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CCUK MATRICULATION LECTURE BY PROF. BINTA T. JIBRIL

UNIVERSITY EDUCATION AND THE ACQUISITION OF REQUISITE
CHARACTER AND SOFT SKILLS FOR ENHANCED COMPETITIVENESS By Professor Binta Tijjani Jibril Department of Economics, Bayero University Kano Being a Lecture Delivered at the 2nd Matriculation Ceremony of Capital City University Kano – 26th July 2023

  1. INTRODUCTION
    The purpose of the presentation: to explore how university education can help individuals to develop
    the necessary character traits and soft skills for improved competitiveness.
    Right from the outset, it is important to remind ourselves that University degrees are awarded for
    “learning and character”. The learning component refers to technical and practical skills. It is also
    known as hard skills. Hard skills define our education and qualifications and they are
    represented by the certificates we obtain. The process of teaching and learning hard skills in the
    university is very clear and to a great extent measurable. There is a well-structured system with a
    developed curriculum. There are sessions and semesters; calendars and timetables; examinations and
    assessments; lectures and laboratory work; and so on. However, the second component – the
    development of character or personality – is quite elusive. It is not easily documented or
    evaluated through the traditional means of experience, qualifications and education. In most
    universities, it is simply taken for granted that students will pick up the soft skills that
    somewhat blend into personality and build character (indirectly) along the way as they
    navigate through their respective courses of study. Character traits, such as integrity, resilience,
    responsibility, and others, are fundamental aspects of a person’s moral and ethical makeup. They define
    who we are as individuals and influence how we behave and what decisions we take. They also affect
    our relationship with others and how we interact with them. Character development has profound
    impact on both personal and professional growth. It leads to personal growth and fulfillment as well
    as job satisfaction and success in the professional sphere.
    For instance, integrity builds self-respect and a strong sense of identity. It fosters trust in oneself and
    encourages ethical decision-making, leading to increased self-esteem and inner strength. In the
    workplace, integrity is highly valued as it establishes credibility and fosters trust among colleagues,
    clients, and superiors. Individuals with integrity are more likely to be given leadership roles and entrusted
    with responsibilities, contributing to career advancement. The importance of good character is
    underscored by the Hadith of the messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) when he said: “Indeed, I was
    sent to perfect the noble traits of character”. On several occasions, the Prophet (S.A.W.) defined the
    best Muslims as those who have the best inward and outward behavior: “The best among you are those
    with the best character” (Al-Bukhari, 2003). The classical scholar, Ibn al-Qayyim, even considered the
    entire religion to be a way of life revolving around moral behavior. He said:
    “The religion itself is good character, so whoever surpasses you in good character has surpassed you in
    religion” (Al-Qayyim, 1996).

  1. SOFT SKILLS AND CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT
    In the university system, character development mostly takes the form of soft skills inculcation for lifelong
    learning. Soft skills are sometimes called transferable skills or 21st century skills (Abbot, 2014). Robles
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    (2012) described them as “character traits, attitudes, and behaviors—rather than technical aptitudes or
    knowledge.”They essentially refer to those abilities and faculties you develop separately from your field
    of expertise. They are transferable qualities that help you succeed in whatever task you set your mind to.
    They are the attributes that help people to adapt to new situations, overcome obstacles, develop
    productive relationships with other people such as family members, classmates, co-workers and
    supervisors; and thrive in the workplace. They can be as simple as communication skills or as complex
    as problem-solving skills. The importance of soft skills for university students cannot be overemphasized.
    In this brief lecture, I hope to guide our matriculated students through some of the most important ones
    that they should work on consciously and deliberately. Being able to demonstrate these traits outside the
    walls of the university will show that you have gained more from the university system than just a degree
    certificate. It will also prove to your potential employers that you possess some competitive edge over
    and above other applicants that are vying for the same job as you – it will enhance your competitiveness.
