Research and Education Network in Nigeria: Opportunities and Challenges from a Stakeholder’s Perspective

Paper delivered by Dr. Olatunde Adekola,Senior Education Specialist, World Bank at EduNet2012

Fellow colleagues, friends and educators,

Gentlemen of the press,

Distinguish Ladies and gentlemen. …

I am very pleased to be in your midst and really appreciate your invitation; it is always a wonderful experience to be among friends, distinguished colleagues and of course, champions of Research and Education Networksin Nigeria (NgREN). It is no gain saying that without you and your efforts,NgREN would still be mirage. The World Bank is not the player but one of the players and therefore, we do appreciate your role as government, institutions and organizations for providing an enabling environment, supportive structure for formation of RENs. Our shared vision and mission should be more focused on enhancement of broadband and connectivity in our post basic-education institutions, by improving quality access networks and related technologies, infrastructure management, technology enhanced learning, and providing required insight through cloud solutions and data management in the Research and Education Community. All these constitute and would enhance the objectives and outcome of this workshop.

Based on the topic I was given by organizers “Role World Bank plays in building Research and Education Network in Nigeria.”  My contribution /answer would have been straight forward i.e. to support the Nigeria including main stakeholders to achieve the objective set for it and more importantly, to leverage on-going efforts such as linking Bank’s investment to NgRENresult in a cost effective and efficient process (including value added activities to be achieved in a sustainable manner).

In essence, there is no World Bank NgREN project in Nigeria but World Bank Assisted Project through Science and Technology Education for Post-Basic Education (STEP-B) project and state driven projects such as Lagos Secondary Education project, State Economic Empowerment For Opportunities and Result project  (SEEFOR) for technical colleges in Delta States , EDO Development Policy Operations and State Education Programmatic Investment Project (SEPIP)  in Anambra, Bauchi and Ekiti. Generally, the quantum of Bank support varies and depends on the efforts and commitment of government and main stakeholders.

The STEP-B Project Development Objective (PDO) is for federal post-basic education and research subsector to produce more and better qualified Science and Technology graduates, and higher quality and more relevant research. There are competitive funds for quality enhancement and innovation including improvement of access to basic and applied research through collaboration with industry) and quality and relevance to local and national S&T. The project is also supporting the emergence of 11 Centers of Excellence, ICT and NgREN activities among others. The $180 million project is closing less than one year’s period after more than five years of implementation with almost 70% disbursement rate and achieving the PDO.

Specifically, the project is supporting NgREN horizontally and vertically through post basic education institutions to establish local REN, its regulatory agencies and leveraging on systemic activities through NUC and Federal Ministry of Communication Technology respectively.

In essence and with STEP-B project, we are working very closely with Federal Ministry of Education, Communication Technology and relevant agencies including STEP-B , NUC, NBTE, NCCE , NITDA etc and diverse post basic education institutions in Nigeria such as universities, polytechnics, colleges of education and research institutes through partnership, collaboration and cooperation within/ between institutions and non-state actorssuch as private sector, CSO/NGO, professional association such ICT Forumand other international development partners such as MaC-Arthur Foundation etc.

In a nutshell, the government participants in this conference are in a better position to be more explicit about the “Role of World Bank plays in building Research and Education Network in Nigeria.” I would therefore seek your indulgence to let me focus my presentation on the topic of the conference from my personal perspective as a stakeholder and  focus moreon challenges and opportunities and outline underling and salient premises for Bank’sinterest in NgREN

We are all partners to achieve this noble objective to enhance partnership and collaboration to reduce Bandwidth cost in post basic education institutions, we need to enhance all available opportunities and reduce all the bottlenecks to increase quality and bandwidth access required to improve quality of teaching , learning and research in our education institutions.For us to achieve this it must definitely not be business as usual, we have to innovate and work towards for better partnership, collaboration and cooperation within and between institutions, private sectors and non-government organizations. We need to connect our institutions to global knowledge and information in a most effective and efficient manner (and that is sustainable too).

The world we live in today is one of rapid societal changes, knowledge driven economies and increasing global integration. In such a world better tertiary education can help reduce poverty and inequality, and boost economic growth in many developing countries. REN also stands out as the key to that global economy which increasingly relies on the use of ideas and technology to devise smarter ways of working and doing business. More than ever before, REN could drive a country’s future; it can make the difference between a dynamic economy and a marginalized one.

