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Rethinking University Research Commercialisation: The $8mn OAK-Park Example

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Universities are known for striving to make positive impact through knowledge sharing. One critical aspect of such impact is measured in their ability to move research results from the laboratory or clinic into new or improved products and services in the marketplace.

The success in translating the research results into practice not only accelerates the beneficial aspects of the researches, but also has a major positive impact on the country’s economy while boosting the students’ confidence.

No doubt, this is an important role for a university in today’s knowledge-driven economy and one area in which our universities have opportunities to do better.

For a long time, the tertiary institutions have remained rightfully proud of growing leadership at the frontiers of research, but lacking in translating that knowledge into commercial products.

Well, the narration is changing, especially with the recent announcements by the top management of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile Ife, in Lagos.

To build a center of excellence in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as a training hub in software engineering for Nigeria and other countries in the sub-region, is not a child’s play.

Just last week at Sheraton Hotel, Ikeja- Lagos State, the Pro-Vice Chancellor and the Vice Chancellor of the famous university became the chief marketing officers of a new project about to be launched.

The one-day academia-industry engagement was an opportunity for the OAU team to lay bare the new thinking on connecting the academia and the industry players, while presenting the OAU-ICT Driven Knowledge Park (OAK-Park).

The Vice Chancellor Prof. Eyitope Ogunbodede, speaking at the event backed by the Nigeria Computer Society (NCS) and the Computer Professionals (Registration Council of Nigeria), said that the gathering was converged to strengthen the School’s relationship with the industry players, primarily, for the benefits of the students.

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He noted that the OAK-Park will be an ICT training hub in software engineering for Nigeria and other countries in the sub-region.

Prof. Ogunbodede, added that the park will produce the next generation of scientists, researchers, teachers, entrepreneurs and product developers in the area of ICT through appropriate practice-anchored capacity building measures and enrolling new postgraduate students from Nigeria and the sub-region.

The new thinking gladdens the heart as the ‘town and gown’ are closing ranks to find solutions to Nigeria’s multifaceted challenges.

Essentially, the centre will actively provide launchpad platform for new tech companies to emerge and support for the existing ones. This was aptly captured by President of the Nigeria Computer Society, Professor Adesola Aderoumu, and one of the brains behind the project.

He described OAK-Park as would provide the launch pad for start-up companies borne out of university research activities, and collaboration with partnering ICT companies, who will have the competitive advantage of proximity and direct access to the intellectual infrastructure and output of the university. This is the model that gave rise to Silicon Valley being celebrated globally today.

“The Park will also ensure systematic incubation of research ideas and products from OAU and other partner HEIs such that the creative/innovative energy of the teeming youths in Nigeria and the sub-region is harnessed into ICT entrepreneurial endeavours using appropriate skill-enhancing training and mentoring.

Prof. Aderounmu who doubles as the ACE Co-Centre Leader, said the hub will provide excellent training for national and regional students for Masters and PhD degree programmes in ICT and related disciplines.

OAU plan for innovation

The African Centre of Excellence OAK-Park is an $8million World Bank sponsored project that will not only assist in commercialising research findings, but will cement a broaden the academia-industry engagement.

The OAK-Park boasts of a twin 750-seater e-testing centre fully air-conditioned for computer based assessments; two tele-presence facilities for online, real-time communication; 7.7 terabytes cloud computing services; data centre servicing 400 computer nodes; cybersecurity research laboratory, post-graduate research ICT laboratory, amongst others.

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The missing link at the engagement forum

As sound and laudable the project it and the pious leadership exhibited by the OAU team, we don’t think the one-day discussion is supposed to ‘solve’ a problem in any permanent. What it has achieved is re-starting a conversation on the ‘town and gown’; the linkage between those in the ivory towers and the community (industry).

It simply shows that the Universities are beginning to understand the need not to exist in isolation; now connecting with the larger community.

So, OAU has amplified its point, by coming to Lagos which is the heart of technology innovation in Nigeria. This is where 40% of Nigeria’s GDP is generated; where, perhaps, 60% of the manufacturers’ association membership is.

But, why we felt somehow disappointed that the organisers couldn’t rally people from the agric sector, transportation, manufacturing/processing, oil and gas and others. It is our believe that ACE Team will address this in future.

Their absent still amplified the point: there is disconnect between the academia and the industry which must be urgently addressed if we are going to make headway in the new frontiers.

Need to grow knowledge-driven society

Yes, it is understandable we have managed to create a country that is not knowledge-driven and societies built on the premise don’t go far.

Managing Director/CEO, InfoGraphics Nigeria, Mr. Chinenye Mba-Uzoukwu, puts it succinctly, “You can’t say becoming a top politician- a Governor, Senator or Minister has to do with your knowledge. That is the first disconnect we have created in the society.

“Secondly, we are not a productive oriented society. When you have knowledge, it almost carries imperative urge to do something for your society. So, you can’t know something and will not try to do something. If you know how to make a rain, you will try to something whenever there is drought.

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“Knowledge itself has an inbuilt imperative to do solve problems. Doing something generally is about improving things; fixing things. Once deemphasise knowledge from your society, then you will not be doing things. So, it shouldn’t surprise us we don’t have a production rather a consumption and distribution society. It will make sense that the Universities show their importance to us and the society. It is their outputs that go into production via technology and services”.

In all, we support OAK-Park moves as the management takes the bold steps to develop the next generation of scientists, researchers, teachers, entrepreneurs and product developers in the area of ICT through appropriate practice-anchored capacity building measures and enrolling new postgraduate students from Nigeria and the sub-region.

We are aware that universities like the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), Ahamdu Bello University (ABU), and others are pursuing similar agenda, it now behoves on the industry to embrace the hand of fellowship been extended to them.

It is also commendable that companies like Chams Plcs and Sidmach Technologies Nigeria Limited, have bought into OAK-Park project, while urging others to join the league. Hope is rising for Nigeria.

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