In addition to leading the University of Ibadan, Prof. Abel Idowu Olayinka also serves as the Chairman of the Alliance of Research Universities in Africa. African Universities are stepping up collaborative efforts to improve the continent’s research capacity and put Africa on the global research map. As Prof. Olayinka explains in this interview, African universities face unique challenges in funding and supporting research & development, but a culture of collaboration is bringing change.
AfricaLive: What is the role of the University of Ibadan in creating the next generation of Nigerian skilled professionals?
Prof Olayinka: The University of Ibadan has a rich history, having been established as a college of the University of London in 1948. Unlike other institutions of higher learning across the thirty-six Nigerian states, we focus very heavily on postgraduate studies. We probably have the largest postgraduate programme in sub-Saharan Africa. Our role is to ensure that we produce excellent and socially impactful professionals by being a centre of excellence for postgraduate studies.
AfricaLive: What are some of the strategic goals you have identified, and wish to accomplish as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan?
Prof Olayinka: Our vision is to be an institution of academic excellence geared towards meeting societal needs. Though Universities are non-profit-making institutions, we need to attract funding to recruit and maintain quality staff and faculty. We also aim to address the unemployment challenges in this country by regularly revising our curriculum. Our curriculum has to be centred on critical thinking skills that are relevant in everyday life. We involve our alumni in curriculum development because we must tailor it to the job market. We also have the fourth industrial revolution in mind as we continue to revise the curriculum. It is not lost on us that entrepreneurship will go a long way in tackling unemployment in Nigeria. This is why we set up the centre of entrepreneurship and training, which focuses on producing job creators and producers.
Africa Live: There is a perception that Africa is unable to produce new products and new research. How can Universities and industries come together and work towards changing this perception?
Prof Olayinka: There is a great need for Universities and governments to work more closely together. The private sector must also be included in our efforts to produce more. As an institution of higher learning, we have an initiative that encourages this synergy. The initiative is known as the research and development fair. This is a two-day event that is held every November to bring together government and private sector officials. Through the initiative, they can see our innovations and get behind them financially. The overall goal is to strengthen synergy with industry so that we can enhance our research and innovation capabilities. Our research focus currently is on agriculture and renewable energy.
We are also spending a lot of time researching the oil sector since we are one of the top oil-producing countries. We are already involved in successful partnerships with some federal agencies. Agencies such as the Tertiary Education Trust Fund and the National Office of Technological transfer have contributed immensely to our research activities.
AfricaLive: What are some key projects you are involved in at the moment?
Prof Olayinka: I will single out one key project that I am passionate about; the sweetcorn project by the agriculture department. The project is so dear to us because it addresses the food security challenge staring us in the face across the continent.
AfricaLive: Statistics suggests only 1.1% of global research comes from Africa. What can be done to improve Africa’s research production?
Prof Olayinka: We need to invest more in our institutions if we are to bridge the gap with our international counterparts. If African institutions don’t get sufficient funding, very little will change as far as research production is concerned. Universities in this country have been grappling with the funding problem for a long time. However, I am optimistic about the future because we are receiving more and more federal goodwill.
AfricaLive: The vast majority of African start-ups fail within the first three years of operation. What can be done to create a supportive entrepreneurial environment in your region?
Prof Olayinka: A lot can be done to support our young people who are venturing into business. As an institution, we have been pondering on the idea of setting up an innovation hub. An operation like that would ideally be a success with a lot of private sector involvement. Nigeria’s private sector is unfortunately made up of large multinationals that prefer to work with their home Universities rather than us. In light of this, we have no option but to lean on the federal government for research and product development support.
AfricaLive: What partners you are working with, and how open is your institution to global partnerships?
Prof Olayinka: We are open to both intra-African and global partnerships. We have received support from international bodies such as the European Union. We are looking forward to more international engagements moving forward.
AfricaLive: The legacy of colonialism has seen African Universities collaborate with their European counterparts more than they have with other African institutions. What are you doing as an institution to explore University partnerships within the continent?
Prof Olayinka: The legacy of colonialism is undeniable in this part of the world. You will be surprised to learn that we only became an autonomous institution in the early eighties. We are very clear on the need to partner with other African institutions, and we are already on it. Through the Alliance of Research Universities in Africa (ARUA), we have been able to communicate with a lot of other African institutions. ARUA has sixteen Universities under its umbrella, most of which come from Anglophone countries. We intend to raise that number to twenty-five by including some Francophone countries. I currently serve as the chairman of ARUA’s board of directors, and I am proud of what we have achieved since inception. We are currently working closely with a few Universities across the continent to sharpen our collective capacity. We are working with the University of Pretoria, University of Witwatersrand, University of Botswana, and a few others as well.
AfricaLive: What should African Universities do to remain relevant in the fourth industrial revolution?
Prof Olayinka: We have no choice but to catch up with the rest of the world fast or risk being left behind. It is far from doom and gloom though because we have come a long way as a continent. The gap between us and the west in regarding technology is not as wide as most would think. The fact that we are having this Facetime interview proves that to be a fact. An interview session of this nature was impossible twenty years ago. Our continent has also seen mobile communication become a big thing since the early years of this millennium. Our institution is eying more internet infrastructure improvements as we gear up to facilitate fourth industrial revolution competencies.
AfricaLive: What does success look like for you as the Vice-Chancellor in the next five years?
Prof Olayinka: I have been all about making improvements since I took over as Vice-Chancellor. I desire to look back five years from now, and behold the strides we have made as an institution. My dream is to see the initiatives we have put in place delivering undeniable quality results. I would love to see initiatives such as the peer-assisted study session bear fruit. The peer-assisted study session initiative sees good students assist and mentor students at a lower level. Our centre of career development and partnership also has great potential. My ultimate dream is to see my successor take over a strong and vibrant institution.
AfricaLive: What is your message to future students of this University?
Prof Olayinka: They shouldn’t think twice about joining this institution. We have a very comprehensive curriculum that keeps on improving. A certification from the University of Ibadan will open doors of opportunity for them. This is because they will have the necessary skills and competencies to operate in a dynamic environment.