinated expansion of higher education in Nigeria with absent or decayed infrastructure, deteriorating work conditions and declining academic standards, which consequently, weakened both the capacity for research and knowledge production. To overcome the challenges, Echono called for a clear-cut philosophy and goal for sustainable development of Nigeria, according research the seriousness and attention it deserves as well as addressing frequent disruption of the academic calendar.