Differences In Academic Cultures Affecting Collaborations Between Nigerian, Foreign Universities ― Don

Variations in the student, lecturer and administrative cultures have been described as the major challenges facing collaborations between Nigerian universities and their counterparts abroad.

Professor of Religion at the Department of Religion and African Studies Institute, University of Georgia Athens (UGA), Aderibigbe Ibigbolade, gave this revelation while delivering a public lecture at the Annual Lecture of the Faculty of Humanities, Ajayi Crowther University (ACU) in Oyo town on Tuesday.

The lecture also heralds plans by the Oyo-based university to collaborate and sign a memorandum of understanding with the University of Georgia Athens, USA in the areas of research, academic visitations, student-lecturer exchange programmes, publications etc.

While speaking on the theme, “Institutional Academic Collaboration in the 21st Century: The Dynamics of Challenges and Prospects”, Prof Ibigbolade said the lack of funds, adequate knowledge and diligent interest of institutional authority affect collaborations on the administrative level particularly when such arrangements do not fit into the priority areas of the new administration.

“There is no doubt that an academic collaboration between two different institutions, sometimes with different visions and missions as well as differences in academic culture and personalities involved is bound to encounter a number of challenges.

“This is even more so if the collaboration is international in nature and cuts across two or more cultures. It should be pointed out that these challenges are not usually or necessarily on the substance and fundamental dynamics underpinning the collaboration.

“They have to do with the peculiarity of strategies, styles and methods of approach even if the goals envisaged are the same. The challenges are usually encountered in three major constituents. These are faculty/lecturer related academic culture, students related academic culture and administrative culture,” he said.

Speaking further on the faculty/lecturer related academic culture, Prof Ibigbolade noted that these challenges to institutional academic collaborations are triggered by cultural shocks on the part of the collaborating institutions.

“Usually, the major challenges are triggered by the cultural shocks experienced by a faculty from the Nigerian Institution to the American counterpart and vice versa. I wish to add that the cultural shocks are primarily based on the differences that exist in the peculiar traditions guiding the procedure and execution of culture associated with the academic culture of that institution,” he said.

The associate director of the African Studies Institute at UGA listed the five areas of cultural differences to include faculty appointment and promotion, nomenclature, teaching and research, remuneration and unionism.

Ibigbolade who spent almost two decades as a lecturer at the Lagos State University before relocating to the US said the lack of unionism in the American education system was one of the cultural shocks he experienced.

He said: “Of all the differences I encountered when I took a position at the University of Georgia, the absence of unionism seemed the most daunting for me. This is quite understandable. My entire career in the Nigerian university system was centred on union activities. The hallmark of this was the opportunity I had to serve as ASSU-LASU Branch Chairman prior to my leaving for the United States to join my family.

“The University of Georgia is part of about 95% of American universities without unionism. I consider this a great lack. I believe the presence of unionism, serving both industrial relations and political awareness will go a long way to address some of the glaring exploitation and capitalist backlash confronting academics in the United States university system.

“For example, issues such as 10-month payment for academics, without pay for the summer break, and 31% taxation of work done in summer cry for attention. So also is the non-payment of salary increment in years and the declaration of furlough by fiat without payment.

“I definitely look forward to an era of unionism in American Universities. This stems from my belief that the gains thereof will far surpass shortcomings feared by protagonists of what currently operates, particularly with regard to the welfare and self-determination of faculty members in the universities.”

While harping on the importance of research, Ibigbolade said: “My experience in support for research, with the provision of funds for research trips and attendance of local, national and international conferences, has been quite positive. The University of Georgia, for example, makes it a point of duty to provide funds for research trips, one local and one international conference a year.

“From my experience when I was still here in Nigeria and from comments from my Nigerian colleagues, this is an area in need of priority attention, from what I know about my academic career, while I was in the system, which I still believe is the same. It is ‘publish or perish.’ But how can academics publish without researching and attending conferences, both nationally and internationally? I also believe that qualitative teaching depends significantly on research and attendance of conferences if one is not just to re-circle class materials year after year.”

He noted that American students wield enormous powers than their lecturers, saying “though this is not a product of scientific research, it seems to me that the ‘student power’ wielded by the American students is actually a by-product of their awareness that, to some extent, they have the career prospects of their teachers in their hands through students evaluations at the end of each course taught. Such evaluations are crucial to the tenure, promotion and even salary increment of the teachers. Consequently, it is not out of place for the teachers to engage in ‘political correctness’ in relating to the students.

“In addition, I believe that this cultural mentality of the American university students is direct and indirect consequences of the kind of policies enacted by the universities, which have, so to say, elevated the interests of the students over and above those of their teachers, sometimes, beyond reasonable boundaries.”

Earlier, ACU Vice-Chancellor, Prof Timothy Adebayo, noted that a collaboration between the two institutions is being sought in the actualisation of the zeal of the ACU management to enhancing institutional learning in the university.

He also said: “Lectures, like this, help members of the Ajayi Crowther University community to share thoughts and interactions that create a viable opportunity for grants and fellowships among academic staff. It also exposes academic staff to traditions of research and publication.”

Dignitaries at the event include the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Prof Muyiwa Popoola; Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, Prof George Lasebikan; Bursar, John Olusanwo; Librarian, Dr Beatrice Fabunmi and other university senate and faculty members.