As a recommendation in one of my articles focusing on the skills gaps in Nigerian universities, I had suggested that the Nigerian University System adopts a model that allows industry experts into the classroom. This, in my own opinion, would shorten the distance between theory and practice. It would also enable the students to tap from the experience of the experts. To this recommendation was a question on how that would work as raised by one of the readers of the article. In this piece, I focus on the professor in practice model examining how it is practiced elsewhere and how the Nigerian University System could adopt and make it work.
Who is a Doctor or Professor of Practice
A professor in or of practice is described in different ways but with similar focus or direction. For example, the HNSC University in Mumbai describes a professor in practice as a distinguished person who has made remarkable contributions in his/her profession from any field and has the ability to take real world practices and experiences into the class rooms. In the same manner, Durham University Business School says that Professors in Practice are experienced professionals across a wide variety of disciplines and sectors, who share their skills and knowledge directly with students bringing public distinction and practical insights to the classroom. In a slightly different manner, the University of Wales Trinity and Saint David calls it Honourary Professor of Practice which offers opportunities for professional and industrial experts to pass on their subject knowledge to the students and give back to the communities they serve. According to the university’s policy, this position is not remunerated as it is considered as an opportunity for the appointed professor to make a difference in the students’ journey and transform lives.
These descriptions point to a number of things in the global discourse for quality, all round education in the tertiary institutions. One, it identifies the limitations of only classroom experience to give the needed knowledge. No matter how immersive the classroom teaching is, it still cannot replace the industry experience. Two, bringing in industry experts into the classroom opens the students to industry insights and could assist in the students’ quest to be industry ready. Thus, the use of industry professors in universities is to bridge the gap between the classroom and the industry and as well address the aperture between theory and application.
The Justification for the Doctor or Professor of Practice
The most important reason for the introduction of professor in practice model has been to reduce the distance between classroom experience and industry practice. Doctors and Professors of Practice bring real-world experience and practical knowledge to the classroom. This bridge between theory and practice helps students understand how concepts are applied in the real world and prepares them for the demands of their future careers.
However, there are other benefits of bringing industry experts to the class. These professionals often have up-to-date knowledge of current industry trends, technologies, and best practices. This ensures that students are exposed to the most relevant and current information, which is crucial in rapidly evolving fields. Besides, it enhances the learning of the students. Students benefit from the firsthand experiences and insights that Doctors and Professors of Practice can share. This experiential learning can be more engaging and memorable, leading to a more effective learning experience. In addition to this is improved employability. Graduates who have learned from Doctors and Professors of Practice are often better prepared for the job market. They possess practical skills and knowledge that are highly valued by employers, making them more competitive in the workforce.
Including professionals from various industries and sectors as Doctors and Professors of Practice enriches the educational experience by offering diverse perspectives and a broader understanding of different career paths. This diversity can inspire students and open their minds to various career possibilities. Equally, students have the chance to build valuable connections with industry experts through Doctors and Professors of Practice. These connections can lead to internships, job opportunities, and mentorship, which are essential for career development. In the same vein, tertiary institutions that attract and retain Doctors and Professors of Practice can enhance their reputation and prestige, making them more appealing to students and potential partners. This also prepares students with practical skills and knowledge and makes them more competitive on a global scale raising the chances of Nigerian graduates excelling in international job markets very high. To support entrepreneurship and innovation, these Doctors and Professors of Practice can serve as mentors and advisors for student startups and innovative projects, fostering a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation.
Flashes of Doctor and Professor of Practice Model in Nigerian Universities
Observations have revealed that there is a flash of this practice in the Nigerian University System. Some selected few universities have adopted bringing experts into the classroom. The Pan African University’s School of Media and Communication, Covenant University and the Department of Mass Communication, Fountain University and some others have some programmes where industry experts come into the classroom to interact with the students. The professor in practice system goes beyond one-off interactions or Meet the Expert programmes. It is a complete immersion of outstanding industry professionals into the four walls of a university to strengthen both theoretical and practical knowledge among students.
Accommodating the Professor in Practice in Nigeria Universities
Reviewing Institutional Policies
The first step is to start by reviewing and updating institutional policies to accommodate the introduction of Doctor and Professors of Practice roles. This would ensure that these roles are recognized and valued within the academic system.
This involves identifying experienced professionals who have substantial practical knowledge and experience in the relevant fields. They should be individuals who have a track record of success in their respective industries and have the passion to teach. This would require the universities establishing partnerships and collaborations with relevant industries, companies, and organizations to identify potential Doctor and Professors of Practice candidates. Industry input is crucial in selecting candidates who can bridge the gap between academia and real-world practice.
There is a need for the qualification requirements for these positions to be more flexible compared to traditional academic roles. The focus should be on professional expertise and experience rather than a purely academic background. This would facilitate ease of entry for them.
Teaching and Research Balance
The roles of Doctor and Professors of Practice should be well defined with clear emphasis on their contributions to teaching, mentorship, and practical training while also allowing for some level of research activities. These practitioners are to mentor students, providing them with insights into the current state of industries and helping them develop practical skills.
Curriculum Design and Implementation
There should be collaboration with the Doctor and Professors of Practice to develop or update curricula, ensuring that theoretical and practical knowledge are seamlessly integrated. This should include hands-on projects, real-world case studies, and industry-relevant content.
Introduction of Guest Lectures and Workshops
The presence of Doctors and Professors of Practice should diversify the teaching methods incorporating regular guest lectures, workshops, and seminars. These should be conducted by Doctors and Professors of Practice to expose students to the latest industry trends and challenges.
Recognition and Compensation
To make the model successful and impactful, there should appropriate recognition of the contributions of Doctors and Professors of Practice through appropriate compensation and benefits. Their roles should be seen as valuable to the institution’s overall mission.
In closing this piece, it is apparent that appointing a Doctor or Professor of Practice for universities is a global practice aimed at strengthening industry-academia collaboration and improving industry skills of the students. But, the big question has been whether it would work or not. It should work if tertiary institutions are ready to make changes both in curriculum and pedagogy creating the space for people who have made remarkable contributions in their industry to contribute to increased employability of the graduates.