Experts weigh in on need for polytechnics to award degrees
One of the pillars of technological advancement in the country is polytechnic education. Polytechnic was set up to promote vocational education and training in skills and manpower for national development.
The 2004 National Policy on Education, which sets out objectives of polytechnic education in Nigeria, mandates it to provide technical knowledge and skills necessary for agricultural growth, industrial, commercial and economic development.
However, there has been clamour for the upgrade of the mandate of polytechnics to enable them award degrees and run postgraduate programmes as done globally.
The dichotomy between Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) and Higher National Diploma (HND) has been subject of contention over the years.
Stakeholders have severally made representations to the Federal Government to end the dichotomy. But for polytechnics, the issue has refused to go away, even when government waded in.
Recently, the leadership of Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) came up with a position paper on award of degrees. The body said it is crucial that the goals of tertiary education align with those of national development and be designed for global relevance so that its graduates could fit into 21st century society.
ASUP also denounced government policy of profiling polytechnics as skill acquisition institutions under the regulation of National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) as against establishment of National Polytechnics Commission (NPC) to regulate technological education at the tertiary level.
ASUP said government’s poor funding of polytechnics relative to other sub-sectors, not only distract the sector, but tends to frustrate its essence.”
The yearly budgetary allocation to polytechnics, together with interventions from agencies such as, TETFund and Petroleum Trust Development Fund (PTDF) still does not scratch the surface of the real needs of polytechnics. The dearth of funding has grave consequences for the sub-sector because funding inevitably drives efficiency and effectiveness.
“For polytechnics to remain relevant in the 21st century, they must be configured to have a mix of the practical and theoretical components to produce middle and high-level manpower, to man industries, ensure economic and technological breakthroughs and guarantee that polytechnic graduates attain the peak of their profession,” said ASUP.
The union said it is convinced that the way forward for polytechnics in Nigeria is to be patterned to operate the dual mode or binary system of National Diploma (ND) and Bachelor of Technology (B. Tech.).
ASUP President, Anderson Ezeibe, said: “Our position is not for polytechnics to abandon their technical education cliche. Rather, we are asking for such to be deepened. We are asking for retention of ordinary national diploma (OND) as middle level manpower. OND should serve as the feed for Bachelor of Technology for qualified and duly accredited polytechnics.
“Polytechnics, in most parts of the world and United Kingdom, where the country copied from, are already awarding degrees up to Ph.D level. Nigerian Polytechnics are about eight decades old, yet stagnated and burdened with severely disrespected certification.
“Manpower and infrastructural disposition of a lot of polytechnics in the country have significantly improved and in fact, better than some degree awarding institutions. Already, some polytechnics are awarding degrees, though in affiliation with universities. They do so with their manpower and infrastructure and are accredited by the commission responsible for regulation of degree programmes in the country. These polytechnics should be allowed to run these degree programmes as polytechnics.
Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council, Chrisland University, Owode, Ogun State, Prof. Ayodeji Olukoju, said the dichotomy between university and polytechnic graduates is longstanding and could be attributed to colonial educational heritage of privileging literary education with university education at the apex.
He said it became so ingrained in Nigeria that instead of retaining polytechnics and their mandate, even polytechnic staff and students now want their institutions to be ‘upgraded’ into technology universities.
Olukoju warned that abolishing polytechnics is a brutal (non) solution to a policy issue and would create fresh problems.
The former vice chancellor said he is opposed to both obliteration and conversion of polytechnics to universities by fiat, noting that polytechnics are unique institutions, which are better suited to Nigerian economic needs than universities in some disciplines.
He said polytechnics by their curriculum and emphasis have a clear mandate – empowering students with skills that could make them fill a niche in the job market or be self-employed.
“Universities have a different mandate – training skilled labour for the market and, more importantly, conducting research and publishing their findings. As I understand it, research is not part of the mandate of polytechnics, because their staff are not required to do so or necessarily equipped for such – not many have the PhD degree, the ultimate research degree. Merely labelling polytechnics as ‘universities’ without teachers who have conducted research and published in top research journals will simply increase the number of poorly equipped and badly staffed universities that litter the Nigerian landscape.”
To him, ASUP expectations are understandable even if self-serving. He said the problem is that Nigerians do not appreciate the dignity of labour, which the skill-centred polytechnics epitomise.
“That said, establishing universities should not be by fiat. It should be done thoughtfully and systematically, with emphasis on staff training and recruitment, re-training of staff that cannot teach in a university except as facilitators. As the older universities in Nigeria were raised in the 1960s, we need sufficient time, planning and funding, and the reconfiguration of systems and structures. In a worse case scenario, selected polytechnics – with sufficient qualified staff, physical space and infrastructure – might be upgraded in a phased development of staff reposting, retraining and recruitment, as well as equipment upgrade.
“It should also include phased admission into degree programmes as those originally admitted into polytechnic programmes are phased out. Such institutions should also be under the tutelage of established universities, especially universities of technology, or conventional universities running similar programmes. There should be resource verification of programmes and audit of staff and equipment. Appropriate legislation should also be enacted to affirm the changes. In effect, if government insists on phasing out polytechnics, a very bad policy, it should do so over a period and in a systematic manner that leaves no stakeholder short-changed.”
Olukoju maintained that merely increasing the number of poorly funded, poorly staffed, poorly equipped universities would compound the mess in the tertiary education sub-sector.
“Though some of the converted polytechnics might prove their mettle over time, most will be in the pool of the run-of-the-mill certificate mills in the country, whereas Nigeria needs training centres to produce appropriately skilled workers targeted at identified needs of sectors of the economy,” he said.
Olukoju advised the Federal Government to align wages to skills and according to the value that each category of workers could add to the economy.
He urged government to retain the original polytechnic curriculum and produce special skilled workers on that platform.
He said as long as they remain polytechnics by the education policy of the nation, they are not meant to offer degree programmes just as universities are not to offer diplomas.
Deputy Vice Chancellor, Anchor University, Lagos, Johnson Fatokun, said while polytechnics could offer degree programmes by converting them to universities of technology in specialised fields, there should be provision for middle level manpower in the nation.
“That’s where we are getting it wrong. If everybody has a Bachelors degree, who will do the real work? Even those with Bachelors degree in engineering or agriculture will tell you that they are not to do the real work, they are to design only. The growth we are expecting will not come, the technological growth we are expecting will not manifest. If everybody is in the laboratory designing, who will supervise?” he asked.
Fatokun said there is a need to examine the manpower and resources needed to train degree holders.
The deputy vice chancellor advised that polytechnics should remain to pursue their mandate. According to him, polytechnics should continue to be practical oriented and restricted to programmes that will impact on the nation or progress of the land.
A lecturer at the department of Mass Communication, Federal Polytechnic Offa, Chuks Okoji, observed that the journey to end the dichotomy and revamp polytechnic education is still filled with lots of roadblocks.
“The vision and mission statements of university education are different from polytechnics. Though the two can be partners-in-progress towards nation building, national growth and development; but definitely not to burden polytechnic with dual identities. Primarily, can we say polytechnics have delivered their national mandates?”
Okoji, who noted that ASUP expectations are attainable, said some polytechnics are running degree programmes in partnership with federal or state universities. He stated that this is just a litmus test, adding that most of them have been able to prove what they have to offer.
He advised the Federal Government to play the role of a father and do everything in its power to empower polytechnics to flourish and excel.