THE discrimination between Higher National Diploma (HND) and university degree holders when it gets to job placements and career progression has been a source of grave concern, particularly to HND holders.
Educationists describe polytechnic education as a system of education that places considerable emphasis on practical training and technological know-how.
On the other hand, university education is designed to produce graduates with theoretical understanding and competence in various disciplines.
Observers, however, underscore the need to maintain fairness in dealing with issues relating to the products of the two categories of tertiary education.
They note that while it takes four years of academic studies with practical applications in the polytechnic to acquire HND, a university degree, on the other hand, is obtained after undergoing undergraduate studies for four or more years, depending on the courses.
However, HND holders claim that they face some discrimination with regard to their career progression in different organisations, as some ceilings are placed on their career advancement.
They argue that the disparity in the treatment of HND holders and university graduates has made the public to view polytechnic education as inferior to university education.
They note that on several occasions, the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) and the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Polytechnics protested against the disparity.
Observers, nonetheless, note that the disparity and the public perception of the quality of polytechnic diplomas vis a vis university degrees have somewhat put additional pressure on university admission processes.
They say that the removal of the discrimination between HND certificates and university degrees was one of the kernels of ASUP’s demands when it embarked on an indefinite strike in October 2013. The strike was, however, called off in July 2014.
In a bid to address this controversy, the Federal Government in May 2014 inaugurated a committee to examine the difference between the polytechnic education and university education.
The committee is mandated to review the curriculum for HND studies, including the possibility of introducing a bridging course that can enable polytechnic graduates to attain the highest positions in the public service.
It is also expected to look into ways of designing a programme that would enable polytechnics to award Bachelor of Technology (B-Tech) degrees.
Inaugurating the committee, Mr Nyesom Wike, the Supervising Minister of Education at that time, said that the committee was set up as part of efforts to resolve one of the key demands of ASUP.
Wike urged the committee to work hard within stipulated time to resolve the challenge posed by the dichotomy.
Observers, however, commend the Federal Government for the initiative, insisting that the review will address some salient issues in education sector.
Mr Akin Shogunle, a lecturer in Osun State Polytechnic, Iree, said that the harmonisation of HND certificates and university degrees ought to have been done before now.
He, however, noted that the training, which HND holders received, was expected to complement that of the university degree holders, particularly in the area of technical studies.
“University degree and HND holders should be accorded the same recognition; it will go a long way in bringing peace and stability to the tertiary education system.
“This is because people are no longer interested in going to polytechnics because of the perceptible differences,’’ he said.
Shogunle, nonetheless, lauded the government’s commitment in efforts to resolve the differences between the holders of the two certificates permanently.
However, Mr John Bassey, a civil servant, recalled that the former Head of Service of the Federation, Alhaji Yayale Ahmed, once set up a similar committee to address the disparity.
He urged the members of the current committee to be knowledgeable on the issues involved, saying that Nigerians were optimistic that the committee would do a thorough work on the assignment.
Sharing similar sentiments, Miss Philomena Udeze, a student of Federal Polytechnic, Oko, Anambra, said that the action of the Federal Government was quite encouraging.
She said that students in polytechnics across the country had serious reservations about the country’s education system.
“The whole thing is very frustrating; I hope and pray that government will expedite action in implementing the report of the committee,’’ she said.
Besides, Mr Abdulwahab Oyekanmi, a student of Federal Polytechnic Bida, Niger, also commended the government for the action.
He, nonetheless, called on that government to resolve other major issues affecting the polytechnic system in the country.
Mr Abraham Owolabi, the Director of Osun Board for Technical and Vocational Education, also underscored the need to address the disparity existing between polytechnic graduates and degree holders in the country.
Owolabi, who partly attributed the snail speed of Nigeria’s technological advancement to the disparity in the remuneration of HND holders and university graduates, stressed that the development had created unhealthy rivalry between workers.
“Any nation, which has developed technologically, would have given priority attention to technical and polytechnic education,’’ he said.
In his views, Assemblyman Folorunso Bamisayemi, the Chairman, Osun House of Assembly’s Committee on Education, said that that there was no need to differentiate between HND and university degrees.
“I don’t think there is any need for this dichotomy because HND holders and university graduates have the same process of training,’’ he said.
He said that competence should be the benchmark for assessing HND holders and university graduates, and not the certificate which an individual was holding.
Nevertheless, Bamisayemi commended the Federal Government for constituting a committee to resolve issues relating to the dichotomy between the two categories of graduates.
He also said that harmonisation of both certificates was long overdue but urged members of the committee to “tread softly, so as not to bruise the ego of degree holders.’’
All in all, observers underscore the need to enlighten the public on how to promote harmony among the two certificate holders, as the nation awaits the government’s White Paper on the report which the committee has submitted.