* Nigeria’s Pan-Atlantic University is celebrating its 20th anniversary and making a name for itself as a problem-solving institution.
* Recently appointed Vice-Chancellor Prof Enase Okonedo is increasing engagement with the private sector businesses and with local communities in order to solve real-world challenges and shape the future of African business.
* “In Nigeria, we have been talking for decades about our dependence on oil and the need to diversify the economy. Universities must play a role in that by creating complimentary curriculums.” – Prof Okonedo.
* The university now seeks to explore new research opportunities through engagement with the private sector.
* AfricaLive spoke with Prof Okendo regarding the potential for university-industry partnerships that will shape Nigeria and Africa’s future.
AfricaLive: If you only have two minutes to describe the identity of your institution to someone, what are the key points to communicate?
Prof Enase Okonedo: We have a strong Christian identity and many things characterise that. I would also put a caveat on that and say that even though we have a Christian identity, I wouldn’t call us a faith-based institution for several reasons. We are not owned by any church or Christian organisation but we are led by strong Christian and Catholic ethos. The ideology that leads the university is reflected by several things.
We educate people in freedom and with freedom, which is very important. We set ourselves apart from other Christian-based institutions, especially in Nigeria that compel their students to worship in a certain way or partake in certain activities. We welcome people from all faiths and creeds and educate them to make the best choices for them. When we say we educate people in freedom and with freedom, we mean preparing people for adulthood and responsibility.
We don’t believe people can be trained within certain tight constraints and still be flexible enough to deal with society. We also champion the message of respect for the human person which steps from dignity. This is pronounced in our curriculum and the way we teach students. Last but not least is the desire for excellence in all that we do. These points define our identity well.
AfricaLive: Therefore, we can say that the higher education sector has an important role to play in not just imparting knowledge but also in instilling values our future business, government, and society leaders?
Prof Enase Okonedo: Certainly, that’s an important aspect of what we do. We don’t make any claim that when people come out of the Pan-Atlantic University, they will all go on to become ethical leaders. What we strive to ensure is that people who pass through our institution are educated on what ethical norms are.
It’s also important to make them understand that there is a difference between what is legally right and what is morally right. We have a strong emphasis on business ethics, ethics in media, and ethics in all the different disciplines that we offer here. Ethics shape the attitudes of the students as they go to their places of work and in society.
AfricaLive: Community engagement is one of your key pillars. Can we expand on what that means for Pan-Atlantic University?
Prof Enase Okonedo: There are several things to discuss here. First, we have to explore the community and how we define it. When we talk about community, it’s things we do with the local community where we are located. At the main campus, our community is the villages where we are located. The broader community is the alumni of the university and the industries and corporations in our area.
We go into these communities, look at the needs and how we can fill gaps. We have students that go lecture in primary schools to help those younger students prepare for higher education. We have student welfare desks that offer services to orphanages while also taking care of and tutoring children. Our museum offers special training programmes for secondary schools within our community.
Since community engagement is one of our core pillars, we have broadened our activities in this area. We have looked at developing partnerships with the industries that exist in our environs to figure out their needs and concerns. Our model is that of partnership to figure out research questions so that we make a name for ourselves as a problem-solving institution.
The third component of our community engagement is exploring how our alumni positively impact society. We encourage our alumni to have continuous sessions that help them find ways to impact society more.
AfricaLive: We recently spoke with Prof. Jhurry, the vice-chancellor of the University of Mauritius, who stated that the quadruple helix model of innovation will crumble if communities are not put at the heart of it. If you look at a lot of the decisions made at the governmental level, communities are not prioritised or consulted.
Do you see universities as being well-positioned to act as a bridge between the needs of local communities and the interests of governments and the private sector?
Prof Enase Okonedo: Universities can indeed play a huge role here. The question is to what extent are they alive to that role and the extent they are actively engaging in that. For a long time, we have seen a divide in the university system. Universities have operated in silos, doing research that is not popularized or brought to the classroom. If we are going to prepare proper graduates in this continent, we cannot do evidence-based high-impact research without the industry being involved.
We have to think of the skills the industry needs and also seek cooperation. Two decades ago we were preparing people in how-to trades, but things have changed today technologically. By the time graduates complete a 3-year program, the skills they have acquired are already obsolete. We must also cooperate with the government because that’s where legislation comes from.
We must cooperate and look at the educational needs of the country. In Nigeria, we have been talking for decades about our dependence on oil and the need to diversify the economy. We must ask ourselves if the national policy is aligned with our needs as a country in the future. Government must play its part in creating proper policy and we must do ours by creating complimentary curriculums.
AfricaLive: Building on the identity above, what approach do you take to working with industry and understanding the needs of the private sector?
To tackle the complex environmental, societal, and economic challenges the African continent faces, multi-stakeholder partnerships are vital. AfricaLive’s reporting shows universities should be at the centre of this. What does partnership mean to you?
Prof Enase Okonedo: One of the important responsibilities of a university is research. In the African context, we must be very specific about what we are researching. When you are a young university like us observing its 20th anniversary, you make your name by the quality of research you produce. we must look at applied research that is focused on social, economic, and applied research.
