The International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) conducted a study recently on the effectiveness of email contact services of a sample of federal universities across the country and found that the contact email addresses of most universities were not responsive to inquiries. The emails, with few exemptions, were not functional. This is a measure of the level of digitisation of the universities. The study noted that poor digitisation of the universities comes at a great cost. Internally, it ensures inefficiency in the administration of the universities, leading to poor information management and sluggish communication processes. Because processes of fee payment, course registration, update of personal records and clearance are done in an analogue format, students and staff suffer delays and stress. Fresh students are “subjected to long hours of school fee payment, course registration and medical tests every session. It is a routine to see students on campus jumping from one queue to the other and from one office to the other at the beginning of a semester,” the study noted.
The study also affirmed that many applicants to foreign universities lost admission to those universities because their alma mater failed to supply transcripts in time or respond to inquiries. The universities themselves must have lost a number of opportunities for research collaboration and student and staff exchange programmes as a result of non-functional contact emails. The cost of non-digitisation of the universities is therefore enormous. Furthermore, the study emphasised that lack of funds is not largely responsible for the situation. A lot has to do with the sociocultural environment of the universities. The universities pay lip service to information management and communication technology and their leadership is not committed to digitisation. Even when the universities have a digital policy, such policies are never implemented. It is indeed disheartening that “Despite having departments of computer science and engineering, most tertiary institutions do not take advantage of the ICT resources provided by these departments.”
The situation in Nigerian universities contrasts with the global trend among universities where digitisation has become a major driver of efficiency. A lot of premium is placed on digitisation in the ranking of universities given the big role it plays in their economic, administrative, academic, and research practices. Indeed, administrators, faculty, staff, and students benefit from digitisation as it creates a new culture based on flexibility, speed and transparency in the organisation of higher education.
We think that Nigerian universities should not be left behind in the advantageous use of digitisation to strengthen administration, research, teaching and learning. While the complete transformation of universities into smooth-running digital machines may be challenging, there are some basic measures that could be taken to promote efficiency and flexibility in the administrative and academic life of the universities with minimum financial outlay. For instance, maintaining active and user-friendly websites, use of emails in both internal and external communications are lower hanging fruits of digitisation. Digitisation of communication within the university administration and the maintenance of an effective email contact on the university websites can be initial steps. An active website can be a means of reaching out to alumni and prospective donors for universities that are chronically bedevilled by shortages of funds.
Digitisation cannot happen without the buy in of the university leadership. We call on the leadership of the universities to take digitisation very seriously. It is a strategic measure that can improve the performance of the universities in their various roles and services to the society. Digitisation should not be about awarding bogus contracts. It is about investment in the people who can pass on the relevant digital skills to their students and colleagues. In fostering the right environment for digital learning, universities have a real opportunity to up upskill at every level.
Earlier in the year, the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Abubakar Rasheed, announced that the Federal Government had set up a committee headed by a former head of the commission, Professor Peter Okebukola, to review the country’s university system. As the committee carries out this task, we request that it pays attention to the role of digitisation as a means of improving administration and driving innovation and research, within the overall aim of achieving world-class higher education system in Nigeria.