To realize these REN benefits, policymakers and educational leaders will need to circumnavigate a mix of old and new challenges that crowd the path to better network.  On the one hand are the longstanding issues of access, equity, and quality post basic education. The fundamental question is:  How can we expand coverage, reduce inequalities of access and outcomes, and improve educational quality and relevance in financially sustainable ways?

NgRENwould certainly play a key role in supporting the expansion and diversification of learning system, for example, by training new teachers who will help countries deliver on their 2015 MDG goals.

We need partnership initiatives. The World Bank is ready to align itself with like-minded governments at all levels, stakeholders, and non-state actors including non-governmental organizations to tackle NgREN specific issues together, specifying the results to achieve and resources to contribute, and these should be based on broad guidance for policy-makers on improving policy coherence and integration for the pursuit of the sustainable development goal for post basic education system.

The World Bank and other International development partners are always willing and ready to encourage not only better-quality outcomes from tertiary education in Africa, but also to promote more efficient tertiary education institutions that innovate and respond positively to meaningful performance-based allocation of resources and accountability systems. Such improvements can stimulate economic growth and help to stem the outward flow of highly skilled human capital by supporting cultures of quality and productivity. An example of how to leverage on NgREN is in the area of cloud computing, it will allow governments and businesses to adopt modern ICT without massive up-front investment and by using available skills in a more leveraged way.

Cloud computing” is one of the most hyped ICT concepts of the last 12 months.  Yet behind the hype Cloud is already enabling fundamental changes in the way governments and the private sector design and procures ICT services.  It is not just that Cloud is reducing costs.  It is also changing the dynamics of the ICT market, creating opportunities for innovation and new entrants, and enabling local SMBs to compete with global leaders.  It is also challenging conventional ICT governance and procurement – and governments need to learn how to use the new market to their advantage.

Ladies and gentle men, our understanding is that EduNet conference is the leading internationally recognized conference for Higher Education community in Africa. It is being hosted annually in different tertiary institutions across the continent. This event is meant to create an environment to learn, network with stakeholders in ICT industry, share ideas that will enhance the effective use of the Internet facilities and the new technologies in the university and Institutions of higher learning in Africa and encourage research and technology development.

I will therefore like to seize this opportunity and our presence here today to learn from you and share your vision in how to achieve the objective of this conference.

 

From my own perspective, effectiveness and functioning of NgREN is critical to development of Science and Technology especially as a general purpose platform for knowledge sharing. Broadband networks can help connect scientific data banks and large scale science projects in ways that amplify their utility and impact. NgREN is critical to development of  research in Science and Technology A 10% increase in mobile phone subscribers is associated with a 0.8% increase in economic growth, while a 10% increase in high-speed internet connections is associated, on average, with a 1.3% increase in economic growth, according to a World Bank study.

Key messages from World Bank Study on the Use of ICT to Enhance Teaching and Learning in Post-Basic S&T Education

Development of the use of ICT in education is hampered by the absence of an overall ICT policy and strategy for the education sector .The high total cost of computer ownership is a major uptake constraint. Cost-cutting opportunities are available or anticipated and pockets of good practice exist around which a strategy for effective and affordable ICT in education can be built .Human resource issues such as the shortage of ICT technicians, the low ICT literacy rates among teachers and lecturers and the lack of ICT literacy programs for students must be addressed before full advantage can be taken of teaching and learning opportunities offered by ICT .E-learning strategies and programs are not yet widely developed and there are benefits to be gained from institutional cooperation at this stage of their evolution, particularly in their application to open and distance learning, to take advantage of existing pioneering initiatives. There are however, promising initiatives that can be replicated. ICT opportunities are not yet significant elements of either curricula or teaching and learning materials and there are no well-developed local science and technology learning portals .The computerization of libraries and the evolution of the proposed virtual library offer an opportunity to capitalize on the potential of ICT in education that would have widely felt benefits .

ICT provision/NgREN capability

The availability of information and communication technologies (ICT) in a society correlates highly with a host of human development indicators.NgREN, if accessible, affordable, and used by individuals who have benefited from proper training, has huge potential to increase the accessibility and quality of education and training, expand users’ breadth and depth of skills, facilitate research and share research results, and spawn the creation of networks.

Nigeria’s ICT sector is experiencing rapid expansion amidst major challenges that will determine the ability of the post-basic education institutions to capitalize on the potential of NgREN.

