(By Adewale Kupoluyi)

Despite what critics may say that polytechnics have outlived their usefulness, the strategic importance of polytechnic education – as enunciated in the Nigeria’s National Policy on Education – to provide for practical, technical knowledge and skills that are necessary for agricultural, industrial, commercial and economic transformation – cannot be over-emphasized.

SHOULD our polytechnics continue to be relegated to the background? This question has been asked several times without any consensus as to whether the answer should be in the affirmative or in the negative.

   This confusion is worsened by the government’s inability to be decisive and to make up its mind on what it hopes to do with polytechnic education. This inconsistency in public policy formulation and implementation can 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’s 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.

   Others grievances include the 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 retirement age for their members.

   The union is also aggrieved by the insistence of the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation to implement the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) module; continued delay in the amendment of the Polytechnics’ Act;  the appointment of principal officers on acting positions in some polytechnics,  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 contained in signed agreement   To any discernible mind, the agitations by the workers are legitimate and reasonable. What is worrisome, however, is the inability of the appropriate agencies to address the issues raised but this is not happening maybe because they concern the polytechnics.

   It is saddening that polytechnic education in Nigeria is being treated with disdain, culminating into why their graduates are stigmatised 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 more than 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 in 1992 under the British Higher Education Act, in which all the polytechnics in the United Kingdom were elevated to conventional universities.

   Despite what critics may say that polytechnics have outlived their usefulness, the strategic importance of polytechnic education – as enunciated in the Nigeria’s National Policy on Education – to provide for practical, technical knowledge and skills that are necessary for agricultural, industrial, commercial and economic transformation – cannot be over-emphasized.

   Unfortunately, most students seeking admission into higher institutions in Nigeria will hardly pick polytechnics. The reason is simple: why choose polytechnics when the universities are there? Many students that end up in polytechnics are those who cannot 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 Government to scrap HND, with the hope of creating a pool of technicians that will be different from engineers 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 discovered that entrants into the public service with HND were 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 public service terminated at Grade Level 14 while their counterparts holding university degrees were allowed to reach level 17.

  Other biases 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 as administrative staff, HND holders are confined within the executive cadre.

   Ironically, the frustration led not a few into all kinds of unemployment, social vices, criminality, non-chalant attitude and complete frustration by young men and women that are groomed to be technically-versatile, 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-technical courses that are irrelevant to the core mandates of the institutions should be limited to the barest minimum in the polytechnics to allow them maximise their capacity to train technicians, technologists and middle-level managers.

  Over the years, the nation has been experiencing imbalances and disconnects between the actual manpower needs of 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 advantage of such loopholes for their selfish interest when eventually the policies fail” (The Vanguard, 27/06/2008, page18).

   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 in as much as we have university graduates who are better than polytechnic graduates, there are also polytechnic graduates who are by far better than the university graduates. So, polytechnic graduates are not mentally inferior in anyway.

   And to the UK example, we should not follow that to kill our polytechnics. The needs and aspirations of the nations maybe 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 with modern day reality.

  It should be appreciated that the real sector of the economy is the engine room for attaining envisaged development hence; a well-managed economic system requires technical hands that propel the industries to run at optimal capacity.

  Without delay, the government should pay less attention to party politics and end the ongoing strike by going into 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.

•Kupoluyi wrote from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta.

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”