The news of the inauguration of a committee by the Federal Government (FG) to bridge the gap between Higher National Diploma (HND) and university degree is relatively a cheering one.

At least, after ten months of academic shut down by polytechnic lecturers across the states of the federation, the FG is planning to put a ‘lasting solution’ to one of the major demands (removal of HND/university degree dichotomy) of the aggrieved lecturers. As much as I wouldn’t want to pre-empt the report of the committee, I wish to state that removing the disparity or bridging the gap between graduates of the two programmes would be more akin to the wisdom of a man that ignored leprosy only to dissipate his energy to treating ringworm.

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. Therefore, the polytechnic education was not ill- conceived, but misunderstood to date. The wrong perception of polytechnic education is evident from the way lecturers are recruited to the admission process of prospective applicants; from the curricula development to the relevance of the courses; from the government regulatory agencies to the ownership (state, federal & private); from the employers of labour to several policy somersaults. The list is endless. Hence, for the stakeholders, a rare cognitive restructuring or pragmatic approach towards tackling these problems is necessary before anything good can come out of the polytechnic education reforms.

Second, if really the private sector is the major employers of labour in Nigeria, then the removal of the disparity would be a mere effort in futility. The government may decree that public and private sectors should give polytechnic graduates and their university counterpart equal opportunities to work with the same entry levels and promotional growths, however, can the government mandate private companies from which schools they should recruit from? Subsequently, the problems would be far from being solved and would greatly affect the private sector.

Three, FG may need to tackle a bigger disparity that may endanger the socio-political and economic systems of the country in the nearest future if this committee does not extend its dragnet to tackling disparities amongst private, state, federal and foreign universities especially from the neighbouring countries.

Government may not see the need for that now until another five years when the products of these neighbouring countries’ universities flood Nigeria.

The attention would then shift from the army of unemployed graduates to unemployable certificated individuals. Unofficial visits to these universities in Republic of Benin, Ghana, etc could be of great assistance in this regard.

Against this background and in furtherance to my little modifications, I will toe the line of the Heads of Polytechnics and Colleges of Technology (COHEADS), in their memorandum submitted to a Presidential Technical Committee on the Consolidation of Tertiary Institutions in 2007. The recommendations include; consolidation of tertiary institutions by converting and upgrading polytechnics and colleges of education into campuses of proximate universities to address carrying capacities issues; with additional 1,000, 000 admission spaces estimated, HND should be scrapped. The National Diploma (ND) programmes should remain in all universities of technology (new & old). With the reform, middle level technical manpower will henceforth be clearly defined by ND qualification.

The largest federal and state polytechnics in each of the six zones should be converted into full fledge universities. These institutions should remain technical institutions where 90% of all enrolment must be in core technical programmes. The ND should be the entry qualifications to the universities of technology and the new universities. The main focus of these institutions should remain inculcating technical skills and competences at very high level.

The curricula in these institutions must be thoroughly reviewed to reflect need- oriented, contemporary and futuristic courses. The curricula development should involve 50% end users, 35% practical-oriented Lecturers, 10% education specialists and 5% genuine Nigerian educators in the Diaspora.

This should not be made ‘food for the boys’. The other polytechnics should remain but affiliated to the newly established or existing universities. However, they should be allowed to produce technicians only at the ND level. Those wishing to further their technical training would then enroll into the universities of technology or the newly established universities.

The entry qualifications for the ND programmes should be five credits in parity with conventional universities.

The ND programmes should be a comprehensive three-year programme as proposed by the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE). The regulatory framework that already exists for polytechnics should be upgraded to take charge of the proposed universities of technology.

The committee must ensure that modalities for improving capacity, both human and physical, at the new universities be put immediately into place. A five- year moratorium should be given to all the new universities to enable them improve capacity. There must be a strategic plan for aggressive staff development and upgrading of facilities while funding should be provided to implement these plans.

With regards to the current holders of HND certificates, windows of opportunities should be opened to them to convert their certificates to B.Sc .This would even serve as additional Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) for the universities to develop at a fast pace. The committee must ensure that the introduction of the reforms will not lead to retrenchment of staff. These can be ensured by allowing the staff sufficient time to upgrade, re-skill and up-skill.

This article was sent to by Adesemoye of the Department of Mass Communication, LASPOTECH.

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