You cannot give what you don’t have…
Conventional higher education in Nigeria is of three basic categories: University, Polytechnic and College of Education. The University awards Degree Certificate, Master’s and PhD; the Polytechnic awards Higher National Diploma and Ordinary National Diploma (otherwise known as HND and OND, respectively); College of Education awards Nigeria Certificate in Education (NCE).
While there exist a somewhat mutual understanding between the Polytechnic and College of Education that HND certificate is higher than NCE and that NCE is higher than OND, there is always a contention between University degree certificate and Polytechnic HND Certificate. This rivalry gets played out on the street and in work places.
A common phenomenon among employers of labour is to superimpose university graduates high and above polytechnic graduates, even when the latter could be better and has spent a considerable time/year than the former in the same organisation. Consequently, a holder of a university certificate is revered; he becomes the boss with higher remuneration and other attendant benefits. It is also a common tendency for a university graduate to miniaturize holders of polytechnic certificate.
The dwindling popularity of HND certificate is also obvious in the number applicants jostling to secure admission to our tertiary institutions through the compulsory Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) conducted by the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB). Very few applicants desire to go to the polytechnic (or even college of education), all because of inferiority complex.
I have been attending JAMB Policy and Technical Committee meeting since 2007; the number of applicants to university increases yearly whereas there is a significant reduction in applicants for polytechnic and college of education. The problem becomes more glaring with the introduction of UTME. Some universities record as high as 80,000 to 100,000 applicants (though they may not take more than 5,000), whereas some polytechnics and colleges of education do record zero applicant. This happens yearly.
But why the disparity?
Answer to the above could be found in the calibre of lecturers in our polytechnics.
Universities are mostly peopled with PhD holders and professors, but one can hardly find lecturers with PhD in our polytechnics. Of course, there are those without PhD in the university too, but these are few and they know that upgrading their knowledge is a requisite to remain relevant in the system. Thanks to the conditions stipulated by the National Universities Commission (NUC).
In essence, some of the lecturers in our polytechnics lack the academic and technical wherewithal to baptize their students with the required skill and knowledge. But the problem goes beyond that!
It is common knowledge that lecturers in our polytechnics rely heavily on selling of hand-outs to students. This is not good enough. It is basically impossible to compare somebody that is compelled to study average of ten textbooks for a course (as is common in the university) with somebody that relies of an 80-page hand-out. Definitely, a student thus tutored and literatured with many textbooks will be better equipped since these textbooks must have been written by different scholars with variegated views, opinions and assumptions on the same discipline.
Of importance also is the disparity in recognition and remuneration of lecturers in the university and polytechnic. Few lecturers in the polytechnics that aspire to acquire higher knowledge will eventually leave for better remuneration and recognition in the university system.
The problem with HND certificate is not in the certificate itself. The perceived inferiority is borne out of the environment in which it is issued. It is just not possible to relate the calibre of lecturers in our polytechnics to what we have in the universities. And it is not enough to just conclude that we have brilliant brains in our polytechnics; what matters (as far as Nigeria is concerned) is the certificates/qualifications these lecturers have. Until this is done, there will always be the superimposition of university degree above polytechnic HND.
Rather than the hyped tussle between university degree and HND certificate, efforts should be on reforming our polytechnics. National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), the manager our polytechnics, should enforce the acquisition of PhD as a minimum requirement for lecturing. I am not advocating the termination of appointments of those without PhD. This could be done be giving them between five to seven years and with the provision of study grant.
While we cannot say that all PhD holders worth their salt, it is evident that a PhD holder must have passed through serious academic rigour and should be far better than somebody that lectures with only HND, First Degree, Master’s, or professional qualifications like MBA which is more common in our polytechnics.
We can make the HND certificate better and more competitive. But it requires some fine-tuning of the system to achieve this.
There will always be a disparity until our polytechnics employ PhD holders and professors, since the current crop of lecturers cannot give what they don’t have!
The writer is an administrator in a Nigerian higher institution
Follow him on twitter @Femiolas