When it was reported recently that, with the second reading of a bill seeking to put Nigerian polytechnics at par with the Universities, the Nigerian Senate has intensified moves to address the age-long clamour to bridge the dichotomy between the two higher institutions, we could not help but wonder on what bases is the said move being made. The move by the Nigerian Senate can best be described as a step in the wrong direction that would only end up complicating issues for Nigeria’s primary objectives behind University education as against Polytechnic education.
For allowing the said bill to go through a second reading, it clearly shows that the Nigerian Senate do not fully understand the issues at stake neither do they have a full grasp of the import of their actions if the said gets passed. We believe laws should be made in the best interest of the people. Our Nigerian laws should not be “cash and carry” policy statements that are driven by primordial sentiments and emotions. If the Nigerian Senate are bent on passing this bill on degree/HND supposed dichotomy, then they should just completely scrap the HND and Colleges of Education programs out of the country’s system of higher learning. It is imperative for our lawmakers at the Senate to sit back and get to really understand the underlining issues bothering on this controversy between degree/HND supposed dichotomy. Without proper understanding, they would run off thinking that they are doing Nigerians a favour not knowing they are complicating issues.
For countless years now, the perceived disparity that exists between University graduates and Polytechnic and College of Education graduates has been a contentious issue that many have even become clueless to what exactly is the issue. For us, we believe lack of proper understanding of the primary objectives for which the university and polytechnic education programmes were established in the first place, and our political leaders apathy towards polytechnic education standard, amongst other things, are the reason why this supposed disparity has continued to widen and become more contentious.
The truth is that the university and the polytechnic education programmes have different objectives based on their ‘utility value’ to society. While the university aims to produce the cultured, public-spirited and conscientious intellectual that would transform the immediate environment and contribute to global culture and civilization, the polytechnic is geared towards the production of the enlightened workforce that would advance the instrument of economic production and infrastructural development, and help the society on the path of industrialization. It is the lack of this understanding over time by the relevant authorities in government circles as well as the populace, which has contributed greatly to the obvious perceived divide between university and polytechnic graduates. This is the same problem we see in the Nigerian Senate regarding this issue, hence, their hastiness to pass the bill to address the supposed disparity.
The said Bill, entitled “A Bill for an Act to Abolish and Prohibit Dichotomy and Discrimination Between First Degrees and the Higher National Diploma in the Same Profession/Field and Related Matters,” was sponsored by Senator Ayo Akinyelure (Ondo Central) who is also the proprietor of All Over Polytechnic in Lagos. Leading a debate on the bill, Akinyelure who said the framework was propelled by wage disparity and gross discrimination against HND holders in the public and private sectors, noted that the situation “is threatening to derail the nation’s core policy thrust of evolving a technologically and scientifically based, self-sufficient and self-reliant society in the nearest future. Hence, the need for Nigerian Senate intervention at this juncture.” He added: “Without mincing words, and as l speak, thousands of would-be polytechnic and technology students are contemplating or have decided to opt for university education because of perceived and real discrimination against HND graduates in relation to their counterparts who are university degree holders. If this contemplation occurs, there is bound to be a vacuum created in our labour market in this regard and to  consequences are bound to follow this trend.”
Akinyelure, who claimed that polytechnic education dwells mainly on the practical while that of the university is merely theoretical, added that the degree of discrimination against HND holders in the country is so appalling to such an extent that they are employed as gatemen while their fellow university graduates are employed with dignity into ranking offices. The senator who also claimed that HND holders in the field of accountancy, engineering, among others, had been found to be better on the field than degree holders, added that both qualifications are not supposed to compete together but should rather complement each other.
