Exploring Partnerships for improved Higher Education delivery

So I continue the series on cost effective measures through which Nigerian higher education institutions (HEIs) could improve the quality of education delivery, with a focus on: exploring partnerships. By partnerships I mean mutually beneficial relationships between HEIs and a range of external bodies, potentially the private sector, government institutions, other HEIs (locally and internationally), bilateral and multilateral organisations, developmental NGOs and research institutes.

Globally, HEIs are increasingly establishing partnerships which broadly cover innovation research, assessments (impact assessments, needs assessments, new measurement tools, etc) and staff development training. These partnerships are somewhat beneficial to both the HEIs and individual researchers in different ways. They serve as avenues through which faculty members access funds for short and long term research, gain resources to attend professional conferences and enhance opportunities for community engagement. While individual researchers could access these resources, as is the case much of the time in Nigeria, institutional partnerships are always the preferred route to mutually beneficial long term partnerships. Thus this is an area where Nigerian HEIs could draw on to support the improvement of higher education quality by the way of access by faculty (and non-faculty staff) to resources for their research and effective HEI- ‘community’ interface – so that the community knows the about outputs from the HEIs.

As a first step towards the establishment of such partnerships, HEIs need to develop strategies which show clearly their future directions. They need to show where their strengths lie, areas of weaknesses and highlight the opportunities and threats. This approach is a key avenue to demonstrate HEIs’ capability to optimally utilise potential support from partners. These strategies need to be inclusive, and the processes of developing them need to be robust taking into account the contributions of all actors including students, faculty and non-faculty. Traditionally, such a strategy needs to show the vision, goals and future plans of the HEIs. Such a strategy should also have real world value and show the benefits of the planned agenda for research and community.

By highlighting their strengths and showing clear future directions, HEIs could position themselves to be equal partners with their external counterparts, thereby establishing symbiotic rather than parasitic relationships. This view is also relevant within the context of my prior calls for the establishment of ‘centres for excellence’ in particular fields. HEIs know where their greatest strengths lie. Could they focus on becoming the best in those areas? Although HEIs need to strive to provide the best possible quality of teaching and learning in all fields in which they offer courses, they could focus on setting higher standards in the areas where they have the greatest comparative advantage.

So with what types of institutions could these partnerships be formed? As I noted earlier, they could be institutions of the private sector, government bodies, international institutions, other HEIs and public facilities such as museums and zoos. Not all these institutions have financial resources to provide equipment on campus and different approaches should be adopted for each of them. For example multinational firms could establish professorial chairs (though I note that this is already the case in some HEIs, particularly Universities). Furthermore, they could support scholarships for Masters and PhD studies in research areas that are relevant to their field of operations and which are in line with the HEIs development strategy. HEIs could also establish innovation funds which could be jointly managed between them and the private sector.

In addition, HEIs could establish business partnerships with the private sector in the areas of students’ housing and information and communication technologies (ICTs). In the area of housing, there is a perennial need, and while HEIs lack the capacity to build decent student accommodation – in many cases, they have sufficient land. They could use these partnerships to provide modern housing for their students on campus through housing partnerships with the private sector. The same can be said about e-libraries, e-learning and the integration of modern ICTs into the HEI system. (By the way some HEIs charge ‘ICT’ levies,’ and others charge ‘development levies’ – these could be already existing means of funds for user fees.) This is an area where the private sector has the needed capacity, and HEIs could use the PPP model to access private sector monies beyond the development of online portals for student enrolment and payment of fees.

The HEIs could also establish exchange programmes which enable their faculty and students to spend time (a semester to one year) at another local or international HEI at equivalent level or a local public institution, for example a zoo or museum. The present structure of the student industrial work experience scheme (SIWES) almost leaves students at the mercy of potential employers, and for many students, there is very limited benefit, as they are made to undertake menial tasks rather than those specific to their area of training. Institutions could make this scheme more beneficial to students by working out the partnerships directly with the ’employing’ institutions and ‘sponsoring’ their students directly on the SIWES. In relation to exchanges, it is possible for Nigerian HEIs to work out partnerships with equivalent African (or international) HEIs to enable their students spend a semester at those institutions (this already exists for some courses for example international languages). These all provide opportunities for learning for the students and provide the highest benefit in terms of the quality of learning for both faculty and students.

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