Theme was “Re-engineering University graduates for relevance in Industry”
1st Faculty of Arts Public Lecture of the Lead City University, held at the Main Hall, International Conference Centre, Lead City University, Ibadan, 16th May, 2023.
Re-engineering University Graduates for Relevance in Industry
Prof Sunday Enessi Ododo, fsonta, fta, fsna, fana, fnipr, faan, FNAL
National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos
On the 22nd of March this year, I received a WhatsApp message from Dr Emmanuel Ebere Uzoji of the Department of the Performing arts and Film Studies of your great University, Lead City, requesting my kind availability to deliver the maiden Faculty of Arts Public Lecture. He further shared with me his mandate from Prof Donald A Odeleye to kindly “suggest 2 names of “crowd puller” guest lecturer so we may select one, please”. According to Dr Uzoji, when my name came up, there was unanimity to settle for me if I would be available. I did not hesitate to accept because I see the invitation as an endorsement of my relevance in industry. And also, a rare privilege and opportunity to interact with the staff and great students of Lead University, most especially the Thespians in this shining citadel of learning. I am therefore more than happy to be here regardless of the subtle reminders of Dr Uzoji that the lecture must be ready well ahead of time.
Established in 2005, Lead City University has made some steady and significant growth. The university currently boasts of nine faculties containing a number of departments offering various accredited academic programs at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels of education. It has graduated ten sets of over 5000 students since its inception. It has promoted educational development at both the Tertiary and non-tertiary levels especially in the City of Ibadan. In its eighteen years of existence, Lead City University has not ceased to grow, ranging from the infrastructural growth rate of the university, which surpasses that of many government-owned universities in the country. Lead City University boasts of state-of-the-art facilities that did not come through TETFUND support or other government-assisted funding. The university also offers grants, fellowships and scholarship programs.
It is important to salute the vision of the founders of Lead City University to be a “centre of excellence, a unique, urban-based University, specialising in Social Sciences, Law, Applied Sciences, Information and Communication Technology” by providing qualitative access to knowledge and training, with innovative and challenging teaching techniques that guarantee a balanced education. This first Faculty of Arts public lecture is deliberately crafted to emphasise the mission of the university and we are privileged to have been identified to deliver this lecture. It is honouring for me and the National Theatre of Nigeria, where I am currently on the saddle as the General Manager/CEO.
Science and the arts have both been at loggerheads and in tandem at various stages of the evolution and development of human society. At one time or the other each of their aspects have been banned and the practitioners ostracized and even killed in some instances. The period which is most known for such treatments of the arts and the sciences is often referred to as the Dark Ages. But we are in the age of light today and art and science have become reinvigorated and crucial to life and society. We are witnessing tremendous advancements in technology, engineering, entertainment and aesthetics.
The university has at one time or the other served in critical ways in championing ground-breaking innovations which altered the course of history and set the world in great developmental balance. However, society today seems to be progressing through the innovations of its industries than the research outcomes of universities. The curriculum of the universities seems to be operating in a long-forgotten age of darkness, as society and its industries have left them behind and indeed emerged into light. These industries have even set up institutes and training centres to give fresh orientations to graduates who may wish to work with them, thus delegitimizing the university education that they might have acquired. It is this worrisome trend which suggests that our universities are not producing industry-relevant graduates and the need to do something about it that has inspired the central theme of Re-engineering university graduates for relevance in industry to which we are speaking today.
The Universal Idea of the University
In an 1893 book entitled The Idea of a University, the author, John Henry Cardinal Newman had inferred that “the university is a place of teaching universal knowledge. This implies that its object is, on the one hand, intellectual, not moral; and on the other, that it is the diffusion and extension of knowledge rather than the advancement”. This assertion is important on several grounds. One is that the university is a place where knowledge is acquired in various fields to include science, medicine, art and humanities. Another is that it is not a place for sermonizing but for nurturing the mind to solve problems. It also alludes that the university is for the regurgitation of these ideas and concepts and not the breaking of new frontiers. Over time, universities have extended the limits of these assertions and have greatly extended and revolutionized the world and how it is perceived. Universities, today, are there to help us make sense of the world through knowledge production, innovation, research and critical analysis for the advancement of humanity through the insistence on integrity and logic. The modern university had attempted to disengage from religious and moralist inclinations with the establishment of universities;
based on the idea of the intellectual division of labour and the segregation of teaching and research based on disciplinary models and labels of the Natural Sciences, the Social Sciences, and the Humanities (Studio Humanitatis). In the early modern period of the university idea, medicine was concerned with sanitation, care and cure, healing and the Nominalist idea the doctors should seek to disenchant nature in order to know its inner workings or hidden structures so as to find the basis of cure and healing, and in some cases, the prevention of disease and infection. (Bello-Kano 2021).