The focus on applied research most times doesn’t fall onto the mainstream academic journals that enhance the reputation of the institution. This brings a conflict of interest that can be difficult to navigate through. The question becomes should we engage in research that is relevant and applicable in our context or should we do mainstream research that propels our university to the league of top academic institutions.
Nevertheless, one of the important roles we can play outside of research is that universities have convening power. We can convene various stakeholders which include industries, government, and other academics. We can have continuous engagement through roundtable conversations that help us decide on what to research. We must also look at fostering relationships through offering knowledge to not only students but also faculty.
This is because we teach students to go and work in the real world while having academics that have never worked in the real world. We can do this by forming partnerships that give our academics the chance to work in the real world. Partnership to us must be multipronged so that we find solutions together.
AfricaLive: What opportunities exist for private sector collaboration, investment, or funding?
Prof Enase Okonedo: When I look at private sector collaboration, research opportunities would be top of my list. These are the problems we are grappling with within the community in which we serve. We have to do this using our points of strength, these for us would be the schools of science and technology, media and communication, business and management studies. These would help us figure out what we need to get done to overcome our challenges.
The other opportunity is the ability to attract grants from the sector through impactful research. We must also look at the internship opportunities that are available so that our students can begin providing value even before they graduate. There are also branding opportunities that exist here. Though education is increasingly being digitised, we do need brick and mortar buildings, particularly at the undergraduate level.
We already have partners in that regard for instance; the school of science and technology building was funded by a large corporation in Nigeria while our main academic block building was financed by a private individual.
Such partnerships are needed for our brick-and-mortar projects going forward. In this environment, if we want to do something about broadening the talent pool for companies and organisations, we must invest in human capital development. We can do this by offering scholarships to the indigenes of our areas.
AfricaLive: What does internationalisation mean to you? Are there specific opportunities when it comes to partnerships with other universities both on the African continent and the rest of the world?
Prof Enase Okonedo: We are keen to pursue internationalisation for several reasons. Today, talent is sought from anywhere in the world. About a decade ago, talent was only being developed only to serve the local market. We must develop students who understand what it means to work in a multicultural context and multicultural things.
We do welcome opportunities for exchange both inbound and outbound. When it comes to outbound, we usually have more people seeking partnerships with people outside the continent than we have people trying to come in.
If we look at the attractiveness of Nigeria, we have the largest consumer market on the continent. We operate in Lagos which is home to 65 percent of our industries yet there are numerous social and economic problems that new projects can be created out from.
We offer a chance for people to come to Lagos and explore that. We are also keen on getting different faculties to collaborate in problem-solving while realising that approaches may differ based on context. If we look at supply chain management, for instance, the solution from a North American or European perspective may differ from an African perspective. So when I think about internationalization, it’s not only for students but also for faculty with the opportunities for research and exchange programs.
AfricaLive: Sub-saharan Africa and its people will be impacted by climate change perhaps more than anywhere else on the planet.
When we look at the damage that our economic model has done to the environment over the past decades, do you believe the education sector needs to adapt and teach different values?
Prof Enase Okonedo: I strongly believe that universities must educate people on the effects of climate change. When we think about business education in universities without looking at the liberal model, we must look at the capitalist model we have observed for so long.
That model had us preparing students to work for businesses because the thinking was that education must be geared to further the interests of business. This has changed over the years because we have moved from the shareholder view to the stakeholder view.
The purpose of business does not have to be about self-aggrandisement. Businesses should exist to further humanity and their actions must display that. This is where all the concerns about climate change come in. Universities must, therefore, teach that the purpose of any human enterprise is to contribute to the functioning of society as a whole and not only one or two stakeholders. If we don’t teach this at universities, we are never going to influence business practices.
In sub-Saharan Africa, it is particularly grave because of huge gaps in regulation. The second reason is that people think that the climate change agenda is a nuisance created by the developed world to derail us. The mentality here is to pursue the industrialisation agenda first and then consider climate change later. The problem with that line of thought is that we will be choosing to damage our environment to chase a future that will be very unsustainable.
Universities in my opinion are the best vehicles to push the climate change agenda. Though we have many climate change lobby groups, they won’t succeed without us. We have the ear of young adults and that is where change will come from not the older groups. Within the university, we have a sustainability centre whose purpose is not only to research but also to disseminate information and bring in private sector players.
The centre promotes debate and research on sustainability issues. We also have the enterprise development centre which is the unit within the university that develops small-scale entrepreneurs. We are proud to say that the building is a green structure and we are also developing an innovation hub within the campus that will also be a green building as well.
AfricaLive: You are an institution at a very exciting stage of development. Looking at the year ahead, is there a particular area that you would say is your main target? What are your hopes for 2022?
Prof Enase Okonedo: We have a strategic plan that has a five-year span. This year, teaching and learning are our core areas of focus. We have to be more innovative in our thinking. To focus on the outcomes, it’s not really about how we use technology or the projects we ask students to do. For us, it’s about offering that holistic education that goes beyond the subject matter expertise.
Across this particular pillar of teaching and learning, we hope that by the end of the year we can look back and identify positive outcomes. We have a museum in the school which students frequent. They learn a lot there through object-based learning. This is a part of what we are implementing in our teaching and learning agenda.