Interconnecting the Universities via NgREN
Globally, Universities led the way in development of the Internet before the commercial layer took hold but connected to the infrastructure as opposed to created an infrastructure. In his analysis, Prof. Julius Okogie explains that the Nigerian Universities Commission, NUC is creating an elaborate infrastructural backbone to interconnect all higher institutions in the country and link them with other Research and Education Network worldwide.
The National Universities Commission (NUC), has since its establishment in 1962 has served as an advisory agency in the Cabinet Office. However in 1974, it became a statutory body with an Executive Secretary as the head of the commission. NUC is a parastatal under the Federal Ministry of Education (FME), saddled with the responsibility of regulating teaching and learning in the Nigerian University System. The Commission has a Governing Board. In her over 50 years of existence, the Commission has transformed from a small office in the cabinet office to an important arm of government that is responsible for ensuring the orderly development of university education in Nigeria and aims at producing globally competitive and nationally relevant graduates.
Consequently, in keeping faith with the Federal Government’s vision of transformation, the NUC has placed the deployment of ICT enabled technologies at the forefront of its strategies in achieving the much needed growth and development in the Nigerian University System.
Benefits of ICT for Society and Individuals
It is no gain saying that the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has made global social interaction very simple. Humanity now lives in an interdependent global society, where people can interrelate and make contact swiftly and effectively. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has greatly impacted and enhanced global socialisation and interactions.
In fact, Information and Communication Technology has taken over nearly every aspect of peoples’ daily lives from commerce (buying and selling) to leisure and even culture. Today, mobile phones, desktop computers, hand held devices, emails and the use of Internet has become a central part of the peoples’ culture and society. These technologies play a vital role in the day to day operations of the people. News and information can now be transmitted in minutes.
Examples of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) tools used for these purposes are emails, instant messaging (IM), Chat rooms and social networking websites, such as Facebook and Twitter, Skype, iPhones, cellular phones and similar applications.
It is apt to say that the National Universities Commission (NUC) recognizes the roles that educational technology, also termed instructional technology, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in education, EdTech, and learning technology have been playing and will continue to play in the delivery of quality university education in Nigeria. NUC especially notes that many of the advances recorded in Information and Communication Technology were hatched from the Universities. The onus now lies on Nigerian Universities to crave for more effective participation in the global cyberspace.
NUC has since 1988 been making efforts to lead the Nigeria University System to make effective use of the Information and Communication Technology in the areas of administration (e-administration), treasury (e-treasury), learning (e-learning), health (e-health) among others. Educational media and tools used for this endeavor will include: video, audio, text, image, and data.
Many types of physical technology are currently used in the Nigeria University System such as digital and video cameras, interactive whiteboard tools, document cameras, and LCD projectors, video conference, computers, tablets and other handheld devices. Combinations of these techniques include blogs, collaborative software, ePortfolios, social networking websites, digital library and virtual classrooms.
ICT legacies of the National Universities Commission
The National Universities Commission’s set target is to put Nigerian universities on the same pedestal with those in the developed countries. However, some of the achievements of its ICT-based legacies the NUC had developed to digitize the Nigerian University System (NUS) include;
Firstly, Management Information Systems (MIS); the Management Information Systems (MIS) legacy for the NUS has been one of the most fruitful IT development strategy designed in-house for use in the Universities for information management.
The MIS software was installed in all the Federal Universities in 1993 to aid their process of data capture and analysis. As data accumulated, the MIS software was later upgraded to the Nigerian Universities Management Information System (NUMIS) with networking capabilities. It is pertinent to mention that this achievement led to many universities to look inwards and established on-line registration systems for students and other database management systems.
Secondly, Nigerian Universities Network (NUNet); the Nigerian Universities Network (NUNet) was instituted in 1997. The NUNet was established to act as the digital super highway for the exchange of data generated within the Nigerian University System with NUC acting as the hub of the network.
Thirdly, Nigerian Virtual Library; the Nigerian Virtual Library project was commissioned in 2002 to make available tons of volumes of digital books, journals, periodicals, projects, thesis and dissertation to complement the existing physical libraries in Nigerian Universities. The virtual library was also commissioned to address the issue of currency of books, journals et al in Nigerian Universities’ libraries.
