Nigeria’s Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) on Monday inaugurated a steering committee for its ongoing digitisation of thesis project, first of its kind in the life of the Fund.

Explaining the rationale behind the move in his inauguration remarks, the Executive Secretary, Arc. Sunday Echono, said given that numerous research outputs were lying dormant in the country’s libraries, the need for a National Academic Research Repository (NARR) or a National Knowledge Bank (NKB) became imperative.

“Worse still, the few existing repositories were not readily accessible to a national or global audience. For example, the National Research Fund, which TETFund manages, has accumulated several high quality research papers and findings that can only be found in a closed repository over the years.

“The Board of Trustees of TETFund, in a bid to redress the situation, initiated the Digitization of Thesis Project, tasking the Executive Secretary with shepherding a centralized mechanism that will form the basis for storing dematerialised academic output in electronic form, federated across all beneficiary institutions of the fund,” he said.

According Arc. Echono, following that mandate, management approved a consultancy, which conducted various interactive sessions and surveys over a period of 9 months to identify how academic output in the form of thesis and other digital resources produced by undergraduate and postgraduate students are stored, handled, and utilised, and the report submitted confirmed that there is a lack of properly structured digitised theses available for integration into global digital repositories in addition to absence of a National Academic Research Repository or a coordinated collection of institutional repositories.

While commending TETFund’s beneficiary institutions who have made efforts and are at various levels of the digitisation process, Echono said, “It is evident that the way forward is to embark on the thesis dematerialisation project which will also address other critical issues such as plagiarism checking, intellectual property, commercialization of academic works and other value-added services that can improve the achievement of our mandate in the fund.”

He recalled that in his maiden speech as Executive Secretary of the fund, he committed to focusing sharply on some critical areas of TETFund’s intervention, including research, innovation, entrepreneurship, and leveraging of ICT to facilitate digital literacy, saying the gathering and function of the day was part of this commitment.

The TETFund boss who also spoke about the commitment of the fund to homegrown solutions said, “to ensure homegrown solutions are encouraged, we are working with the Committee of Vice-Chancellors (CVC) to embed “Eaglescan”, developed by them, as the plagiarism detection software, as part of the Project to ensure the academic integrity of all digitised resources.

“Further to this is the use of Galaxy Backbone to serve as the digital archive of the Repository, while the National Copyright Commission, as part of this Committee, will help advise on guidelines for the intellectual property related matters for the Repository. Directors of ICT and Librarians from the three tiers of our beneficiary institutions, inclusive of the Directors of ICT of our Ministry and Educational Regulatory bodies, will constitute the core of liaison between this Project and their end-users”.

The high point of his speech was the reading out of 12 terms of reference to the committee, charging them with the primary task of developing a framework for federating research outputs from the various beneficiary institutions of higher learning and of thinking about the best way to self-sustain the project in the long run.

Their terms of reference include: development and adoption of a Model Digitisation Policy for the Beneficiary Institutions; providing coordinating support and guidance for the project management team to implement the digitization project successfully; development of frameworks and procedures to ensure that the project deliverables are strictly adhered to; identify Intellectual Property issues, ownership, and reward models for Institutions and stakeholders among others.

“Given the urgency of the task before you, the Committee must hit the ground running to identify the quick wins of this digitisation project and other associated aspects of the Project that can immediately bring value to our national academic environment,” Echono tasked the committee.

Responding, Chairman of the Digitisation committee and Secretary General of the Committee of Vice Chancellors, Professor Yakubu Ochefu thanked

Tetfund for initiating this project, saying It is a clear statement that the fund is in tune with the needs of tertiary institutions.

“Individual academic repositories are a core element for any institution of higher learning that seeks to be relevant in the age of open knowledge. Federated repositories like the one the project aims to achieve are the icing on the cake as they aggregate the quantum of Knowledge produced by a nation’s institutions of higher learning. Ultimately this project will deliver the largest amount of knowledge, cultural and scientific content for all categories, including all the needed content for students of our universities, polytechnics and colleges of education,” he said.

Pledging that the committee will do its best to reciprocate the TETFund’s gesture, Prof. Ochefu said, “On behalf of the Steering/Coordinating members, I thank you for the opportunity to serve our nation in this capacity. Our members are persons of integrity and passion for their respective callings. We assure you that we will deliver on this assignment.”

The committee is composed of stakeholders and subject experts in various relevant agencies including the National University Commission (NUC), National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), the National Library, the National Copyright Commission, etc., all represented.

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