Abiodun Salawu is a Professor of Journalism, Communication and Media Studies. He is currently the Director of Indigenous Language Media in Africa (ILMA) of the North-West University, South Africa. In an interview with Abito Citta, the Nigerian university teacher bared his mind on issues bordering on Nigerian education system, his career journey and other issues. Here are the excerpts….
AC: Could you please tell us about yourself?
Abiodun Salawu: Abiodun Salawu is Professor of Journalism, Communication and Media Studies and Director of the research entity, Indigenous Language Media in Africa (ILMA) at the North-West University, South Africa. He has taught and researched journalism for over two decades in Nigeria and South Africa. Prior to his academic career, he practised journalism in a number of print media organisations in Nigeria. He has to his credit, scores of scholarly publications in academic journals and books. He has also edited/co-edited eight books and authored one. He is a regular presenter of papers at local and international conferences. He is a co-vice chair of the journalism section of International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) and a member of editorial/advisory boards of a number of journals. He was involved in the founding of the International Association for Minority Language Media Research. He is rated by the NRF as an established researcher at the level of C1 (with international recognition) and he is a member of the Codesria’s College of Senior Academic Mentors. (See my CV for more details).
AC: A look at your profile on Google Scholar and CV revealed that you have over 100 publications to your credit. How do you generate research ideas? How did you achieve this in over 20 years of your academic career?
Abiodun Salawu: Let’s just put it down to one word. Passion. I am passionate about my scholarship. In the recent time, I have also had to be co-publishing with younger colleagues who have come to do postdoctoral fellowship under my mentorship. Research ideas are generated with observation of what is happening around us. Sometimes, Calls for Papers are also a good source of research ideas. You see calls for papers for conferences, special issues of journals and book projects and you identify something that you can contribute.
AC: You have had a career that spanned from the industry to the classroom and from West Africa to Southern Africa. What motivated your career journey to South Africa? How has your stay in South Africa impacted your career?
Abiodun Salawu: The collapse of infrastructures in Nigeria and lack of support for scholarship motivated my migration. South Africa has greatly impacted my scholarship because of the system of recognition and reward. Academics do not just publish in South Africa for promotion from one level to another. You also publish for rating by the National Research Foundation. The NRF says the following on their website about the rating system:The NRF rating system is a key driver in the NRF’s aim to build a globally competitive science system in South Africa. It is a valuable tool for benchmarking the quality of our researchers against the best in the world. NRF ratings are allocated based on a researcher’s recent research outputs and impact as perceived by international peer reviewers. The rating system encourages researchers to publish high quality outputs in high impact journals/outlets. Rated researchers as supervisors will impart cutting-edge skills to the next generation of researchers.
The rating of individuals is based primarily on the quality and impact of their research outputs over the past eight years, taking into consideration the evaluation made by local and international peers. It identifies researchers who count among the leaders in their fields of expertise and gives recognition to those who constantly produce high quality research outputs. Several South African universities use the outcomes of the NRF evaluation and rating process to position themselves as research-intensive institutions, while others provide incentives for their staff members to acquire and maintain a rating and give special recognition to top-rated researchers.
A rating lasts for six years. If you still want to be considered for rating, you apply again in the sixth year of your current rating. The rating helps you to gauge your improvement as a researcher. For instance, I got a C3 rating in 2015. This year, I got an elevated rating of C1. So, you keep improving on your work if you want your rating to improve.
Another motivation is that you receive subsidy when you publish in certain journals which we call accredited journals. Those journals are the ones indexed in Web of Science, Scopus, IBBS, DOAJ etc., and the local ones accredited by the Department of Higher Education and Training in South Africa. Basically, there is support system for academics in South Africa.
AC: A look at your CV clearly revealed that you collaborated a lot with other researchers. What roles do you think collaborations play in the life of a researcher or academic?
Abiodun Salawu : Collaborations play a lot of roles because they widen your horizon, particularly if you work with like-minded individuals. There is an adage that you work far when you work together. Collaborations should not be restricted to local levels. Efforts should also be made to have international collaborations. As an academic, you need it as much as your foreign partners.
AC: A lot has been said regarding how archaic the Nigerian tertiary education is and how the graduates produced within the system has been unemployable. To what extent do you agree with? What ways do you think the problem of unemployment could be addressed through the Nigerian tertiary institutions’ curriculum?
Abiodun Salawu : I wouldn’t say the Nigerian tertiary education is utterly archaic but I believe a lot of things need be improved upon. It will also not be right to generalise that Nigerian graduates are unemployable. There are still a good number of Nigerian graduates who can perform anywhere in the world, given the opportunity. However, we can do well to improve on our infrastructures and facilities as well as updating our curricula in line with the dictates of the time.
AC: Nigerian tertiary education and its stakeholders have come under fire lately due to challenges facing the system on curriculum implementation, research and post graduate training. What do you think the roles of the Nigerian academics in Diaspora should be in revamping the system in the country?
Abiodun Salawu: Nigerian academics can share their expertise and experiences abroad with people at home. We need an established platform to make this work. Association of Communication Scholars and Professionals of Nigeria (ACSPN) started a scheme a few years ago whereby Nigerian communication academics in the diaspora are encouraged to come and spend some time to interact with students and colleagues at home. A bigger platform can be created, may be by the governments or some bodies. The Council for the Development of Social Science in Africa (Codesria) has a scheme like that for the continent. They are supported by the Carnegie Foundation. It is called Codesria African Academic Diaspora Support to African Universities (Africa Diaspora Visiting Fellowship/Professorship). I just got the fellowship but, being a Nigerian, I cannot come to Nigeria. It is actually targeted at African academics outside of Africa and those in Africa but not in their countries of birth. So, I will be at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania for the fellowship.
AC: Your area of interest is in indigenous language media in Africa. What is the state of the indigenous language media in Africa today?
Abiodun Salawu: Not yet what it should be but with the change in attitude of our peoples to our languages and support from both the government and the corporate world, the indigenous language media environment will be enervated.
AC: What roles do you think mentorship and networking play in Post Graduate training in universities?
Abiodun Salawu: Mentorship can help graduate students to find their paths and grow. Networking would expose graduate students to practices elsewhere and will create opportunities for collaborations, funding and developmental programmes.