Fourthly, Nigerian Universities Electronic Teaching and Learning Platform; The Nigerian Universities Electronic Teaching and Learning Platform project is an ICT-enabled interactive teaching and learning concept, whose focus is to develop ‘smart’ classrooms that use technology to overcome the challenges of large classes, aid modern methods of teaching and learning as well as content development using interactive tools. The project was funded by Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), and under the pilot phase, 12 Universities were selected as beneficiaries of the project with each, receiving 20 units of interactive white boards with accompanying projectors and accessories.
fifth, Labour Market Observatory Project (LMOP); in this respect, one of the goals of the Commission is to match university graduate output with national manpower needs. It is in line with this goal that the Commission instituted the Labour Market Observatory Project to generate data and information for the formulation and implementation of plans and policies at all levels of government, hence the establishment of the Labour Market Observatory and the creation of the Labour Market Information System (LMIS).
The main objectives for this project are:
- To create among stakeholders awareness of LMI, its benefit and the need for a coordinated Nigeria LMIS;
- To solicit the commitment of relevant public and private authorities to providing policy support for the Labour Market Observatory Project and the Nigeria Labour market information system;
- To elicit collaboration of stakeholder agencies and organisations in the implementation of the Nigeria Labour Market Information System (LMIS).
- To identify labour market information needs of stakeholders;
- To develop key labour market indicators based on identified LMI needs of stakeholders;
- To develop a comprehensive labour market information system in collaboration with planners, producers and users of LMI;
- To regularly collect, process, store, analyse, use, share and disseminate labour market data and information among stakeholders especially in the Nigerian economy;
- To guide national policy and programme development on labour market issues; e.g. national decisions on higher education programmes;
- To put in place structures at national level for LMIS policy and at institutional level for management of the Nigeria LMIS on a sustainable basis; and
- To identify skill gaps among LMIS desk officers and on this basis, conduct targeted training to build their capacity for effective participation in the LMOP and the Nigeria LMIS.
Lastly, the Nigerian Research and Education Network (NgREN) Project: The NgREN is a World Bank assisted project to create an elaborate infrastructural back bone to interconnect all higher institutions in the country and link them with other Research and Education Network worldwide. This is aimed at ensuring a seamless knowledge flow between Nigerian Educational institutions and its counterparts around the world.
The project is primarily for the purpose of research and learning but with added capabilities to offer the efficiency of a unified communications and consolidation of digital content. This is expected to drive down the exorbitant costs of bandwidth while at the same time increasing the capacity of their networks.
The first phase of the Nigerian Research and Education Network (NgREN) is currently being implemented with 28 beneficiaries from the federal universities including the NUC.
In the first phase of the NgREN, the 27 older Federal Universities are interconnected via an initial 10 Gbps capacity “any-to-any” and “any-to-all” mesh network with each riding on a 155 Mbps dedicated link, a capacity nearly 20 times bigger than the average capacity amongst these institutions at the start of the project.
In addition to bandwidth provision, the institutions have been provided with high definition video conference capabilities for real-time collaboration, shared access to learning content and the possibility of remote experimentation.
The infrastructure includes:
- Networking instruments such as routers, switches and various network management devices.
- Backbone and access links (acquired as leases from telecommunications service providers in the country) that connect these switches and routers.
- Peering with the Internet Exchange Point of Nigeria and other national providers’ networks to exchange traffic.
- Peering internationally to join the global network of RENs.
The NgREN Network Management Center (NMC) built to monitor and manage the operations of the entire network is housed on the premises of the National Universities Commission (NUC). The NMC also houses the NgREN administration, help-desks, interest group meeting rooms and training programmes, and, a set of network services (and host servers) including access and authentication systems, packet shapers, firewalls, distributed caching, edu-roaming, multi-casting, VPN, bandwidth on demand, among others, to improve the overall network service.
It is heart warming to note that the President, Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan GCON has graciously approved the connection of all the remaining public Universities in Nigeria to NgREN with the prospect of connecting the private Universities as well in the not too distant future.
Nigerian University System Management Portal (NUSMAP)
Nigerian University System Management Portal (NUSMAP) is an online application, designed for the use of the universities to process, share and communicate data with the National Universities Commission (NUC), the public and other government agencies for proper planning and management. It captures data on the activities of all the directorates of the Commission, which includes Programme Accreditation, Academic standards, University System Annual Review Meeting (USARM), Universities Research and Innovation, Finance and Budget amongst others.
This project’s objective is to strengthen NUC’s commitment to bringing Nigerian University System to standard in line with realities of the 21st century. NUSMAP will assist the NUC to achieve its goal of initiating and promoting proficiency in the use of ICT for service delivery within the Commission and the Nigerian University System at large.
These are just to name a few of the accomplishments of the NUC towards providing an ICT infrastructure in the NUS for sustainable educational development at the all important tertiary level. These legacies hopefully will help towards producing viable and efficient NUS that will stand out and indeed guarantee quality and relevant education for national development and global competitiveness.