But a number of senators kicked against the bill, describing it as baseless as they argued that the clamour to raise the value of polytechnic education to that of the university amount to wanting HND holders to reap where they did not  sow. The opposing senators who described the objectives of the bill as misplaced, argued that the polytechnic education is structurally different from that of the university. According to them, these structural differences must first of all be addressed before any clamour could be relevant. Therefore, they argued that not only are the entry requirements into the university more complex than that of the polytechnics, it is mere university graduates that teach in the polytechnics, saying the situation is different in the university where Ph.D is the central qualification to attain ranking in lecturing. But the opposition notwithstanding, the bill scaled second reading and referred to the committee on education for further legislation.
As recently reported, the report of the Presidential Committee on NEEDS Assessments of Nigerian Public Polytechnics and Colleges of Education recommending the removal of disparity between polytechnics’ Higher National Diploma (HND) and university’s first degree is a proposal whose consequences would be counterproductive if not given critical reconsideration. Being a typical half-measured solution that seldom gets to the root of the matter, it is a hasty gambit into a needless expediency, as expressed by an editorial tabloid. Coming in the wake of a series of negotiations that have culminated in the recent “suspension of the nearly one-year old strike organized by the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), the recommendation we believe, is merely a temporary palliative to a problem that demands thoughtful long-term solution.
To put it bluntly, the summary of all these grievances is simply wrongful and stereotyped perception of polytechnic education, poor funding and relegation of the polytechnics and lip-service to technical education.    Considering the initial insensitivity of this administration and the mocking silence of Nigerians to the strike, the Federal Government’s response has not been effective. This recommendation is consequent upon an overly emphasis on paper qualification or certificate consciousness. It is not enough to change the name of a polytechnic merely because one desires that it awards degree, the founding objective, which includes the societal needs, and the attitude of Nigerians are also worth considering.
The truth is, the removal of the supposed disparity that exist between graduates of the two programmes will be more akin to the wisdom of a man that ignored leprosy only to dissipate his energy to treating ringworm. For us, the best solution to address this supposed disparity is for the government to convert the existing polytechnics in the country to full-fledged Universities of Technology to still close the gap of the middle-manpower needs of our society.
Perhaps, an understanding of the whole essence of us having polytechnics in the first place will give us a better understanding of the issue here. First, all stakeholders will agree that the Walter Elliot Commission of 1943, Eric Ashby Commission of 1959, Dr. A. Skanska’s report of 1962 and other conferences sought to engender the development of technical manpower in Nigeria. In other words, these are established to train technical middle level manpower in the country. Then the Federal Polytechnic Statue enacted Decree No. 33 of 1979 as amended by Decree No. 5 of 1993, to give legal basis for the establishment of Federal Polytechnics in Nigeria. The principal aim for the establishment of Polytechnics in Nigeria is to turnout the middle-level manpower needed for industrial and technological development of the country.
It is a known fact that no meaningful national development could be achieved by any nation without sound and qualitative technical education. No wonder, Prof. Uba Nwuba, one time Rector, Federal Polytechnic, Oko, posited that the bedrock of technical emancipation for Nigeria is centered on Polytechnics education. Polytechnics offer highly technical, scientific as well as research-oriented education to students. It is disheartening to observe today that these citadels of learning which were once cynosure of all eyes in developed economics of the world, has been relegated to the background in Nigeria. Nearly all the State-owned Polytechnics are just a little above the secondary school level, infrastructural wise, due to lack of adequate funding by successive administrations. Most Nigerian Polytechnics are synonymous with structural decay occasioned by neglect and misplaced priority on the part of the government on one hand and society on the other.
A situation where Polytechnic graduates are looked down upon, because of the discrepancies existing between BSc and HND certificate has contributed greatly to the undermining of this all-important educational sector of the country. In most establishments, whether private or public, the discrimination exists at the point of entry and during promotion, with no recourse to individual talents and efficiencies. And if the private sector is the major employers of labour in Nigeria, then the removal of the so called disparity would be a mere effort in futility. The government may decree that public and private sectors should give polytechnic graduates and their counterpart equal opportunities to work with the same entry levels and promotional growths. But can the government order private companies, which schools they should recruit from? For it is the a private company that still has the liberty and right to decide who they want to recruit; be it HND or BSc holders. Subsequently, the so called disparity problem will be far from being solved.