As a result of current government reforms to stimulate competition and private sector investment into the telecommunications sector, Nigeria has one of the fastest growing telecommunication markets in the world.  The number of telephones increased from less than 500,000 subscribers and a tele density of less than one percent in 2000 to nearly 50 million subscribers.  Despite serious problems of accessing the Internet, the number of Internet users increased from a mere 107,194 in 2000 to millions now and as a result Internet penetration levels increased from 0.1 per 100 people in 2000 to about 1.75 per 100 people in 2011.  Until 2002, international connectivity for telephones and the internet was entirely dependent on costly VSAT satellite links.

 

From 2002 the potential for good affordable international connectivity improved dramatically when the submarine cable (SAT-3) established a landing point in Nigeria.  However, the impact of SAT-3 has been less than expected as most Nigeria telecommunications operators and HEIs still use VSATs to connect to other countries and to the Internet because of the lack of investment in a national ICT backbone that links the SAT-3 landing facility to the rest of the country.  As a result most internet traffic in Nigeria, especially Internet traffic between Nigerian universities is routed via the Europe or India via satellite instead of being routed directly though Nigerian landline-based facilities. Things are rapidly changing within the ICT environment as a result of the likely investment in a comprehensive fiber network to attract users onto SAT-3 and away from satellites.

Systemic weaknesses for effective NGREN, characteristic of a system in the early stages of development, must be addressed.  Because a comprehensive policy on ICT in education provision has not yet been implemented, provision of ICT to post-basic education institutions has been uncoordinated and limited to just a few.

 

Broadly and from the World Bank perspectives, the ICT and of course, NgREN challenges confronting the post-basic education sector include the following;

•  Lack of affordable bandwidth

•  An over-dependence on costly proprietary software and limited experience with open source operating systems and software;

•  No agreed standards for computer literacy for both students and lecturers;

•  No agreed standards for minimum physical provision;

•  Limited development of online educational resources including libraries

•  Few ‘ICT opportunities’ in teaching curricula and little development of ICT-based teaching and learning resources;

•  Minimal development of a skilled and affordable technical support structures;

•  Limited ICT capacity among teachers and lecturers;

•  Few cost sharing and cost reduction mechanisms.

 

The use of NgRENhas not yet become institutionalized in higher education institutions although promising practices are emerging.  A national debate is gradually evolving around how NgRENmight best serve the interests of Nigeria’s post-basic education sector.  The Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) has embarked on a Nigerian Universities Network (NgREN ) project to ameliorate this problem; this is a network with nodes in several federal and private universities with a gateway and coordination at NUC.  NgRENas supported by the World Bank Assisted Project under STEP-B is planned to empower the universities to develop capacity and encouraged the development of infrastructural facilities and cooperative cost-reduction ventures.  There have been few similar coordinated or substantial developments through STEP-B as post basic institutions level in Universities Polytechnics and Colleges of Education.  Nigeria ICT Forum , a non-government organization has been established as a not-for-profit organization.  It draws part of its income from private sector donations, development partners and supports the introduction of ICT cost effective bandwidth utilization in education institutions both financially and technically.

The Partnership for Higher Education in Africa has, in recent years been addressing capacity gaps in selected federal universities one of which has been lack of affordable bandwidth.  Their bandwidth consortium has been an initiative operating in a number of African countries, initially with rather limited success but positive signals are emerging from the Nigerian member universities. It is an initiative to bulk-buy bandwidth, and manages it on behalf of its members. The South African TENET (Tertiary Education Network, a not-for-profit company) is the model that is being followed and it will also, through the Partnership, provide bandwidth management training.

The overall picture remains, however, of institutions with improving NgREN/ICT provision and culture among lecturers and teachers.  ICT-literacy is improving but not as a required element of degree programs except for those having an explicit ICT orientation and the wide use of ICT among the student population exists in only a few institutions (examples noted are localized NGREN at University of Ibadan, the University of Jos, University of Lagos, Usman Dan Fodio University Sokoto, and the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ifeetc).

Even when a national fiber optic backbone has been installed, the cost of bandwidth is still beyond the ability of many educational institutions to pay.  The cost of ICT provision is currently at least an order of magnitude higher than it need be.  While the relatively wealthy HEIs will probably be able to afford to purchase the bandwidth they require, this will never be the case for Junior and Senior Secondary Schools.  Providing bandwidth at a cost that matches the institution’s ability to pay is a challenge for the Federal Ministry of Education/NUC /CVC  which must arrange with providers a mechanism for bulk buying and redistributing at an affordable cost.  This suggests the need for either a government subsidy or/and provisions for the wealthier institutions to subsidize services for the poorer ones.