The idea of the university today is at a crossroads and in a state of contradictory flux. The attempt, for instance, to separate religion from intellectual practice appears to have led us to times when the university no longer serves to drive innovation in society. Bello-Kano (2021) reports that:
Today, we have many doctors and scientists who are devoutly religious and who see care or healing, despite their reliance on, and application of modern bio-technology and pharmaceuticals, and medical procedures as part of the transcendent and the transcendental. Yet even in the very or the most modern universities, not much new knowledge is produced in the technical, technological, scientific, and social and humanistic knowledge. Although one sees new books being churned out by the major international and local publishers and book circuits, it is still the huge corporations that produce cutting-edge knowledge, corporations and technology and car and communication and cultural capital companies such as Toyota, Tesla, BMW, Siemens Apple, Google, Ali Baba, and a host of relatively smaller but rich and endowed companies that produce new or exploit the well-known circuits of old knowledge, the treasure-house of knowledge production. These knowledge-producing companies design the new technologies of the modern world, namely airplanes, jets, computers, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, cars, bullet trains, new-fangled bridges and bridge designs, nuclear stations, roads, and sophisticated weapons of warfare and crowd control.
These contradictions have led us to a state where graduates no longer fit into industries even after studying for years in university programs.
The Labour Market and What the University Must Be
Unlike the universities and the graduates produced, the labour market is driven by market forces dependent on competence, creativity and profit. Hence, there is an automatic dichotomy in orientation between the two establishments. The labour market needs a workforce that can apply skills to generate profit. Universities appear to merely provide knowledge, with little or no practical orientation to its graduates to prepare them for life after the university or even efficiency and proficiency to fit into the labour market. It is estimated that “each year, universities and polytechnics admit close to 2 million students and produce about 600,000 graduates” (Ukazu, 2021).
Aririahu (2022) had identified ten reasons why Nigerian graduates are not employable. These reasons are;
- Lack of employability skills
- No emphasis is laid on entrepreneurship in the curriculum
- The quality of training is not in sync with the situation of the society
- The criterion of job experience with long years of practice is not favourable
- Lecturers do not possess current knowledge
- Students are apathetic to education
- No plans after the compulsory one-year National service
- Employers are more interested in how much they can make off their employees
- Lack of skilful knowledge
- Corruption on the part of the leaders
Lawal (2018) also reported that Prof. Chris Onalo has identified that the universities, which are complaining of poor funding, are to blame for the unemployability of graduates who lack knowledge and skillsets to survive in an ever-changing labour market, obsolete curriculum and lack of partnerships and collaborations between universities and the labour market.
To fill what they consider as a major deficit among university graduates and make them employable, organizations and companies alike have instituted internship programmes and established training institutes to re-engineer graduates to fit into their systems and orientation.
Re-engineering Humanities & Social Sciences students for job creation and relevance
Even though this is a faculty of arts lecture, please permit me to include the humanities and Social Science to foreground my discourse in Re-engineering University Graduates for Relevance in Industry.
The Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) are often regarded as less valuable or less practical than the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) in terms of career prospects and economic contribution. However, I want to challenge this perception and argue that HSS students have much to offer to society and the economy if they are properly equipped with the skills and competencies that are relevant and in demand in the 21st century.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, Nigeria’s unemployment rate rose to 33.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2020, the highest in over 13 years and the second-highest rate globally, and is expected to hit 40 percent by the end of this quarter. Among the unemployed population, 61.6 percent were aged between 15 and 34 years old, indicating a serious challenge for the youth in finding decent and productive work. Moreover, Nigeria’s labour force participation rate declined from 72.9 percent in 2018 to 66.7 percent in 2020, suggesting that many people have given up on looking for work or have opted for informal or subsistence activities.
