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Big Data: Taking Nigerian universities research works from ‘rusty shelves’

The question of when Nigerian universities research works will leave rusty shelves has been asked time and time again with no end seems to be in view, but experts have provided a tech solution, and there is one university in Nigeria that is at the forefront driving efforts in that direction to removing its pile of research works from rusty shelves.

Universities have great data that can benefit the Nigerian economy, and researches kept in rusty shelves if recouped can actually make a lot of money for the ailing Nigerian economy. This was the position held by a panel of experts at the Nigerian International Technology Exhibition and Conference (NITEC) 2017 that held in Lagos recently.

UBA Wise savers

The experts agreed based on the following facts that the Nigerian university community is a critical ecosystem for generating useful data.

Nigeria presently has about 160 public and private universities. About 600 thousand students are admitted in all universities in Nigeria every session meaning that about 3 million students study in all Nigerian universities annually. Factorizing this into a 10-year period, you have 30 million students who pass through the Nigerian universities system.

These students carry out painstaking researches to write assignments, term papers, seminar papers and final year research project. The data so generated are yet to find the light of day and lying in waste in the shelves of Nigerian universities.

Putting into consideration postgraduate students and lecturers who make up the universities ecosystem, and who churn out large amount of research data as well, the university system then become an important point of call in the discourse of big data.

Experts are saying nations of the world making huge impacts are moving away from commodity-based economy to knowledge-based economy, and that huge data being generated by the Nigerian university system can create huge revenue for the Nigerian economy, if the data are properly harnessed.

UNN innovation with Roar Nigeria hub

Professor Benjamin Chukwuma Ozumba, the Vice Chancellor (VC) of the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), who has seen value in the data lying in waste in Nigerian universities, said his institution is already leading the course in harnessing its data for revenue generation, especially with the establishment of Roar Nigeria Hub.

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Prof. Ozumba said with Roar Nigeria Hub, UNN is poised to become the first full-fledged technology-embedded university in West Africa.

“We are trying to make UNN a Smart University. Everybody on campus has bought into it,” he said.

The VC, who was a panellist at the NITEC 2017 event, agreed with other panellists that research and data analytics form crucial part in deepening local content in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector of the Nigerian economy.

“Universities are centres for learning, researches and educating the public. We talk about our universities graduating three million students annually; there are lecturers and non-academic staff, who are generating and warehousing data relevant to the society. But have we really harnessed these data? The answer is no! These data exist, but they have not been harnessed,” the VC said.

“We know that most of these data are warehoused in ICT repositories. They use it in ranking universities. They want to know if you are creating output in the numbers of researches published.

“We are working to connect what we have in the library to the main repository. We found out there are issues with that. We have to hire an ICT specialist to fix it, and our university repository shot up immensely.

“There are a lot of missing links. We have to get it right. That is why I am saying I want to make my university a smart university in that direction.

“We know that if these data in the universities are properly harvested and warehoused, and well researched, organizations can buy them.

“Data is a tool for making money. That is why Google is thriving; they harness the data they have to make fortunes out of them. So, we need infrastructure and intelligent use of data,” the VC espoused.

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TheNewsGuru tech editor found out from a visit to the UNN recently that the Roar Nigeria Hub was opened to the public with a mission to produce the next generation of entrepreneurs by creating an enabling environment, support systems and relevant skills to succeed with technology entrepreneurship.

“With about 50 kilometres of fibre optic cable connecting the university, we also intend to solve the challenges faced by businesses with available data on the campuses.

“University is where you are taught to explore. There is no infinity to acquiring knowledge. It’s where you get education before exploration to getting problems solved. Exploration requires a lot of components or tools; but in Nigeria where the laboratories are not functional how do you want it done. This motivated us to pursue the meeting — the town and gown — a meeting point of the universities and the industry.

“With the new trends of creating innovation/incubation hubs, such as Roar Nigeria, we will move Nigeria from commodity to a country creating items,” the VC further stated.

The need to rethink Big Data

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Cymantiks, Mr. Emeka Okoye, who is also a panellist at the event, highlighted the relevance of universities’ researches to the economy, and stressed there need to rethink Big Data.

He said universities’ researches have become more needed as the world enters the fourth industrial revolution driven by Big Data, Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics and Machine Learning.

“Let’s take ‘big’ aside… data is just an observation,” the Cymantiks CEO said, adding that “When students interact with academic and non-academic staff, they generate data… it dwells down to universities policy on how data are managed. When it is become massive, we now say big data”.

“Focusing on research is actually very huge. We need to understand the current trends. We are about to enter the 4th industrial revolution, and it is driven by data. There are up to 34 disruptive technologies right now — from IoT to AI — and they all feast on data.

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“It means that the way we understand data before has got to change; because right now, we need to change by incorporating data into our everyday activities,” he further stated.

Mr. Okoye said it has become imperative for Nigerian universities to rethink on how to commercialize the huge repository of research data developed over the years.

“They ought to make lot of money from data. A university in Kenya is earning close to $1 billion from patents. University as a mini-community is very crucial in research and a test-bed for new technology,” Okoye said.

Also part of the panel was the CEO of Crestsage, Mr. Charles Emembolu, who said value creation should drive universities’ motivation to monetize their data and research works, and assist government’s ideas on local content concepts and development of young people with relevant skill sets.

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Mr. Emembolu, who played a pivotal role in the establishment of Roar Nigeria, said research works contain useful facts capable of solving puzzles in the ICT industry and the society in general, adding that “Standardization, skilled professionals are needed in our industry today”.

He further stated that “awareness creation for people to understand the essence of big data must start from the universities” adding that “The Universities boards need to improve the system to further understand graduation and post-graduation achievements of students”.

He, however, advised that students of Nigerian universities must learn to embark on only research works that are capable of generating revenue not just for the university system or the government, but for themselves as well.


See: Tech-changing moments at NITEC 2017 captured in pictures