The National Universities Commission (NUC) has charged librarians of the 10 Nigerian universities hosting the Africa Centres of Excellence (ACEs) to leverage on and share the vast education and research resources of the Nigerian Research and Education Network (NgREN) for the benefit of the Nigerian University System (NUS).
Former Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC), Professor Julius A. Okojie, gave the charge at an enlarged meeting of stakeholders, comprising members of the Association of University Librarians of Nigerian Universities (AULNU), the Directors of Information and Communication Technology (DICTs) of the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) and the National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE), at the NgREN Secretariat, Abuja.
The then Executive Secretary, who was represented by the Deputy Executive Secretary II, Mallam Ibrahim Dan’Iya, observed that the quality and quantity of content in the university libraries were vital to the success of the Centres.
He commended the initiative of NgREN in bringing together three major stakeholders of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to dialogue on effective ways to leverage on the NgREN platform, so as to share resources and explore other areas of funding. He informed delegates that the forum aimed to deliberate on steps to improve on the availability of e-content as well as draw up measures to collaborate with the ACEs.
Speaking at the event, Managing Director NgREN, Dr. Joshua Atah, informed the delegates that the REN has been driving numerous projects and programmes to improve quality in the NUS. He disclosed that, because the Nigerian portfolio of the World Bank-supported ACE project was valued at $73 million, the REN thought it was crucial for the ACEs to impact the various HEIs in the country, since Nigeria had majority of the Centres in the West and Central African sub-region. He, therefore, called on researchers in these Centres to work extra hard to ensure that their projects makes maximum impact on their various communities.
Dr. Atah reiterated that University Libraries are essential to the success of the ACE Project. He informed the meeting that the NgREN had secured access to EBSCOhost e-content, including e-books, journals, academic magazines, which would be available for free to all Nigerian universities via the NgREN until the end of 2016. He stated that these resources; valued at about $4 million, would increase the number of available resources in the nation’s university libraries as well as improve research activities in the university system.
The Managing Director explained that, though limited funds had restrained institutions from subscribing to the NgREN, it had continuously held brainstorming sessions with various stakeholders, just as it was doing with the librarians, to figure out how best to address funding challenge and make access to e-resources cheaper and sustainable. He told delegates that time had come for all stakeholders in the NUS to strategise on the sustainability of the NgREN platform, adding that the failure of one institution to fulfill its financial obligations to the Network as at when due could collapse the whole system. Dr. Atah emphasised that NgREN was only interested in providing support for them, which would be eventually driven by the universities.
Speaking on his experience and tour of other RENs around the world, Dr. Atah noted that no HEI in the 21st century could conduct effective research that would be beneficial to its community without Information and Communication Technology (ICT). He said that some Nigerian universities were already enjoying the benefits of the NgREN and urged the representatives of the NBTE and the NCCE, to consider partnering with the Network in order to expand the resources to their institutions. He stated that, if all HEIs worked together, the cost of obtaining e-resources would be cheaper and the institutions would be able to share their research findings and other data among themselves.
Dr. Atah also informed delegates that the NgREN was partnering with the Association of Nigerian Physicians in the Americas (ANPA) to provide capacity building in Tele-medicine via the Network. He said that ANPA would offer remote teaching to help institutions as a way of contributing to the development of the sector.
In her remarks, the Chairman, AULNU and Librarian of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST), Dr. (Mrs.) Blessing Ahiauzu, expressed gratitude to NgREN for bringing stakeholders together and partnering with them to address the challenges of having a common platform to assess e-content for the NUS. She informed the Executive Secretary that most universities wished to access more electronic resources because they recognised that it made research easier and provided more academic information than the traditional hard copy books and journals, which are now difficult to come by.
Dr. Ahiauzu appealed to the Federal Government to extend some of its interventions to state and private universities as graduates from all institutions, irrespective of proprietorship, were employed by the same labour market. She highlighted the need for all HEIs in the country to work, via a common platform to explore other sources of funding for the expansion of the NgREN, EBSCOhost and other similar projects, to accommodate all universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education in the country.
Vice-President, EBSCOhost, Ms. Colleen Mills, who interacted with the delegates via video-conferencing, informed the meeting that her organisation had provided services to Nigerian universities for several years and was pleased to continue to do so, especially through its partnership with the NUC and the NgREN, to embrace more institutions. Ms. Mills encouraged the visitors to connect to the Network in order to leverage on its facilities and increase their individual collaboration opportunities. EBSCO, she said, had already granted Nigerian institutions free access to its resources until the end of 2016.
Ms. Mills stated that, although the nation’s institutions enjoyed cheaper subscription rates than others in the world, her organisation was willing to explore other avenues to encourage more universities, particularly smaller ones, to join the platform. She said that EBSCOhost could not provide free services, perpetually, as the organisation needed the financial resources to retain trainers, who would assist institutions in capacity building.
The highlights of the meeting were the tour of the NgREN’s Network Management Centre (NMC) and other facilities as well as the demonstration of the Network’s capabilities, particularly a video-conferencing session with three subscriber-institutions –Nnamdi Azikiwe University (NAU), Awka; Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU), Bauchi and the Federal University, Lafia (FULafia).
At the end, delegates deliberated on issues such as the identification of relevant content needs, consortium-based subscriptions for e-books and journals, connectivity and plans for repositories of research publications as well as lecture notes. Participants were urged to work closely with their Vice-Chancellors and the ACE Centre Leaders to apply for a fraction of the funds allocated to their research in order to provide the e-resources that would benefit the ACEs.
Among those who attended the meeting were the Librarians of the University of Jos, Dr. Stephen Akintunde; Federal University, Wukari, Alhaji Rilwanu Abdulsalami; Benue State University, Professor John Agada; Redeemer’s University, Dr. Emmanuel Adebayo; University of Benin, Dr. Evelyn Idiodi; University of Abuja, Dr. R. Echezona; and African University of Science and Technology, Abuja, Mrs. Ekpolomo Onyebuchi. Others were the Librarians of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Professor Umar Ibrahim and Usmanu Dan Fodio University, Sokoto, Professor A. A. Balarabe. The NBTE was represented by Engineer Usman Danjuma, Dr. (Mrs.) Amina Idris and Mallam Aliyu Hassan, while the NCCE had Mr. Pius Ekireghwo in attendance.
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