About two months ago, the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, Professor Julius Okojie, said that 70 additional universities had been added to the existing ones, thereby bringing the number of approved universities in the country to about 123. About 81 of them are federal and state, owned institutions and about 42 are private universities. This is a hard list to come by, hence the prefix ‘about’ that always precedes the figure.
NUC is saddled with the task of clamping down on illegal universities operating solely to fleece unsuspecting students and their guardians. This would have been a whole lot easier with a fully functional and regularly updated website that hints at new approvals, their curricula, contact details and academic calendar or a simple link to the official website of the school. But then, even as I write this, the website of the universities regulator – the NUC – with the Uniform Resource Locator, URL at www.nuc.edu.ng, is down.
Such an example should not come from the stable of the NUC, which is the sole accreditation body that enforces uniform standard and sets admissions capacity of every university in Nigeria. The quality of a university’s website should be one of the yardsticks that the NUC uses in assessing the viability of the institution, especially since there is a Webometric ranking of world universities.
All over the world, curricula are developed with an eye for the emerging and new culture in society. It justifies why the NUC is rightly pushing for entrepreneurial studies in universities, given the reality that there is a job famine in the country. The time is ripe for the NUC’s Labour Market Observatory Project to also catch the growing trend of dependence on new media in its drag net and filter it for inclusion in the curriculum for universities.
The Webometrics ranking of universities is today celebrated by universities and institutions of higher learning that rank well on it. Published by a Madrid based research group called Cybermetric lab, the ranking uses multiple indicators that consider the volume of web contents, the visibility of such, which is mainly enhanced by Search Engine Optimisation and the impact of these publications founded on citations received from external sources. And it considers about 12,000 universities across the globe, while also breaking down the result on a continental basis. On the surface, the conditions seem easy to meet. In reality, they are not.
The July, 2013 edition of Webometrics had Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife ranking 1st in Nigeria, though it was 8th in Africa and 1,113th in the world. Following closely is Auchi Polytechnic, which is 2nd in Nigeria, ahead of the University of Ibadan and the University of Lagos. Auchi is also 23rd in the Africa and 2,106th in the world.
After meeting the demands of ASUU, the Federal Government can begin to use these global ratings to task universities on how to improve the country’s image. South Africa, which has six universities ahead of Nigeria’s OAU in the ranking, allocated 25.8 per cent of its budget to education in 2012 as against Nigeria’s 8.4 per cent the same year.
Universities in turn can begin to encourage independent thoughts from students by supporting them to set up blogs and other new media outlets to reflect and capture their learning progress. It will inevitably rub off on the ranking of Nigerian universities.
It is harmless to think it is high time that the curriculum of universities began to reflect the new market demand for digital media specialists. The dynamics of social media puts it in the mould of a course like accountancy, which no decent organisation can do without. A degree programme in it will allow for the creation and manipulation of new media content for new communication and media technologies. The demand for skills and competence in these areas is strong and expanding and we are just at the threshold because the traditional media influence still holds.
For anyone wanting to organise an event today, it is only logical to place adverts on newspaper pages. But there is the need for the obvious subtleties of making available details fo r such events on social media space and offer pre-event and post-event publicity, using social influencers on various social network channels. Such a degree programme, irrespective of whether it is called BSc. Social Media or BSc. Digital Media and Society or New Media, will explore the interaction between society and technology. It will look at the use of images, videos and podcasts to enhance social features. It will look at the business world and forecast the technology in new media for tomorrow’s users. It will explore content management for web channels and assistive technologies for organisations and individuals.
A discipline like that will straddle the subject of e-marketing, social and organisational psychology and the sociology of today’s population. It will also explore the language of new media writing through a comparative with conventional business writing. Application technology and basic introduction to statistics, with intent to understand web analytics, will also be embedded in the course content of such programmes.
The final year will possibly allow for specialisation of digital media for any industry of choice – agriculture, banking, manufacturing, education, medicine, journalism, social work et cetera. It therefore means that electives would have to be offered in such areas to have a good grasp of the theoretical frameworks of those fields. A diploma programme may perhaps be a good testing ground for the viability of this proposition.
The teaching-learning method should be dynamic enough to accommodate project role-plays, Skype sessions and webinars (seminars through the web) in form of information exchange from across the globe. The thesis from a degree programme like this should end up giving the country our own Larry Page and Sergey Brin; the Google duo. The energy Nigerian adolescents brandish on new media will end up having a channel and productive outlet even in form of organised education.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written ‘Sola Fagorunsi