On the other hand, Nigeria’s higher education system has expanded significantly in recent years, with the number of universities increasing to 170 in 2023. In the academic year 2020/2021, Nigerian universities counted 1.7 million undergraduate students and 234 thousand postgraduate students. Among undergraduate students, 44% were female, and 56% were male. The most popular disciplines were Education (19 percent), Social Sciences (18 percent), Engineering (14 percent), Administration (13 percent), and Arts (10 per cent). (I use figures from 2020/2021 as 2022 was Annus horribilis – a horrible year for education in Nigeria due to the long strike that kept students off campus for months).
However, there is a mismatch between the labour market’s supply and demand for skills. According to a survey by Jobberman in 2020, employers identified critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, innovation, communication, teamwork, leadership, emotional intelligence, and digital literacy as the most sought-after skills for hire. However, only 10 percent of employers were satisfied with the quality of the graduates they hired. Furthermore, only 30 percent of graduates are reported to have received any form of career guidance or counselling during their studies.
Therefore, there is an urgent need to re-engineer HSS students for job creation and relevance. By re-engineering, I mean transforming the curriculum, pedagogy, assessment, and support systems of HSS programmes to align them with the current and future needs of society and the economy. I propose four key strategies for achieving this goal:
1) Incorporate interdisciplinary and experiential learning opportunities into HSS programs. HSS students should be exposed to diverse perspectives and disciplines that can enrich their understanding of complex and interconnected issues. They should also have opportunities to apply their knowledge and skills in real-world settings through internships, projects, field trips, service learning, etc.
2) Enhance digital literacy and competence among HSS students. HSS students should be able to use digital tools and platforms effectively for research, communication, collaboration, creativity, and innovation. They should also be aware of digital technologies’ ethical, legal, social, and environmental implications.
3) Foster entrepreneurial mindset and skills among HSS students. HSS students should be able to identify opportunities, generate ideas, develop solutions, test assumptions, iterate prototypes, pitch proposals, secure funding, launch ventures, manage risks, measure impact, etc. They should also be able to collaborate with others across sectors and disciplines.
4) Provide career guidance and mentoring for HSS students. HSS students should be able to explore their interests, strengths, values, goals, and aspirations. They should also be able to access reliable information on labour market trends, opportunities, challenges, and expectations.
They should also be able to connect with mentors, role models, networks, and resources that can support their career development and transition.
Collaboration with the National Theatre
The National Theatre can help students develop their interdisciplinary thinking skills and apply them to real-world problems. Students can learn to communicate effectively across disciplines and audiences, research using various methods and sources, and evaluate learning outcomes. The Bankers’ Committee is establishing four creative hubs in fashion, music, film, and ICT in the National Theatre. When ready, they will have the capacity to create over 8000 direct jobs and 250 thousand indirect jobs, presenting opportunities for graduates of theatre arts, computer science and those aspiring to work in the creative industry after graduation.
Re-engineering HSS students for job creation and relevance is possible and necessary for Nigeria’s social and economic development. HSS students have a lot of potentials and values to contribute to the development of the country if they are strategically prepared and equipped for the task. The above discussion evinces that the task is necessary and that it requires collaboration among universities, employers, students, and policymakers. By adopting a more interdisciplinary approach to education, fostering employability skills and career readiness, and collaborating with industry partners, we can prepare students for the changing demands of work and equip them with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in their careers. This effort can also contribute to our community’s and country’s economic and social development.
On a general note, while considering the documented contribution of Nigeria to the creative industries business in which performing arts is a major index, Nwonkwo argues that,
Nigeria’s film, music and creative writing sectors are grounded in their global relevance and the visibility they brought to the country…These sectors not only play an intermediary role in the linkages between Nigeria and its diasporas but also create a pipeline for employment, innovation and economic growth (p. 4).
Going by this assertion, it is no surprise to state here that, the performing arts, among other creative arts have recently been identified as major drivers of the Nigerian economy. Every university is therefore encouraged to mount theatre arts/performing arts programme and pay adequate attention to its growth and sustenance. It is here that the creative ingenuity and attributes of our youth can find artistic and educative expressions with rewarding economic gains. The performing arts is a very viable programme for entrepreneurship and self-reliance.
Recommendations – what can universities do?
