The American University of Nigeria (AUN) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are collaborating to offer a new Master of Science Degree in Communication for Social and Behavior Change. The collaboration being dubbed historic was formalized through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) already signed by representatives of both institutions at the AUN campus in Yola.
The introduction of a very important course such as Communication for Social and Behaviour Change (cutting across language use, inter-cultural communication, conflict management and social transformation, etc) at the graduate level in a Nigerian university where academia can be said to be serious speaks to the paradoxical nature of social reality. In this case, it is something striking or fascinating coming into a national university system that is lost in crisis. AUN is sure to gain in increased applicants for this and similar courses
According to the statement from the university, AUN will offer the UNICEF MSc in Communication for Social and Behavior Change in a hybrid format to give more interested and qualified applicants from across the continent an opportunity to enroll. UNICEF, which has extensive resources and global expertise in social and behavior change, provided the modules while the AUN’s Communications and Multimedia Design Department expanded and domesticated the curriculum. The program awaits the final approval of the National Universities Commission (NUC).
The Interim President of AUN, Professor Attahir Yusuf and UNICEF’s Chief of Field Operations in the Nigeria Country Office, Mr. Opiyo Nixon, signed the MoU for their organizations.
Professor Attahir described the AUN-UNICEF collaboration as significant as it aims to develop mechanisms and a body of knowledge to deal with changes for the benefit of society. He commended UNICEF for working with AUN, which runs wide-ranging development programs that impact local communities.
“Once more, AUN is breaking new ground. We were the first Nigerian university to introduce Software Engineering as an undergraduate program, and last semester, we were the first to introduce Data Science and Analytics at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The UNICEF MSc in Communication for Social and Behavior Change reflects the excellence in academic content and delivery for which this university is reputed,” Professor Yusuf said.
The Dean of the AUN Graduate School and Research, Professor Jacob Udo-Udo Jacob, also commended the initiative, saying the program underscores the AUN mission as Africa’s development university. He added that the collaboration is in response to the training needs of communication personnel working in various humanitarian, conflict and development-related sectors and assignments in West Africa.
Said Professor Jacob, “At the core of any development initiative is communication, whether it is peacebuilding, providing water and sanitation to the community or educating out-of-school children. It is building social norms and convincing people that it is in their own interest to uptake forms of behavior that will achieve the common good”.
Mr. Opiyo Nixon, who represented the UNICEF Country Representative in Nigeria, Mr. Peter Hawkins, lauded the program as the first of its kind in Nigeria, and urged other academic institutions to emulate AUN’s community engagement model.
“As an organization established in 1946 with a mandate to support and promote the rights of children and women, UNICEF draws a lot of experience from around the world where we are present and there is no better way to fulfil our mandate than to work within communities, with community leaders, with every member of the society to improve on how we address issues” Nixon said.
The Chief of Field Office, UNICEF Bauchi Field Office, Dr. Tushar Rane, commended the AUN team led by Professor Jacob for their cooperation, describing the program as unique.
“I am sure this will provide the region with an opportunity to build capacities in social and behavioral change, and I am glad that this has been initiated with a citadel of learning that has provided a tremendous amount of collaborative linkages such as the Feed and Read program and other media based community literacy interventions,” he added.