Professor Tunji Olaopa: Broadening the Career Paths To the Academy, By Toyin Falola
To ensure that graduates find their professional niche early, we need to work towards an academic workforce that is equipped with knowledge of the latest technologies and professional practice. It is time to embrace the advantages of professors from the workplace, men and women like Tunji Olaopa, Pat Utomi, Odia Ofeimum and Bishop Hassan Kukah. They are valuable partners…
On Tuesday, November 20, 2018, Professor Tunji Olaopa — an erudite intellectual in his own right — will deliver his Inaugural Lecture at Lead City University, Ibadan, Nigeria. Thereafter, I will chair a discussion on the thematic topic, “Scholar-Practitioner Model as Game Changer in University Education.” Part of my avowed duty as the chairperson of this crucial function will be to invite to the podium three eminently-lettered speakers: Pat Utomi, Odia Ofeimun, and Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah. The preface to this occasion is how our subject — Tunji Olaopa — a distinguished administrator-cum-public servant, earned a PhD degree while still in public service, as well as how he eventually and successively became a prolific scholar, a public intellectual, and a professor.
Without mincing words, I can attest to the transparent fact that Olaopa’s career also reminds me of the distinguished career path of the late Professor Saburi Biobaku, who indefatigably served as a professor, a registrar and a vice-chancellor on different occasions in his long career. In recent years, Dr. Dapo Afolabi was, for example, a professor of Chemistry, a director of a federal agency and, finally, he ended up as the head of the Federal Civil Service in Abuja, thus, indeed, following the illustrious 1960s’ civil service footsteps of Chief Simeon Olaosebikan Adebo (1913-1994).
“Many roads lead to the market,” underscores a Yoruba proverbial axiom. Consequently, as a decent crowd converges on this market, the allotted space, the traders, the buyers and the spectators become both beneficiaries and benefactors. In the process, the boundaries between the formal and the informal become dissolved in the market. Conversely, one can question unequivocally: How, indeed, can many roads lead to academic careers in Nigerian universities?
Furthermore, the intriguing question I would additionally like to answer is the following: How can multiple talents from the corporate, bureaucratic, and private worlds converge on universities to rethink the system, reorganise managements as well as spaces and, in the process, empower the students? In practical terms, can Odia Ofeimun be recruited by the University of Ibadan to teach Literature and Politics? In a similar breath, can Bishop Kukah be appointed a professor of Religious Studies at Usmanu Danfodiyo University? Why is King Sunny Ade, based in Ondo, not teaching Music at Adeyemi College of Education, which is based a few miles from his house?
Most certainly, in line with the foregoing, we need to pay attention to the future career of Professor Tunji Olaopa — who is a technocrat-cum-scholar — and see the impact he can make on Lead City University. Should he succeed, his experience will create a template for the widening of the paths that lead to academic careers. In fact, my interest is to set aside comments on his impressive Inaugural Lecture that I have been privy to peruse and, instead, focus a lot more on the major question of the integration of the Academy with the larger world beyond it.
Generally, tertiary education continues to enjoy high patronage, as well as subscription, worldwide, as the easiest identifier of a learned and cosmopolitan mind. Indeed, in the global sphere, a lot of parents do not consider themselves to have gone far enough in their children’s upbringing until these youngsters, as parental wards, graduate from tertiary institutions. Worldwide, and partly as a result of the ongoing competitive urge, the quiet fourth industrial revolution, and partly because they are now regarded mostly as suppliers of labour, universities are trying out different solutions to meet the continuous demand for graduates, who are already equipped with knowledge of industry and office processes. [See Ali-Choudhury, R. Bennett, and S. Savani, “University Marketing Directors’ Views on the Components of a University Brand”. International Review on Public and Nonprofit Marketing, vol. 6, no. 1, 2008, pp. 11-33]. As Nigeria’s youth population continues to grow and the present trend of focusing on the technological and service sectors continues to expand, the demand for education, indeed, quality education, will remain high for a very long time to come.