 

Effective expansion and management of ICT educational provision will require innovative cost reduction strategies.  A mix of cost reduction or cost recovery strategies will be required if Nigeria is to move from its current high-cost model to one in which ICT-for-all becomes an attainable goal.  Examples of possible strategies include the evolution of HEI computer centers into companies that recover costs by providing services to the community and the operation of school NgRENfacilities as community/school-based internet cafés, both of which have succeeded elsewhere.

The use of open source software and operating systems would not only reduce long-term licensing costs but also stimulate a local software industry. A cost reduction mechanism with considerable potential is the use of open source operating systems and software.

 

Neither curricula nor learning materials at the post-basic level reflect available opportunities to use ICT.  The use of NgRENas an aid to teaching and learning is very limited and opportunities are not reflected in any curriculum documents or teacher guides.

 

The widespread incorporation of NgRENinto teaching and learning is hampered by lack of, or high cost of, infrastructure and by lack of training.  Even when affordable infrastructure is in place, the magnitude of the task of persuading teachers to make effective use of ICT in their work is considerable and frequently greatly underestimated and goes much further than simply supplying computers to schools and HEIs.  Key to the success of this will be the use of NgREN by teachers in their own learning programs, emphasizing the importance of computer literacy in Teacher Education programs.

 

Effective use of NgREN in teaching and learning requires carefully planned and simultaneous development of all its different elements. These elements include connectivity infrastructure, dedicated educational bandwidth, computer networks in schools, ICT opportunities in the curriculum and digitized course materials available via a dedicated science and technology education portal.  Ensuring the coordinated and simultaneous development of all these will require national planning and strategies implemented in a manner that encourages rather than suppresses, the kind of individual initiative on which it must inevitably depend.  Private sector involvement has been shown elsewhere to be crucial in this process.

 

Effective use of ICT/NgREN in teaching and learning also requires cohesive management structures and institutional arrangements. Compared to other African countries, Nigeria has a large number of promising initiatives on ICTs development both public and, particularly, private.  Yet some of the core constraints to effective exploitation of the benefits of ICTs– backbone infrastructure, bandwidth, human capacity–remain a challenge. Although NITDA has the mandate over the coordination over ICTs development in the country, the policy developed under its aegis does not cover key areas like education.  The three ones strategy adopted for HIV/AIDS–one policy, one strategy and one coordinating body–could have lessons for ICT development as well.

 

NgRENis  well embedded in effective teaching and learning activities worldwide.  There is no shortage worldwide of examples of NgRENbeing used effectively to enhance teaching and learning.  These cover a wide spectrum from on the one hand, comprehensive self-instruction learning platforms to, on the other hand, small examples of ICT being used, particularly in science, to illustrate a small point in a way that the printed medium cannot.  Nigeria

 

The NgRENis currently characterized by a fragmentation of management structures resulting in plans and strategies that that overlap and sometimes conflict, and in policy gaps including lack of  data/planning for competitiveness.  Many of this results in policy gaps, overlaps , centralized or decentralized approach , diverse organization home and unclear mandates. Greater coordination, communication, policy harmonization, and priority setting are required to address this disconnect. There is a need for an overarching national strategy for NgRENand innovation. For full effectiveness, ICT education and NgRENmust be carefully integrated into the broader STI strategy, which in turn would link to other national policies and strategies.

A significant factor militating against a more active learning pedagogical style is the paucity of adequate ICT facilities and materials for practical skills development including under-representation and underachievement of female students in science and technology programs represents both an inequity but also avoidable inefficiency in the system. Mechanisms must be put in place to improve the quality of equipment and facilities available for ICT teaching at all levels as well as for research at the tertiary level. These measures are not limited to simply increasing funds available; collaboration between institutions ( national and international), a more limited focus in programs offered and an improvement in the culture of maintenance are all measures that have the same end.  In the case of university research, funding should be competition-based to provide incentives to enhance efficiency and strengthen collaboration with industry and partnerships among post-basic S&T institutions.

 

National public investment in ICT and its research and development is inadequate and inequitable and this leaves research in higher education institutions under-funded. Alternative mechanisms by which resources are disbursed, such as competitive bidding that encourage collaboration between institutions would encourage the evolution of stronger research traditions. More effective partnerships between the public and private sector should be established. The development of the ICT sector would be greatly enhanced by effective partnerships between public and private institutions.  Existing barriers to this kind of partnership should be removed and ministries should actively facilitate it. The TETFUND and NITDA fund within the Federal Ministry of Education and Federal Ministry of CommunicationTechnology respectively could also be restructured fora more competitive approach to funding ICT for Development with more focus on national priorities and expected result.

