SHOULD our polytechnics continued to be relegated to the background? This question has been asked times without any consensus as to whether the answer should be in the affirmative or not.

This confusion is worsened by government’s inability to be decisive and makeup its mind on what it hopes to do with polytechnic education.

This inconsistency in public policy formulation and implementation could largely explain why our polytechnics will have to be on strike for several weeks running without anybody really doing something concrete to end the imbroglio.

What dominates our national life is politics. It is politics galore – left, right and centre. Sure, politics is important but it becomes counter-productive if good governance is sacrificed on the altar of party politics.

Members of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics have down tools over the non-constitution of governing councils for polytechnics, monotechnics, and colleges of technology; non-release of government white paper of the visitation panels to federal polytechnics and non-commencement of the NEEDS Assessments of the Nigerian polytechnics.

Other grievances include need for the changing of the deplorable conditions of state government-owned polytechnics, monotechnics and colleges of technology; the continued appointment of unqualified persons as rectors and provosts by some state governments and the failure of most state governments to implement the approved salary package (CONPCASS), and 65- year retirementage for their members.

The union is also aggrieved by the insistence of the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation in implementing the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System, IPPIS, module; continued delay in the amendment of the Polytechnics Act; the appointments of principal officers on acting positions in somepolytechnics, monotechnics and colleges of technology beyond the approved periods; the review of the polytechnics’ scheme of service; and the non-commencement of the re-negotiation of the Federal Government/ASUP agreement as containedin the signed agreement.

To any discerning mind, the agitations put forward by the workers are legitimate and reasonable. What is worrisome, however, is the inability of the appropriate agencies in addressing the issues raised but this is not happening maybe because it’s about the polytechnics.

It is saddening that polytechnic education inNigeria is being treated with disdain, culminating into why their graduates are regularly stigmatized in the labour market and seen as mere educated-illiterates.

Going back the memory lane, this system was originally adopted from the British. It was designed not to be morethan intermediate institution to train technologists and middle-level manpower.

That is, the Higher National Diploma certificate was never meant to be equivalent to a Bachelor’s degree as erroneously being claimed here over the years.

This disparity has continued to create acrimony until it was abrogated in1992 underthe British Higher Education Act, in which all the polytechnics in the United Kingdom were elevated to conventional universities.

Despite what critics claim that polytechnics have outlived their usefulness, the strategicimportance of polytechnic education – as enunciated in the Nigeria’s National Policyon Education – to provide for practical, technical knowledge and skills that are necessary for agricultural, industrial, commercial and economic transformation – cannotbe over-emphasized.

Unfortunately, most students seeking admission into higher institutions in Nigeria would hardly pick polytechnics. The reasonis simple: Why choose polytechnics when the universities are there? Many students that end up in polytechnics are those who could not secure university admission coupled with the pressure and influence of parents and guardians, who always prefer that their children and wards attend universities.

IN the late 1970s, when there was an effort by the Federal Governmentto scrap HND, with the hope of creating a pool of technicians that will be different from engineers, as produced by the universities, but this attempt failed due to the poor implementation of the policy that merely replaced HND with a lower certificate; National Technical Certificate, NTC, which was vehemently resisted by the students.

To redress the anomaly, an attempt was made by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration to end the discrimination between HND and BSc graduates. In a 40-page paper, the Presidential Committee on the Consolidation of Emoluments had discovered that entrants into the public service with HND are barred from reaching the highest grade even when they were found competent.

Before the removal of the ceiling on the salary grade level/rank, the promotion of HND holders in the nation’s public service terminated at Grade Level 14, while their counterparts holding university degrees were allowed to reach level 17.

Other bias meted out to them include inequality in salary Grade Level (HND – GL 07 & BSc – GL 08), security personnel –Bsc (Commissioned), HND (Non-commissioned), promotion; HND (maximum of GL 12), while BSc (Unlimited), banks and other financial institutions treat HND holders like outcasts while BSc holders are employed asadministrative staff, as HND holders are confined within the executive cadre.

Ironically, the frustration had led not afew into all kinds of unemployment, social vices, criminality, non-chalant attitude and complete frustration by those unfortunate young men and women who are groomed to be technically-versatile products, self-employed and job-creators.

What we should do is to strengthen our polytechnics, realising that although the university strives to impart a particular kind of education by teaching ‘why things work’, the polytechnic on the other hand teaches ‘how things work’ thus, they complement each other.

Therefore, non-technicalcourses that are irrelevant to the core mandates of the institutions should be limited to the barest minimum in the polytechnics to allow them maximize their capacity to train technicians, technologists and middle-level managers.

Over the years, the nation has been experiencing imbalances and disconnect between theactual manpower needsof the economy and the educational system, resulting in dire structural imbalances that are inimical to national development.

As I have observed in an essay,Why HND Should Not Be Scrapped, “The elite should be blamed for policy failures because as policies are being formulated, they also build landmines in order to take the advantage of such loopholes for their selfish interest when eventually the policies fail”.

The nation now needs well-orchestrated objectives that will harness its many talented manpower to produce the synergy that will drive it to development that is not made possible under the present arrangement.

The bitter truth is that inasmuch as we have university graduates who are better than polytechnic graduates, there are also polytechnic graduates who are also far better than the university graduates. So, polytechnic graduates are not mentally inferiorin anyway.

And to the UK example, we should not kill our polytechnics. The needs and aspirations of the nations may be similar but the structure and the peculiarities of the two societies completely differ.

The National Board for Technical Education, which supervises these institutions that currently stand at 110 for tertiary technical institutions and 159 technical colleges, should urgently review the curricula of polytechnics to make them go in tandem withmodern day reality.

It should be appreciatedthat the real sector of the economy is the engine room for attaining envisaged development, hence a well-managed economicsystem requires technical hands that propel the industries to run to optimal capacity.

Without delay, government should pay less attention to party politics and end the ongoing strike by embarking on dialogue with the angry workers. The workers too should be responsive, bearing in mind that all their demands may not be met at a go. This is the right thing to do.

Mr. ADEWALE KUPOLUYI, wrote from Federal University of Agric., Abeokuta, Ogun State.

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