Furthermore, as Africa follows the global trend of investment in a globalised, knowledge-based economy, the knowledge-base itself required of the average graduate in the world of work, especially in the application of information and communications technologies, shifts along with it. On the part of employers, they increasingly want younger graduates to be work-ready while lecturers are focused on working with students to become independent thinkers.
It is important to consider some factors when assessing the benefits accruable when people, with practical experience, become professors. One is the speed of change in this post-millennial world… These changes require that those in charge of imparting knowledge to the next generation should have their hands on the pulse (or deck) of their subject area.
Every once in a while, we read in the media about the need for universities to reinvent their teaching curricula to match workplace reality. Some people lament of how higher numbers of graduates are “unemployable” and the bigger part of the responsibility for that is laid at the door of tertiary institutions. A lot of those who look to universities to prepare students for the world of work, also clamour for curriculum changes to ensure the production of graduates that they can just plug and play into work mode, which is unfortunately part of the microwave mentality.
Also, there are university lecturers with second professions each, who spend part of their week teaching and the rest of their leisure time attending to their other work commitments, while there are older professionals, who have continued to subject themselves to academic rigour throughout their working years and subsequently opt to lecture later in life. They believe, along with proponents of job-ready graduates, that they bring a different and valuable perspective to teaching in contrast to colleagues, who are full-time academics.
It is important to consider some factors when assessing the benefits accruable when people, with practical experience, become professors. One is the speed of change in this post-millennial world. New, highly-valuable inventions are produced daily that disrupt the status quo and, just as those are settling, someone else comes up with another invention. All affected sectors have to adjust. These changes require that those in charge of imparting knowledge to the next generation should have their hands on the pulse (or deck) of their subject area. This can mean that professors, who never entered the workforce, may not be very connected to industry trends and the needs of the workforce, meaning that their classroom interactions are limited to theoretical discussions without a foregrounding in the world of work.
Intelligence is a core requirement in the ascension to professorship worldwide. It is so revered that professors with exceptional abilities are voted professors emeriti as a mark of distinguished service and they may even retain office space or other privileges. This is to underscore the importance of formal knowledge transfer, so much so that we try to ensure that younger generations are exposed to the best minds and best thinkers in the tertiary system. This can be extended to include the best minds in relevant industries.
An important query is this: Why blend the two worlds of the academy and the experience of the workplace? The jobs of most academic professionals require them to be within the university environment for the longest part of their careers, except for research and exchange programmes, which mean the inclusion of academic-inclined and experienced professionals, will benefit students. The additional input from the experience of markets, boardroom activities and application of research knowledge, will enrich the education available to the students they teach. Professors, with extensive workplace experience, deliver value to students as a result of that experience. Under their tutelage, students can learn about workplace culture and expectations.
Meanwhile, products of academic institutions can, as well, decide if their career expectations match the reality in the industry they wish to join and, in the process, make the appropriate decisions with the knowledge. This can be regarded as the greatest benefit of recruiting experienced professionals, since it goes to the students whose thought processes and ability to proffer solutions become better-enhanced with the additional practical knowledge, and they thereby have higher chances of performing better in the workplace.
Opening up this channel of communication will certainly help universities to establish and, in the process, cement links with employers, as well as captains of industry. The additional input, from their “workplace professors” will help faculties ensure that their industry-related teaching is relevant and realistic. From the knowledge-sharing process, they can create a lot more flexible course programmes that will identify new research areas, ensure increased innovation, and promulgation of solutions to actual problems in the target industries. This will increase the regard of universities by employers, parents and prospective students. Indeed, some universities already market themselves to prospective undergraduate students as the institution that gives them an edge with work-integrated teaching and learning techniques that prepares them for the workplace.
Simply put, academics should not exist, and do not necessarily exist, within an intellectual cocoon. Their research forays into the world of work can be better enriched with the presence of practitioners who have submitted themselves to academic rigour and are, therefore, willing to enrich their fields through teaching and research activities.
Including experienced professionals with academic professors is an effective partnership that will yield significant learning opportunities to prepare work-ready graduates. They will subsequently fill the gap between theory and practice, helping students visualise realities that will factor in their thought processes and eventual output. This sort of integration will go a long way in meeting societal needs and employer requirements, reducing frictional employment.