 

The key elements of  ICT strategy to leverage on S&T development are currently either absent or exist in uncoordinated isolation including that of improving quality of  S&T research  and development in post-basic education and research institutes, inadequate funding for S&T and development at federal and state level.The current dependence on expensive satellite links is not sustainable and inhibits the widespread introduction of ICT for S&T development.  Current moves to public private partnership within ICT industry ( such as communication ) and to develop a terrestrial fiber backbone must be augmented by strategies to ensure that adequate subsidized bandwidth is available for educational purposes at a cost that matches the ability of the institution to pay.Steps must be taken to address the improvement of terrestrial ICT bandwidth. Policies for information and communication technologies should seek to maximize the access to and flow of knowledge by, inter alia, extending access of available ICT to a wider range of users, improving the regulatory framework to facilitate a conducive environment for ICT growth, and providing training and education to facilitate broader use of ICT

 

With resources so scarce, Nigeria cannot afford to distribute what exists for ICT for research funding evenly across a system characterized by uneven quality, relevance, and output.  Instead, a process of recording, benchmarking, and qualifying the research output of academic, private, and public institutions should precede explicit efforts to consolidate the research system in such a way as to maximize resources and reward excellence.  Targeted funding through competitive tendering would allow centers of excellence to evolve, encourage more involvement by the private sector, and ensure a clearer alignment between research and national needs.  As well, Nigeria may wish to review its allocation to research and development to ensure the funds designated for R&D facilitate high quality research relevant to national needs.

All the federal Universities, Polytechnic, Colleges of Education and Research institutes including ten from Federal Ministry of Science and Technology are currently befitting in the Bank’s Assisted Project (STEP-B) in ICT with partnership, cooperationand  collaboration within education institutions such as OAU for Software engineering etc and of course, leveraging on private sectors and international institute’s participation.

One last point to leverage on NgREN, on moving forward as a positive message –for the ICT future within Nigerian S&T.  There is an emerging paradigm shift in higher education in the world today!

Nigeria can take the lead and leapfrog into the future by taking advantage of this development.

The recent onset of powerful technologies including cloud computing and precise online assessment regimes enabled the launch of a number of top tier university entrants into what is being called the Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) marketplace.  World class universities ranging from Harvard, Stanford, MIT, UC Berkeley, Princeton, U Pennsylvania and Michigan are now providing free, high quality, rigorously assessed and highly accessible online university level education to the masses.

In an unprecedented move within the U.S. higher education industry, top tier universities are making available to the world a wide range of courses from computer science and business through technology,  literature and anthropology, accessible to anyone with internet access via nearly any Wi-Fi or wireless enabled device including computers and tablets and a range of smart phones.

Examples of these new free, online higher education offerings include courses from Udacity, edX and Coursera.  Although assessed completion of most MOOC courses does not currently result in degree credit from participating U.S. universities, in many cases completing a designated set of these MOOC courses provides a level of certification from the sponsoring organization such as Coursera.

Nigerian S&T can take advantage of these MOOC content providers as  disruptive entrants into the higher education industry, but their growth has also provided a foundational university level educational resource upon which Nigeria can build and leverage in a concerted effort to accelerate the development of an S&T  focused human capital pipeline across the country.

With NgREN and aggressive policy shift in Nigerian S&T can for example remove the barriers to entry for the Nigerian youth (there are 1-million Nigerian students who take WAEC, NECO and JAMB, but fewer than 20% actually get places due to limited supply of university/college places.) The biggest barriers include owning a laptop or tablet, and continuous access to the Internet with broadband.  Both can be subsidized by government, or reduced via public private partnership with the largest TELCOs and by private firms who need skilled workforce.

In summary and through existing/on-going project such as STEP-B , Lagos EKO Project etc, the role of the Bank are the following; to support the Federal and state government and its Regulatory Agencies, post basic education institutions through investment activities such as procurement of ICT equipment , bandwidth etc and technical assistance for activities such as capacity building, consultancies etc to achieve the NgREN objectives.

Thank you for listening and looking forward to your positive contributions.

Dr. Olatunde Adekola,Senior Education Specialist, World Bank