By Aliyu Mohammed Paiko
If one has been following the metamorphosis of developments in Academia globally, it is easy to observe that Universities (I mean those who know what that edifice was created to achieve) started as ordinary centres for teaching (spreading knowledge about known concepts to students) with some research. Gradually, research gained momentum and focus moved to applications of knowledge learned to deepen and widen research because some earlier concepts were challenged and modified to establish better understanding of older concepts or discovery of newer ones.
As research widened and deepened, competition commenced among universities that sometimes, led to unhealthy rivalries that were, often, not in the true and best interests of learning or for the good of the community as it were. Enter collaboration, partnerships, synergy, multi disciplinary thinking. With this development, researchers of different universities working on same concepts but approaching from different perspectives started working together. By this time, research was without borders of disciplines, nationhood or procedures. It is all about the concept in focus, to address particular challenges or explain/overcome strange or difficult phenomena.
Moreover, it didn’t matter much anymore what one knew; It mattered more how one used what they knew to address a challenge, discover a pathway to solutions to make society better. Because of this, those older knowledge holders who had stagnated with old knowledge, watched helplessly as those who were more concerned to apply new knowledge from research to address community challenges became more popular (publication, citations), became “richer” (patents, commercial products, Grant funding) and got appointed into policy positions to change society (professorial chairs, Government institutes, Grant administrators).
Eventually, it is only obvious that what the old knowledge holders have left is the NAME. It is thus, this group of academics that shout the loudest when someone else is appointed to bear “their name” because what they are protesting against is what they have left in the title PROFESSOR.
To protect it therefore, they are not willing to sit and watch the procedure leading up to earning that title changed, amended (teach in the university for 12-20 years, earn paltry salary with all thanks to ASUU, go on strikes annually, publish trash, grow grey hairs). Any attempt otherwise, they interpret as attempts to compromise or sabotage the system of earning the title belonging to aged Teachers. If not this, I want someone to explain to me what is wrong in the appointment of Isa Ibrahim Pantami as Professor by FUTO, considering recent best practices elsewhere?
All across the globe, including our colonial masters that helped us establish our first university, the procedure for becoming Professor has changed to celebrate Academic excellence by appointing those deserving. And academic excellence does not imply teaching in the university alone (one needs to visit and marvel at how MIT, one of the, if not the most successful University in terms of Academia-industry-government collaboration has become a success).
Meanwhile, the curriculum we operate is obsolete (I just learned that NUC is abandoning BMAS for a newly revised CCMAS that will soon make its debut in our Universities), most of our equipment are dysfunctional, old or obsolete, thus the research we carry out that is used to publish papers for promotion is often fraudulent (conditions of promotion to certain positions in some universities still accept 20-40% of publication as acceptance letters, which are purchased from Editors by mere phone calls).
Even our undergraduate students don’t read some of our publications. The collaboration some of our institutions have are mere expressions on paper, or at best, to access travel fellowships, participate in grants sharing bazaar as African representatives or to compile evidence that we visited other institutes just to justify the estacodes spent, with pictures to support.
Elsewhere, people who never taught in universities but have something tangible to share to students in universities are appointed as Professors. Collaboration between Academia, industry and Government has permitted the appointment of excellent and experienced professionals from industry or Government as Visiting Professors and the community has benefitted immensely with products and services that have changed lives, making the world a better place. Young people, as young as 9years have been identified with supersonic skills and given the title Professor and the earth has not stopped its revolution; their skills are being tapped.
We need to come out of our tiny shells and cocoons and play like a global actor not local champions. After all, products from those other economies that recognise industry experts as Professors are in our markets and we do not discriminate against them for being products of people not worthy to be Professors. In fact, we even have no choice or alternatives than to use them. So if products from such arrangements are good for us to use, why don’t we also promote such practices in the hope that they may lead to our own products?
I think that as professionals, our interest should always be best global practices. We cannot want change and also refuse to change or resist changes.
Academia is where change ought to begin, but here we are celebrating mediocrity in needless debates over titles.
Aliyu Mohammed Paiko is a Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry & Biotechnology, IBBUL.