There is, of course, a counterproductive and completely wrong attitude of Nigerians to polytechnic education. As noted by an editorial tabloid; Parents, Teachers, Students and even the general public itself have constantly relayed attitudinal dispositions that disregard polytechnic education. More often than not, polytechnics are seen as the last resort for students who have been frustrated by non-admission into the university after years of frequent attempts at the university matriculation examinations. Parents seem to subscribe to it as the alternative tertiary education when all attempts at gaining university admission have failed. Even students, after gaining admission into polytechnics, make frantic moves to still gain university admission.
It should, therefore, not be surprising that this arrant display of apathy and disdain towards polytechnic education has rubbed off on the nation’s leaders, who ought to know better.  If stakeholders (students, administrators, employees) wrongly view it as a phase in educational development that is devoid of any value, how then do they expect a clueless government to pursue its cause? Thus the clamour for parity on the part of students and lecturers in the polytechnics may well be a bitter expression of inferiority complex; for the desire to obtain desserts for its sake because some other non-relational party has such desserts, does not sit well in the scale of distributive justice. Who says a well-trained polytechnic graduate needs a university degree? What informs the thinking that a polytechnic lecturer, if he does his work as productively as it should be done, cannot receive a higher salary than his counterpart in the university? Clearly, polytechnic graduates are as useful to the country as much as university graduates and Nigerians should encourage places for excellence in different areas of competence.
Should the Federal Government panel’s recommendation be heeded, will the nomenclature of their certificates remove the perceived discrimination between polytechnics and universities? Will the Senate’s passage of the said Bill on this issue really address how Nigerians view Polytechnic education? Will it change Nigerians’ perception of polytechnics? Will it make graduates of polytechnics better theoreticians and less than the practical technology-oriented workforce, if that is what they want? Besides, there is an obvious negligence of the manpower component in this consideration. If polytechnics are to become degree-awarding, will the performance appraisal of their lecturers be like the universities? It is clear, therefore, that disparity is a wrong consideration.
While both aspects of tertiary education are fitting in their respective rights, they should be assessed in terms of their capacity and competence. Employers of labour should be aware of these factors and be entitled to make their choice between either of the graduates, depending on how they would satisfy needs.
We urge that those fighting for this course, like ASUP, should direct its arsenal on the ineptitude and mendacious posture of an administration that pays lip service to technological development and highlight the folly and the glaring contradiction of a nation that seeks to be industrialized by 2020 and is bereft of the minutest rudiments to start an action plan for industrialization. For how does a nation sustain a maintenance culture without a technical/technological education? The issue is neither parity nor certificate, but ‘quality’ and competence as well as the utility value of all graduates.
For the way forward, there is need for the present government to promptly and holistically review the polytechnic act. The act that established polytechnic has long been overdue for review to meet with the technical educational demands of the twenty-first century. Though, the government of the day has agreed to address two, out of the many demands of ASUP, which are: constitution of the governing council of the Federal Polytechnics and the assessment of the polytechnics needs both Federal and States, however, there is also need for the government to address the issue of adequate funding of polytechnics in the country. And like we said, the complete conversion of some of the existing polytechnics to full-fledged Universities of Technology will also go a long way to address the disparity issue. But like we said, the focus should be the ‘qaulity’ and ‘competence’ as well as the utility value of our graduates.It is interesting to also note that this is not the first time the government of the day will be making moves to address the subject matter. Sometime in 2006, the Federal Government inaugurated a Presidential Technical Committee on the consolidation of tertiary institutions in the country.