There is a general review and reconfiguration of the Benchmark Minimum Academic Standard (BMAS) across Nigerian Universities being driven by the National Universities Commission (NUC) with the aim of bringing the universities up to speed with recent trends and skillsets required in society and by corporations and organizations. This initiative, known as Core Curriculum Minimum Academic Standard (CCMAS), would go a long way in shaping and preparing university graduates to become more relevant and competitive in their specializations. This is because programs in the universities would now be taught to reflect current realities of the 21st century.
Universities need to start divesting knowledge to include entrepreneurial orientation and skills. This way, graduates are not only prepared to make organizations and companies they would work for more profitable but would also develop a consciousness of self-employment and business mindedness thereby becoming employers of labour themselves.
Universities should encourage the inclusion of Industrial Trainings and SIWES in their programmes in order to provide the necessary exposure for students before they finally graduate. This way, graduates would have a good understanding of the intersections and interconnections in terms of theory and practice between the university community and society at large. This would also count as part of their years of experience when applying for jobs in organizations that make such a requirement.
Lecturers also require the exposure of practice outside the four walls of the university. It has been argued that some lecturers become complacent and lose track of current trends in their fields of study. This gap could be filled if training and research funds are made available for them to collaborate and share experiences with other colleagues and professionals in their fields or with common interdisciplinary interests across global scales. It is quite important that lecturers possess current knowledge and skills in an ever fast changing society.
The general disillusionment with formal/university education on the part of the youths is a major cause for concern. There is a pervasive disinclination with the education structure and an impatient yearning to become rich and famous instantaneously on the part of this population. It is important therefore that our universities become hubs that challenge the minds and skills of students in order to make them capable of surviving outside the four walls of the university. The university needs to become more attractive in such a way that draws the interests of young people and rewards them financially as they move from one level to the other even unto graduation.
Above all, I recommend the infusion of the concept of the total man in university training. It is imperative to note that man in this context does not translate to gender. There are two sides of this concept; ‘Totality’ – the state of wholeness and ‘Man’ – human nature as a concept that denotes the fundamental dispositions and characteristics including ways of thinking, feeling, and acting.
According to Christopher Ryan, “The limits of man make his existence a possibility. Hence, our finitude is both contingent and fundamental. Locating man in the transcendental subject displaces him from the empirical. But explaining man in terms of the empirical (economics, psychology, biology) also uproots man from what is transcendental. Husserl’s grounding of man in the transcendental subject, A Kantian synthesis of “man as subject” and “man as object,” reduces everything to pure thought. But “what I am” is always more than “what I think.” Heidegger attempts to solve this paradox by suggesting that our mode of being is a “being-in-the-world”… Heidegger’s being has failed to see all the suffering and pain in the world. Yet, in treating man as a result of historical forces (Hegel, Marx), we also encounter the duality of man as both the maker and the product of the same history—another paradox. So, who is this being we call ‘man’?”
Man is a product of “discursive formations” and of the “sociopolitical contingencies” of the various epochs of human history. The concept of ‘man’ is beyond grammar and logic let alone his totality.
The concept of the total man is a school of thought and the first thing that comes to mind is man as absolute; a unity and holistic being. This concept is ambiguous because it is deep rooted in the evolution of man and ranges from science, philosophy, secular or religious doctrines.
Paul Tillich states that;
Since man includes all elements of reality, every stratum of being, it is necessary to use all methods in order to deal with him adequately. He is the microcosmos, the description of which should not neglect any tool used in the description of the macro-cosmos. Therefore, it is wrong to make one method of approaching man the only one or to subordinate all other methods to one single approach, whether the theological method in early times or the rationalistic method in modern times or the empirical method today.
This implies that we must avoid any atomism of methods as in each method, elements appear which drive the others; that the empirical approach cannot be used without elements discovered by the rationalistic method; and that this in turn presupposes certain elements furnished by theology. The methods of studying human nature should be neither exclusive nor merely atomistic and summative, but dialectical and mutually interdependent.
It is therefore on this premise that I dare define the ‘total man’ as the science, the art and the divinity of man; touching down man’s body, soul and spirit.
A total man can be seen as a spiritual individual who is a tripartite being that exists in the consciousness of the fullness of God, having been made in God’s image and likeness and given the mandate of dominion. A total man can also be seen as a comprehensive individual who operates above his potentialities, exploring the purpose and pursuit of life principles for making the most of life and actualizing dominion status. Whether spiritual or otherwise, one thing is constant in ‘the total man’ and that is; dominion in purpose through liberty.
