Boosting ICT innovations through varsities


Innovation has become a key issue for people interested in explaining and profiting from, the effects of the global economy on cities and regions in the advanced world.

Academics and policy-makers interested in adapting to the impact of globalisation on domestic employment and company margins have identified knowledge-based innovation as the flagship upon which they will retain growth and prosperity.

Varsities wired for innovations
Indeed, universities are wired for developmental purposes. Universities play a pivotal role in higher education as drivers of applied research, innovation, business, entrepreneurship and technology.

They are recognised for promoting open and free enquiries, diversity of ideas and critical thinking to always advance the frontiers of human knowledge.

The creative engagements between universities, industry and their host communities are vital for creating a suitable ecosystem to facilitate steady business/entrepreneurial activities within local and international markets.

With the advent of technology, the world has become more interconnected and interdependent. This is putting added pressure on universities to intensify efforts toward developing sufficient skilled human capital required to drive the digital economy.

Whereas universities in advanced economies are living up to expectations by matching this new pressure, those in the developing countries are yet to adapt to the fast-paced knowledge economy driven by technology.

Unfortunately, analysts believed Nigerian universities are ill-prepared to perform their role as sources of knowledge production to service the ever-evolving tech sector with the requisite manpower and expertise.

Challenges are huge
Major challenges of poor funding, inadequate infrastructure, the dearth of skilled ICT personnel, recurring strike action and the absence of engagements with industry and government hinder universities from contributing to the expansion of emerging technologies and innovations.

But in recognition of these challenges and consistent with its recognition of the academia as a central stakeholder in its commitment to linkages and local development sphere of Nigeria’s telecommunications sector, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) awarded fresh research grants and endowed professorial chairs in some Nigerian universities in the sum of N233 million.

From the total sum, N172.5 million was awarded to support 13 proposals found to have met the stipulated criteria in the advertised 2021 Request for Proposal (RfP) for Telecommunications-Based Research Innovations from Nigerian Tertiary Institutions (research grant) Programme. Additionally, three universities received the sum of N20 million each for the endowment of a professorial chair by the commission.

NCC’s interventions
At the award ceremony in Abuja, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Commission, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, said the event demonstrated the commission’s strong resolve in advancing the impact of digital technologies on the national economy, by using indigenous products and solutions.

While presenting award letters to the Lead Researchers of the beneficiaries of the 13 research grants, Danbatta said, under the Telecommunications-Based Research Innovations, tertiary institutions submit detailed and well-thought-out research proposals, on specific thematic areas provided by the commission. The proposals are expected to result in the development of commercially-viable prototypes as concrete harvests.

According to Danbatta, in 2021 RfP, the commission received a total of 55 research proposals that focused on five emerging technology areas, namely: Fifth Generation (5G) deployment; Innovative Clean Energy; Advanced Method of Quality of Service (QoS)/Quality of Experience Management and Test Mechanism; Internet of Things (IoT); Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) Technology; and Monitoring and Localising of Drones.

“After thorough evaluations, 13 proposals were found to have met the stipulated criteria. Indeed, this is a clear testimony to the objectivity and painstaking approach to the evaluation process aimed at ensuring that the best quality is achieved and only research that could produce prototypes with the potential of providing solutions to both local and global challenges were selected,” Danbatta said.

The EVC also presented dummy cheques of N20 million each to the Vice-Chancellors of three Nigerian universities, namely: University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State; Usman Danfodio University, Sokoto and Federal University of Technology, Minna, Niger State, who are the beneficiaries of the NCC’s Professorial Chair Endowments.

“The Commission has endowed professorial chairs in tertiary institutions across the country, as a mechanism in entrenching innovations in our tertiary institutions, as well as having industry-ready graduates.

“The endowment of professorial chairs in universities is one of Commission’s initiatives in supporting the academia to focus on research in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to enhance the advancements of emerging technologies,” Danbatta stated, to underscore the purpose for instituting professorial chairs in tertiary institutions.

The fresh endowment in the three universities brings to seven, the number of universities that the Commission has endowed professorial chairs. Earlier, the NCC had instituted professorial chairs in the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, Imo State; Bayero University, Kano, Kano State; Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi State and the University of Ibadan, Oyo State.

Meanwhile, the EVC stated that while the implementation of the endowment is through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the commission and each benefitting university just as the Commission recently included the sighing of MoU as part of the implementation of the Telecommunications-Based Research Innovations.

The EVC stated that with the latest awards and endowments, the commission has committed more than N660 million to Nigerian tertiary institutions for ICT-focused research innovations. This is in demonstration of commitment to driving the attainment of the goals of the Federal Government’s agenda on the digital economy, as captured in the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS), 2020-2030.

Importance of collaboration
At the event, NCC’s Head of Research and Development (HRD), Kelechi Nwankwo, thanked the EVC for his vision to continually deepen collaboration between the commission and the academia. Nwankwo expressed optimism that the Management of the Commission would continue to allocate the requisite resources to research, development and innovations that are necessary for the industry to continue to contribute to the socio-economic development of the country.

The HRD said the policy-driven initiatives were instituted as a proof of the Commission’s appreciation of the importance of working with stakeholders to engender innovations and build indigenous technological capabilities that would strengthen the ICT ecosystem, not only in the provision of services but also in the development of the communications manufacturing and supply sector within the Nigerian economy.

He said collaborations such as the one with academia are in line with the NCC’s Strategic Management Plan (SMP), 2020-2024 because strategic partnering has been identified as a critical pillar for the attainment of NCC’s corporate objectives.

Nwankwo encouraged the beneficiaries of the research grants and the universities that benefited from the endowment of professorial chairs, to put the financial resources into proper use that will produce research outputs that address societal problems and contribute to further growth of the telecoms sector.

Expressing appreciation on behalf of the beneficiaries, the Vice-Chancellor, Usman Danfodio University, Prof. Lawal Bilbis, assured the Commission that the funds would be put to judicious use.

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