    It is important to identify and describe these soft skills so that students could use the knowledge to make
    changes in their behaviors and attitudes so as to improve their academic performance and prepare for
    success in the world outside the university. Students need to appreciate the fact that the soft skills that
    can help them to succeed in their academic carrier in the university can also assist them to secure their
    places in the employment market and thrive in the workplace after they graduate. Unlike hard skills (those
    measured by degrees, certificates, and acknowledgements), soft skills exist on a more fluid, even abstract
    level. Soft skills are not easily evaluated, but students that have them, will always stand out.
  2. SOFT SKILLS YOU DEVELOP AT THE UNIVERSITY
    Getting a degree certainly improves your job prospects, but it’s not the only career benefit gained by
    attending the university. As well as providing you with the technical know-how for your dream job, your
    degree will also teach you the necessary soft-skills to succeed in your future endeavours outside the
    walls of the university (the workplace for example). Here are some soft skills you will develop at the
    university which all employers would be interested in:
    i. Communication skills: as university students, you will be expected to write many
    assignments, essays, projects, term papers as well as the final year dissertation. This is in
    addition to related communications with your tutors and supervisors. University doesn’t just
    help students to write better, it also helps them to improve their ability to interact face-to-face
    with others. You’ll meet a large number of people from diverse social and economic
    backgrounds. You will attend classes with different people; and you will likely work very
    closely with some of them as you undertake group assignments, field trips and laboratory
    work together. This ability to meet other people and socialize will be invaluable when you
    enter the world of work. Your confidence and the ability to talk to people will also get
    sharpened at university because you will be expected to make several presentations in front
    of your lecturers and classmates in the course of your study. Employers of labour are usually
    keen to attract workers with strong presentation and public speaking skills. Therefore,
    developing this skill will greatly increase your competitiveness and enhance your chances of
    success in the future. The best ways to boost your communication skills is to read. Read
    extensively (both fiction and non-fiction) to expand your vocabulary, and familiarize yourself
    with a variety of perspectives and ideas that will strengthen our ability to form complex
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    arguments and effectively defend your point of view. You should read scholarly publication
    in your field to acquaint yourself with the way academic papers are constructed and
    structured and how hypotheses are developed. The best way to work on your presentation
    skills is to actually give presentations. If you suffer from a fear of public speaking, you need
    to know that it can only get better if get out there and just do it! The good thing is: it gets
    easier and better with time.
    ii. Time management: As part of their character development training, university students are
    encouraged to participate in extra-curricular activities using the platforms of departmental
    and faculty associations, student union government and other clubs and societies. Some
    students also find themselves engaged with part-time jobs on campus or off; while others
    (especially ladies) combine their studies with the responsibilities of marriage and
    motherhood. This division of your time between multiple things will sharpen your time
    management skills and teach you how to manage your workload in the future. Employers
    will always value employees who can juggle multiple commitments. Even if you are too
    focused on your studies and do not participate in the activities of clubs and for societies or
    part-time work, your ability to meet deadline after deadline will strengthen your ability to
    effectively manage your time and stay organized. As workplaces and higher education
    institutions demand you to balance tasks and complete your work within a timeframe, staying
    on top of things while also making time for yourself is crucial. The ability to prioritize well and
    work smarter rather than harder is a vital skill you can apply to your studies, career and
    beyond.
    iii. Critical thinking and problem-solving: During your studies, you may face daunting
    problems that may seem impossible to solve at first. This could come in the form of
    complicated essay questions or difficult mathematical problems that may require you to think
    outside the box, approach the problem from new angles, and may be carry out some
    extended research. University will teach you to think critically about many topics – primarily
    regarding your field of study. Critical thinking is a transferrable skill and it will push you into
    the demesne of creativity and innovation. This is exactly what employers want from their
    employees, especially if a project encounters difficulties. They would want you to be able to
    take the initiative, and find creative solutions to existing problems and plan a strategy to avert
    similar occurrence in the future.