The then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Ufot Ekaette, once  said the government was worried at the acute problem of “carrying capacity at the tertiary level of the education system”, stressing that it was also worried that Nigeria was increasingly unable to provide access to especially university education for the critical mass of the population. In his words: “With facilities overstretched, quality is threatened. What is more, we are aware that no nation has achieved technological and socio-developmental breakthrough where less than 15 per cent of its qualified citizens have access to university education. With less than three per cent access, the challenge before us is indeed herculean. We must, therefore, seek to expand access without proliferation of universities so that we can increase our carrying capacity while still maintaining academic excellence. Consequently, after a painstaking analysis of our tertiary education system, including wide-ranging consultations with various stakeholders, culminating in the Presidential Forum held about two weeks ago, the Federal Government is convinced that we should consolidate all tertiary institutions. This means the conversion of all Federal Polytechnics and Federal Colleges of Education into campuses of proximate and contiguous universities”, he said.
The truth is that most Universities around the world did not start as full-fledged degree awarding Universities. For instance, The University College London (UCL) came to be through the mergers of colleges and research institutes. Today, UCL is still seen as a public research university in London, England, and the oldest and largest constituent college of the federal University of London. UCL was founded in 1826 as London University, UCL was the first university institution established in London and the first in England to be entirely secular, to admit students regardless of their religion, and to admit women on equal terms with men. The philosopher Jeremy Bentham is commonly regarded as the spiritual father of UCL, as his radical ideas on education and society were the inspiration to its founders, although his
direct involvement in its foundation was limited. UCL became one of the two founding colleges of the University of London in 1836. It has grown through mergers, including with the Institute of Neurology (in 1997), the Royal Free Hospital Medical School (in 1998), the Eastman Dental Institute (in 1999), the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (in 1999) and the School of Pharmacy (in 2012).
We can see how the University College London (UCL) ‘evolved’ over the years to become what it is today. UCL is regarded as one of the world’s most prestigious universities and ranks highly in domestic and global league tables; it is 20th in the world (and 4th in Europe) in the 2014 Academic Ranking of World Universities, joint 5th in the world (and joint 3rd in Europe) in the 2014 QS World University Rankings and 22nd in the world (and 5th in Europe) in the 2014/15 Times Higher Education World University Rankings. For the period 1999 to 2009 it was the 13th most-cited university in the world (and most-cited in Europe). There are 32 Nobel Prize winners and three Fields Medalists amongst UCL’s alumni and current and former staff. The University College London  (UCL) alumni include the “Father of the Nation” of each of these nations: India (Mahatma Gandhi), Kenya (Jomo Kenyatta) and Mauritius (Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam), the inventor of the telephone (Alexander Graham Bell), and one of the co-discoverers of the structure of DNA (DeoxyriboNucleic Acid). All five of the naturally-occurring noble gases (like Helium (He), Neon (Ne), Argon (Ar), Krypton etc), were discovered at the University College London  (UCL) by William Ramsay.
Another degree awarding institution that evolved like UCL, is The Imperial College London (legally The Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine), which is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom. The Imperial College London specializes in Science, Engineering, Medicine and Business. But it was a former constituent college of the federal University of London, and it became fully independent on 9 July 2007 during the commemoration of its centenary. The Imperial College London has grown through mergers, including with St Mary’s Hospital Medical School (in 1988), the National Heart and Lung Institute (in 1995) and the Charing Cross and Westminster Medical School (in 1997). Imperial College Business School was established in 2003.
Even the University of Leeds that is a redbrick university located in the city of Leeds, West Yorkshire, England, was originally named the Yorkshire College of Science and later simply the Yorkshire College. It incorporated the Leeds School of Medicine and became part of the federal Victoria University alongside Owens College (which eventually became the University of Manchester) and University College Liverpool (which became the University of Liverpool). In 1904, a royal charter, created in 1903, was granted to the University of Leeds by King Edward VII. We can go on and on to list several Degree awarding Universities around the world that have evolved over the years to be what they are today. Even some Universities today in Nigeria were once Colleges of Education or Teachers Training College Grade 2, like Delta State University, Abraka, of today was once a Teachers Training College Grade 2 (in the former Bendel State) before it was upgraded to a full-fledged University. The University of Port Harcourt was also established in 1975 as University College, Port Harcourt, and was later upgraded and given university status in 1977.