AfricaLive: How must higher education adapt to catalyse a new era of Pan African growth?
Prof Osman Nuri Aras: The potential for growth through education can never be understated. The late great Nelson Mandela always advocated for education as a change agent. The power of education should go beyond academic enlightenment and into economic success. Education also has the potential to contribute to nation-building and reconciliation.
Tackling the world’s problems must involve educating people to the best of our ability as a society. Throughout time, the world has had to deal with three main problems; Ignorance, poverty and disunity. All communities and countries have the task of trying to deal with these problems while at the same realising sustainable human development. Related to the problems of ignorance, poverty and disunity; we can come up with goals that can help address them. Some of these goals include; sustainable human development, sustainable economic growth which should involve the fair distribution of income, as well as a higher standard of living; and the other goal is realising sustainable, peaceful coexistence.
As an institution, we believe these three goals will change things entirely in the context of our society, and we also believe that our natural resources can be great at driving the economic growth agenda. We believe that capital plays a huge role and that the most critical and fundamental resources are human and social capital. Of course we also centre knowledge-capital, technology and other capital bases in our belief system. Education for us is the ultimate solution for our social-economic issues because it helps boost both our social and human capital. The higher education sector centreing education for social and economic wellness is great, but in the African context, there is another problem. Africa has to find a way to manage the raging conflicts that are sometimes seen. We believe that dialogue is another area of focus we need to look at. How can we help build communication channels and build platforms for intra and inter-country dialogue?
AfricaLive: What was your motivation for assuming the role you now have at Nile University, and what are some of the strategic goals you have going forward?
Prof Osman Nuri Aras: I believe I still have a lot of learning to do. I have had stints working in Cambodia and Russia and had many enriching experiences. I, therefore, believe that I have something to share to help solve problems wherever I am. We are in an age of globalisation where almost every problem is shared across the board. Covid-19 is a prime example of the kind of global integration that has been achieved because the problem has spread everywhere. I believe that whatever knowledge or experience one has gained is to be shared with others. As a private institution, we are here to share and educate. Our motto here is; “Actualise your Dreams”. We are here to help and support Nigeria’s new generation see their dreams and desires come to fruition. We realise that there are deficits when it comes to funding and that there are challenges when it comes to technology, but we dwell on the possibilities and not the challenges. We must have enough funding and the right tools to impart knowledge, but what I have also prioritised as a strategic goal, is improving relations with our students. When I was working in Azerbaijan, I toured different higher education institutions where I saw modern labs with state of the art equipment that was being severely underutilised in the country. The issue there was a shortage of human capital to work the labs to optimum capacity. Building skilled human capital is, therefore, another strategic goal here that we believe is attainable due to the abundance of young Nigerians who have a thirst for knowledge. Nile University under my stewardship, also intends to cultivate an international environment where students from diverse backgrounds can converge and learn.
AfricaLive: As a university that is so focused on humanity, how can the world reconcile the technological advancements we are all witnessing and enjoying, while also maintaining the human element of things?
Prof Osman Nuri Aras: It is a struggle, but we have people that are working hard to reconcile the two. We have institutions in Nigeria that are trying to bring about technological advancement; one of them is known as the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). NITDA is a public institution in the country that provides scholarships to the highest levels. In the last year, they have provided over thirty students with postgraduate scholarships. We set up an MOU with them that saw them pick the top students from each of the thirty-six states in Nigeria for full scholarships. In the last year, we saw seventeen of the thirty-six students from all the states pick this university. They chose us after visiting several universities, and their conclusion was that ours was the perfect institution to help them blend their technological pursuits and their causes for humanity.
We are involved in a project known as MIT REAP. MIT REAP was made possible thanks to our American partners MIT University, NITDA as well as the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy. The MIT REAP project helps promote entrepreneurship in a sustainable way to accelerate social empowerment of locals. Our humanity focus also extends to social responsibility programmes, with one of them being; our Peace and Conflicts Resolution Post-graduate Programmes. These courses are very relevant and needed, especially here in Nigeria because of the constant conflicts on tribal and religious lines. We have cultivated great relationships with both the Muslim and Christian societies of Nigeria. To make our relationships with both communities even stronger, we have committed to sponsoring some top students from both groups. In my time at Nile University, I have been engaged in some higher power meetings in the country. When we visited the vice president of Nigeria and discussed our plans and programmes, he underlined our conflict resolution programmes as essential. The positive effects of our Peace and Conflict Resolution programmes are already being felt on the ground. Our scholarship programmes for top students from poor backgrounds were also praised. There was a special mention of our free boarding programme for female students.
Recent developments have also shown us the need to adapt to various human challenges. We recently embarked on expanding our online learning programmes and capabilities. I have had challenges implementing this because some people in the sector thought the task was too daunting, and we needed special permissions from the National Universities Commission (NUC). I had to highlight the special and unexpected circumstances we were now in, to push the agenda. I am happy now that we have been able to get our online programmes running and even the people that had reservations are now fully onboard. The programme has taken a life of its own now with students organizing many online learning challenges and activities to keep them engaged during this lockdown.
AfricaLive: What message would you like to send out to the main stakeholders you are involved with or wish to be involved with?
Prof Osman Nuri Aras: We should work together, whether we are public or private entities to achieve our mutual goals. Our aim as an institution is to produce graduates that are sensitive to the social-economic challenges of today, very inventive, creative, confident and enterprising enough to solve the problems of Nigeria, Africa and the whole world. Our message can be summed up by saying that all stakeholders can solve common problems by working together.