The training and recruitment of lecturers in universities suffice and, even though Nigerian universities could have done much better, if sufficient funds were available, they are doing incredibly well, considering the odds they manoeuvre daily. It cannot be over-emphasised that professionals who teach will bring current real-world situations and examples to fully unravel theories, philosophies, and ideologies in class.
The UK-based Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), for example, has its own branch exclusively for academics, out of its 350 branches. Their director of Practice and Development is Stephanie Bird, who believes the following of their candidates: “They bring their experience and bring a much broader perspective. They bring new thinking and are developing knowledge – it’s about leading the cutting edge of practice and taking that forward. They are driving best practice.” [Andalo, Debbie, 2011, “The rise of dual profession lecturers.” The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2011/mar/21/part-time-lecturers-dual-profession]. In Africa, a few private universities in Nigeria have also been exploring the benefits of employing experienced professionals either to tenure them or they are invited to lead in designing and teaching specific industry-related curriculum courses and seminars. Pan-Atlantic University, in fact, is a very good example.
There is also the related trend now in Nigerian universities, especially private universities, which are seeking to make their graduates a lot more competitive, of collaborating with professional/industry bodies to provide professional skills and certification to students while still in school. The objective is what I am trying to advocate here: to provide practical skills that make the transition to the workplace from university much easier, and to make students immediately employable after graduation. Therefore, for instance, at Babcock University, B.Sc. Accounting students begin professional courses (such as ICAN, ATS, etc.) once admitted, or once ready, and many of them become chartered accountants by the time they reach their third year, or before they graduate. Computer certification is also compulsorily taught (in practical laboratories) for all students, who graduate with these added skills, in addition to their B.Sc degrees, etc. The university partners with the relevant professional bodies to provide both instruction and facilities. In fact, specifically, Covenant University also has some professional programmes for their students too, the specifics of which I do not know presently. Public schools, arrogantly, neither seek these kinds of partnerships, nor see the need for inviting industry professionals to teach; hence students have to find their way themselves.
The accruing benefits run both ways, as these working professors also benefit from the satisfaction that comes with impacting young people, sharing their experiences and the additional value that the title “Professor” or “Lecturer” brings to them. Andrew Mayo, a part-time professor of human capital management at Middlesex University, is quoted to have said: “Their range and variety keeps me close to current organisational issues. But I also find the title of professor very useful in portraying objectivity … and it is a source of respect.” [Cecilia K. Y. Chan, “Work experience should be a job requirement for academics”, Times Higher Education https://www.timeshighereducation.com/opinion/work-experience-should-be-job-requirement-academics#survey-answer].
Simply put, academics should not exist, and do not necessarily exist, within an intellectual cocoon. Their research forays into the world of work can be better enriched with the presence of practitioners who have submitted themselves to academic rigour and are, therefore, willing to enrich their fields through teaching and research activities. The argument holds true that academics are best suited to train and develop the youth into a role or profession since this ‘trainability’ is linked to education, which is what academics do best; yet this training of the millions of young people, who pass through the system, will be richer with the inclusion of scholars with experience in industries. The worldwide push for collaboration among universities and the increase in student mobility, reduce the obligation that all universities and all faculties must have the same skills.
To ensure that graduates find their professional niche early, we need to work towards an academic workforce that is equipped with knowledge of the latest technologies and professional practice. It is time to embrace the advantages of professors from the workplace, men and women like Tunji Olaopa, Pat Utomi, Odia Ofeimum and Bishop Hassan Kukah. They are valuable partners, as well as crucial asset in order to fulfill the goals of Universities, made up of disseminating knowledge, promoting thought, and changing attitudes, while also ensuring that their graduates can, indeed, think for themselves!
Congratulations to Lead City University!
Congratulations to Professor Tunji Olaopa!!
In our world, which the celebrated Frantz Fanon saw as a wretched earth, I will do my utmost to keep an eye on you both!!!
Toyin Falola, the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities and University Distinguished Teaching Professor and The University of Texas at Austin, is also President of Pan-African University Press.