‘Neglecting polytechnic education robs us of skilled manpower, stunts technological development’
University education, according to educationists, is a process of learning designed to produce graduates with theoretical understanding and competence in various disciplines, while polytechnic education places considerable emphasis on practical training and technological know-how.
In the light of this, polytechnic education was, in the main, geared towards delivering sound technical education, and its courses designed to be more practical than the theory-oriented courses offered in universities.
From the brief scenario above, these two categories of education, were meant to cater for the broad educational needs of the citizens, which would, in the long run, foster national growth and advancement.
But unfolding events, which The Guardian also confirmed, indicate that polytechnic education has not only been emasculated and starved of requisite funding by past governments, it is also receiving little or no interest from the country’s youthful population, who shockingly still view it as inferior to university education. Figures of candidates seeking admission into polytechnics/monotechnics in the country bear elaborate testimony to the waning interest in polytechnic education.
Part of the direct consequences of this development remains the rising army of unemployed youths crisscrossing the country for the largely unavailable white-collar jobs. By its very nature, polytechnic education equips students with life skills needed to be independent as well as guarantee self-employment and job creation.
This much was attested to by the immediate past rector of Federal Polytechnic, Auchi, Edo State, Dr. Philipa Idogho, who recently stated that polytechnic education was critical to the development of the manpower needs of a particular country.
“In Nigeria, polytechnic education ensures training of skilled manpower needed to drive the economy. Nigeria needs more of polytechnic graduates. Today the entire world is moving towards technical and vocational education because it is the in thing now. We need people that are skilled in moving the nation forward technically,” she said.
However, one of the major reasons why students prefer university education to that offered in polytechnics remains the discriminatory practices perpetrated by employers of labour, between holders of the Higher National Diploma (HND) and university degree holders during job placements and in career progression.
Though former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, had on January 5, 2006, during a meeting with members of the House of Representative Committee on Education and the then Minister of Education, Mrs. Chinwe Obaji, approved a policy, which reversed the discriminatory policy, restricting HND holders from rising above level 14 in the civil service, not much has changed along this line.
Professor of African Visual Culture, and Head of Department Visual Arts, Cross River University of Technology, (CRUTECH), Cross River State, Ajibade Babson, argues that this policy is laden with some technical hitches, hence its inability to influence candidate’s preference for university education.
According to him, “The president then reversed the discriminatory policy restricting holders of HND from rising to Grade Level 14 in the civil service without making it democratic, that is by allowing the National University Commission (NUC), the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) and other relevant stakeholders to determine what should be applicable.
“Also, the O-Level entry requirements and UTME scores for university education are higher. If parity is to be enforced, it needs be done equitably, starting from entry requirements, curriculum among others. We can’t have disparate entry requirements and lower academic rigour and at the same time, want both degrees to be at par. That cannot work. To eliminate employment and progression discrimination, we must first remove entry level and curricula disparities.”
He also cautioned that the preference for university degrees by employers of labour will affect the country’s socio-economic and educational development as the two systems remain different and the purpose of their training equally different.
“One trains for technology while the other trains different courses aimed at boosting the country’s manpower. So what is happening now is everybody is rushing to get a degree nobody is going to the polytechnics. At the end of the day, we are losing out on a lot of critical technological manpower in a lot of sectors,” he said.
Babson, a graduate of University of Basel, Switzerland, further stated, “Many youths who are rushing to get university degrees don’t really belong there. They are forcing themselves to get degrees just to satisfy employers of labour. In the end, they come out as half-baked graduates. Eventually, the society would be filled with half-baked graduates on the one hand, and not enough technologists to man critical sectors of the economy.
“In actual fact, there is no competition between a university degree and a HND obtained from a polytechnic because they both occupy different, but equally important sectors of the economic workforce. The person trained in a polytechnic is trained to have more technological capacity to work in the industry, and to operate at that level while someone trained in a university operates differently. They both complement each other. In the developed world, it’s a complementary relationship and there is no competition… Both are adequate and satisfy different needs in the society,” he stated.
He urged the Federal Government to put machinery in place to help people with ideas secure small loans to set up small and medium enterprise (SMES), adding that it would reduce the competition that brings HND in confrontation with degree programmes.
Vice Chancellor, Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), Ogbomoso, Prof. Adeniyi Gbadegesin, is aware of this needless lacuna and the impact on the society.
In stating efforts made by the school to remedy the situation, he said, “In LAUTECH, what we are trying to do now is to shorten the period it takes to acquire a degree. That is, for holders of HND in Urban and Regional Planning, for instance, we encourage them to come and within two years they get their degrees.
“So, what used to take them five years, we have shortened it to two years. We believe that this will serve as a source of encouragement to them so that they can still use the skills they acquired in the polytechnics. Once they are done, we award B.Tech to them. We need a lot of attitudinal change in our educational policy before we can eradicate the discrimination against non-degree holders…”
He also informed that the preference for university education by youths would ultimately affect Nigeria’s socio-economic and educational development as polytechnic education fills certain gaps in the development of the country.
For a senior lecturer in the Department of Statistics, Yaba College of Technology (YABATECH), Mr. Aromolaran Davidson, the preference for university education to polytechnic education is due to the ill treatment given to polytechnic graduates by the government, employers of labour and the general public.
He said, “Nigeria today is a country that pays more attention to certificates. Polytechnics are perceived, and are positioned to be sub or inferior to the universities by the recognition given to them, and Nigerian youths prefer university education to earn better recognition as positioned by the national laws.
“The main objective of polytechnic education was to enhance our technological development and the moment products of polytechnics are being discriminated against, then the mandate will not be fulfilled. The objectives will fail automatically and this will affect the educational sector in Nigeria.”
He advised governments at all levels to convert the polytechnics to degree-awarding institutions by making them universities of technology, while colleges of education should be converted to universities of education, so that there will not be discrimination.
From the prism of a university graduate, Mr. Oluwadurotimi Akinduro, polytechnics were established to raise graduates with required skills especially in the engineering/technical industry. “But government over the years could not properly fund and ensure that Polytechnics met the expectation of the job market.”
The University of Benin (UNIBEN), graduate urged employers of labour to give all applicants a level playing ground to compete for vacant spaces in the labour market, adding, “The government should do more to fund and ensure polytechnics are properly run to meet the demands of the job market.
Professor of Comparative Drama and Media, University of Calabar, Ede Iji, insists that governments should put a stop to the ill treatment given to polytechnic graduates by employers of labour, government officials and the general public in view of what the country stands to loose from such archaic practice.
The former Commissioner for Information and Culture in Cross River State said, “An end to the disparity will bring about balancing of students’ enrolment among all tiers of the tertiary education in the country, particularly in universities and polytechnics, and will help in reducing the unnecessary pressure this influx of students to the universities put on the limited infrastructure in the university system. Since education is vital to national growth and development, it is important for all levels of it to be encouraged and taken seriously. There shouldn’t be any form of dichotomy or discrimination against polytechnic education or university education since they all have their roles and places in nation building.
Giving his views on why young Nigerians prefer university education to that offered by polytechnics, a graduate of YABATECH, Mr. Abotu Philips Emuobome, said students prefer university education because HND is no longer marketable in Nigeria.
“While in school, my lecturer used to say that if in the next 10 years the discrimination against non-university degree holders by employers of labour is not resolved, polytechnic education may be forced into extinction as a result of lack of patronage by youths or prospective students. And that is what we are witnessing now.”