    iv. Taking constructive criticism: Everybody’s work has room for improvement – there’s never
    a perfect work! Therefore, you should be prepared to receive plenty of constructive criticisms
    from lecturers and classmates over the duration of your degree as you prepare and submit
    assignments and/or make presentations. Employers want employees who are capable of
    taking constructive criticism and using them to improve their own work. The ability to
    appreciate constructive criticism and embrace the viewpoints of others will develop your
    emotional intelligence.
    v. Digital Literacy: As a matter of necessity, many universities now integrate basic computer literacy
    into their academic programmes. This is one of the most important 21st century skilIs. You should
    expect to learn and use a variety of computer applications and software – spreadsheets,
    virtual learning tools, graphic design, statistical packages and so on. Digital proficiency will
    4
    enable you to select and use appropriate software for different purposes, give you the
    knowledge of basic writing tools and provide you with the knowledge of the ‘interwebs’ and
    cloud technologies.
    vi. Collaboration and Team Work: Another important 21st century skill that you are
    expected to develop in the course of your stay in the university is the ability to collaborate
    and work harmoniously with other people to achieve a common goal. Team players are
    supportive, respectful, and open to diverse perspectives. The speed of the market and our
    workplaces, propelled by rapid technological advancement presents special additional
    demands on employees. Smart employees respond and adapt to these demands by
    collaborating with others. Knowing how to work in a team, being able to tap from each other’s
    unique strengths and talents as well as knowing how to deal with set-backs and frustrations
    in the rapidly changing work environments of the future are all critical for success.
    Fortunately, the university inculcates this soft skill in you through group assignments,
    projects fieldtrips, joint laboratory projects and so on.
    vii. Financial Literacy: Hopefully by the time you join the university, your parents have started
    entrusting you with some level of financial responsibility. If you live away from home (on
    campus, for instance), you may need to be paying rent and utility bills, as well as budgeting
    for food, drink and entertainment. If you get a leadership role in student associations or
    committees may get greater responsibility for handling even larger sums of money. Money
    management skills show that you are someone responsible and trustworthy. This is helpful
    even if the job you’re applying for doesn’t require you to handle money directly, as it
    demonstrates positive character traits which will impress employers.
  3. HOW YOUR ABILITY TO DEMONSTRATE THESE SOFT SKILLS WILL ENHANCE YOUR
    COMPETITIVENESS

    Case Study: The Transformation of Maryam
    Maryam, a first-year university student, entered the university with a timid and reserved demeanor. She
    struggled to engage in class discussions, found it challenging to make new friends, and lacked selfconfidence in her abilities. As she progressed through her academic journey, she faced various
    challenges that ultimately led to significant character growth.
    i. Overcoming Fear of Public Speaking: In one of her courses, Maryam had to present a research
    project in front of the entire class. Initially terrified of public speaking, she sought help from her
    lecturer and attended presentations made by other students in the department. With continuous
    practice and encouragement, she gradually gained confidence in her presentation skills. By the
    end of the semester, Maryam was able to deliver a compelling presentation that impressed both
    her classmates and her teachers.
    ii. Leadership in Student Organizations: Encouraged by her best friend and her new-found selfesteem, Maryam decided to step out of her comfort zone and join a student organization related
    to her passion for environmental sustainability. Initially, she was hesitant to take on leadership
    roles due to her shyness. However, her involvement in the organization exposed her to realworld challenges that required problem-solving, teamwork, and decision-making. Over time,
    5
    Maryam found herself voluntarily assuming leadership positions, actively organizing events, and
    collaborating with other members to make a positive impact on campus and the contiguous
    community.
    iii. Resilience in Academics: During her 200 level, Maryam faced some academic setbacks,
    particularly in a challenging math course. Instead of giving up, she sought academic support from
    her Level Coordinator who linked her up with an afternoon tutorial/ study group organized by the
    Student Association of the department. With determination and hard work, Maryam not only
    passed the course but also developed a growth mindset that empowered her to overcome
    academic challenges in the future.
    iv. Empathy and Inclusivity: Maryam lived on Campus and shared a room with three other young
    ladies from different cultural backgrounds studying different programmes. Her exposure to the
    diverse campus community expanded her understanding of different cultures and perspectives.