Man is an open architecture with the ability to modify and reprogram himself as it pleases him. Even though certain factors like belief, society, family, religion, culture, etc, influence his decision, it is still his sole decision to deviate or conform to their norms. Our maker and nature as the case may be has entrusted in man everything he needs for existence and dominance. The totality of man begins with man’s existence; hence Existentialism which emphasizes the individual’s freedom, responsibility, and subjective experience in the face of an indifferent and meaningless world of enlightenment and blind prejudice; generosity and narcissism; benevolence and malevolence; good day and bad day; clarity and blind spot; outstanding in some ways, deplorable in others. The concept emphasizes man’s existence as a unique and subjective entity, rather than as an object subject to external forces.
This concept supports that individuals must create meaning and purpose in their own lives through their choices and actions, rather than relying on pre-existing cultural or societal norms. They also emphasize the importance of personal authenticity and integrity, encouraging individuals to confront the anxiety, uncertainty, and absurdity of existence head-on.
The totality of man is the holistic concept which is the essence of human existence which deals with the dynamism, potentiality and purposefulness of the human person. This exerts that man is responsible to life to discover his meaning and do so intentionally. Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he should recognize that it is he who is asked. In other words, man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible as well embrace freedom and take meaningful action in full acceptance of whatever consequences may arise as a result.
This concept in the end boils down to knowing what truth is; Is it man who has the power to define who he is or is it the truth that gives him the power and, thus, the ability to describe himself? The truth, however, belongs to no one and like they say, is relative! Scholarship is essentially the search for the truth for the benefit of society and mankind. Our advocacy for the infusion of the concept of the total man in our educational training and pursuit of knowledge is a call for redemption of falling and failing moral status of our young ones; a call to understand dignity of labour; a reorientation of our social norms and ethical standards for a healthy society. Viewed in African parlance, it is a call to imbibe the tenets of Omoluabi and Ubuntu.
An omoluabi is a person of honour who believes in hard work, respects the rights of others, and gives to the community in deeds and in action. Above all, an omoluabi is a person of integrity. The omoluabi concept signifies courage, hard work, humility and respect. An omoluabi is a person of honour who believes in hard work, respects the rights of others, and gives to the community in deeds and in action. Above all, an omoluwabi is a person of integrity.
Ubuntu is an ancient African word meaning ‘humanity to others’. It is often described as reminding us that ‘I am what I am because of who we all are’. Ubuntu is said to include the following values: communality, respect, dignity, value, acceptance, sharing, co-responsibility, humaneness, social justice, fairness, personhood, morality, group solidarity, compassion, joy, love, fulfilment, conciliation, et cetera. Omoluabi and Ubuntu are concrete representation of the universals in human essence. We live at time where there is fragrant disregard for human essence as bandits, kidnappers destroy lives recklessly. We must therefore make conscious efforts as educational institutions and trainers/moulders of minds instil in our young ones and old alike, African humanism as expressed in Omoluabi and Ubuntu to coexist peacefully in a saner and safe environment.
The idea of the university is to provide intellection and innovation that would advance life and society. This should be the vision of our Nigerian Universities. They should also promote approaches which equip students, and ultimately graduates, with skills that are relevant to contemporary society and which align with current trends and breakthroughs. The university should be positioned as a citadel of knowledge committed to guiding the pace and success of research and innovation that are driven by societal needs. Synergizing with relevant industries, organizations and private research centres in university training will enhance the capacity of our graduates in nation building.
Thank you for your kind attention.
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Bello-Kano, I. (2021). The Treasure-House of Signs: The University-as-Pastiche. A Lecture presented at a Faculty Lecture in Bayero University Kano.
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Unemployment: Too many graduates fighting for too few jobs (universityworldnews.com)
Newman, J.H.C. (1893). The Idea of a University. London: Longmans, Green and Co.
Ododo, S.E. 2022. “Understanding the Value Chain in the Nigerian Cultural and Creative Industry” in Ododo Sunday and Ezenwanebe Osita (eds) Duro Oni: Art, Design and Life. Lagos: National Theatre.
Tillich, P. 1939, ‘The Conception of Man in Existential Philosophy’, The Journal of Religion, vol. 19, no. 3, pp. 201-215. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1198504;
Ukazu, I. (2021). Too Many Graduates Fighting for Too Few Jobs.