    She actively participated in cultural events and engaged in open dialogues with peers from
    various backgrounds. Through these experiences, Maryam developed empathy and learned to
    embrace inclusivity, creating a more supportive and accepting environment within her social
    circle.
    v. Service-Learning and Social Responsibility: In her 300 Level, Maryam participated in a
    service-learning project focused on environmental conservation. Engaging with the local
    community and witnessing the impact of their efforts inspired her to be more socially responsible.
    She initiated sustainable initiatives on campus and encouraged her friends to adopt eco-friendly
    practices in their daily lives. Along with some of her friends Maryam developed a special
    environmental conservation project and planted 250 trees on Campus and the neighboring
    community.
    By the time Maryam graduated, she had transformed into a confident, empathetic, and responsible young
    adult. Her character growth during her university journey was evident in her academic achievements (she
    graduated with a 2.1), leadership roles, and positive contributions to the campus community. She is now
    happily married with two children and working in a large multinational corporation. She also volunteers
    her spare time for environmental conservation initiatives through an NGO that she helped to establish
    earlier on.
    Maryam’s experiences showcased the power of the university environment in nurturing character
    development and preparing students for a fulfilling and impactful future beyond graduation.
  4. CONCLUSION:
    The bottom-line, take-home message from this presentation is really quite simple. If you plan to enter the
    workforce after you graduate, you will need to be hired. If you want to be hired, you must help potential
    employers form the impression that you are someone who will be a motivated, enthusiastic, committed,
    goal-oriented and talented employee who will come to work on time each day prepared to use both your
    strong interpersonal and critical-thinking skills to perform your job in a competent, productive, and positive
    manner. Even if your ambition is to become self-employed after graduation, you need to develop the
    appropriate soft skills to enhance your progress in the entrepreneurial world. The best way to make this
    happen is to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by your stay in the university to practice and
    strengthen your soft skills so as to enhance your competitiveness.
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    Life consists of choices. You are in control of the development of your soft skills because they result from
    your conscious decisions to behave or not to behave in certain ways. Please make wise behavioral
    choices now that will help you to succeed in the future!
    Barakallahu fikum!
    REFRENCES
    Abbot, S. (Ed.). (2014). 21st century skills. The Glossary of Education Reform. Retrieved
    from http://edglossary.org/21st-century-skills/
    Al-Bukhari, I. (1406 AH). Al-Adab al-Mufrad (Vol. 1). Beirut: Mu’assasat Kutub al-Thaqafiyya.
    Al-Qayyim, I. (1996). Madarij al-Salikin Bayna Manazil Iyyaka Na’budu wa Iyyaka Nasta’in (Vol. 2). Beirut:
    Dar Al-Kutub Al-Arabiyah.
    Appleby, D. C. (2001). The covert curriculum: Lifelong learning skills you can learn in college. Eye on Psi
    Chi. Retrieved from http://www.psichi.org/?page=053EyeSpring01dApple&hhSearchTerms=appleby
    Isma’il, S. (2016). Character Education Based on Religious Values: An Islamic Perspective. Indonesia:
    Raden Fatah.
    Mendoza, P. (2007). “Excellence without a Soul: How a Great University Forgot Education.
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/236706307
    Mwita, K and Mwilongo N. (2023). ‘Soft skills development in higher education institutions: Students’
    perceived role of universities and students’ self-initiatives in bridging the soft skills gap’.
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/370564484
    Robles, M. M. (2012). Executive perceptions of the top 10 soft skills needed in today’s
    workplace. Business Communication Quarterly, 75 (4) 453–465

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