Media expert and publisher of Prime Business Africa, Dr MARCEL MBAMALU, writes that the craze for a University Degree in Nigeria is a misplaced priority:
The fundamental principle underlying higher education is the acquisition of functional education to enable students to fit into the strategic goal of social development. It can be argued that universities, polytechnics and colleges of education focus significantly on research, pedagogical techniques, vocational and technical education. However, each has its area of focus, with polytechnics giving far greater attention to vocational and technical education than the universities, which focus more on research and pedagogy.
A student of a university or a polytechnic would have acquired specific kinds of training after graduation. However, when the purpose of a thing is not known, abuse they say is inevitable. Higher institutions of learning today have become a hunting ground for people who are highly certificate-driven, rather than knowledge-focused.
Tertiary education has become more of an ego affair, with the system of higher education and the job market discriminating terribly against polytechnic graduates. After a five-year course in a polytechnic, sometimes with better curricular, a graduate is expected to do a postgraduate diploma for one year before applying for the masters programme. Employers also show a preference for university certificates over polytechnic certificates, with the latter receiving smaller pay than the former while performing the same task. Unfortunately, little attention is paid to the quality of learning going on in both the polytechnics and the universities, reducing Nigeria’s burgeoning graduate market to impoverished certificate carriers.
Unnecessary Disparity in treatments
University degree holders therefore receive preferential treatments in respect and reward. In the long term, this reduces the technical delivery of service in the public sector and national development. In Nigeria civil service, where university graduates are statutorily qualified to rise to grade level 17 as the peak of their civil service career. On the contrary, holders of HND certificates awarded by polytechnics cannot rise above grade level 14 or become directors in the civil service until and unless they acquire additional academic qualifications such as a postgraduate diploma or master certificate as awarded by universities. Polytechnic graduates with postgraduate diplomas, who continue to the PhD level and wish to migrate to a Nigerian University will always be queried to produce their first degree, even when they have doctorates.
According to the International Centre for Investigative Journalism, the biggest disparity complaint of the polytechnics graduates in custom service is in the disparity between them and the university graduates, pointing out that university graduates are posted to the superintendent cadre assignments, while HND holders from polytechnics are posted on guard duties. In science, technology and general engineering, the superiority war has been allowed to eat deep into many minds and the education sector.
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It is the severe neglect of polytechnics and colleges of education that has forced many Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examinations (UTME) applicants to opt for the universities. While some colleges of education and polytechnics now offer degree programmes, some states are converting colleges of education and polytechnics to universities. In 2022, Lagos State turned Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education, Ijanikin; Michael Otedola College of Primary Education, Epe; and Lagos State Polytechnic, Ikorodu, into universities. In Sokoto and Kwara States respectively, former Shehu Shagari College of Education and The Federal Polytechnic Offa, Kwara State, are now universities.
Polytechnics Still Prove their Mettle
Over time, polytechnic graduates have proved that knowledge is the central issue in education, not a university degree. Bill Gates, dropped out of Harvard to focus on his potential, and he was once the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft and ranked as the world’s richest man between 1995 and 2017. Korede Bello, a Nigerian Afro-pop singer graduated with HND from the Nigeria Institute of Journalism and became successful in his music career. Not having a degree didn’t seem to affect Pete Cashmore as he worked hard and established a popular blog, Mashable. Tuface Idibia cannot be taken out of the picture because he attended the Institute of Management and Technology (IMT), Enugu, bagged an OND before he went to pursue his music career and became successful.
The job market in Nigeria has even shown an interesting result. While the unemployment rate in Nigeria neared 30% as of 2022, the labour market had more graduates from vocational institutions than universities according to data from Pricewater Coopers (PwC). In 2020, 41% of first-degree holders were unemployed, while 23% of master’s degree holders, and 23% of PhD graduates did not have jobs.
Live and Let Live
Elsewhere in the world, those who attend universities are expected to have a focus on research and teaching. Those who attend polytechnics, colleges of education or vocational centres want to learn a trade or a vocation. This has to be re-emphasized in the Nigerian tertiary systems. The issue of the dichotomy between HND and Degree holders will only bring damage to the country’s national development. There is absolutely no need to uphold the disparity policy because different tertiary institutions serve different segments of the labour market through their method of training. Polytechnics emphasize practical skills, while universities focus more on theory and research.
The National Association of Polytechnics, (NAPS), the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, (ASUUP), and the Senior Staff Union of Polytechnics have at different times condemned the discrimination between university graduates and polytechnic graduates. The government needs to dissolve the dichotomy to encourage acceptance and to shun discrimination in both public and private employment sectors. Authorities in the educational sector should as a matter of urgency enhance the technological approach to training to increase the industrial aspirations of the country. Just as the saying implies, it is no longer certificate but ‘sabificate’ (practical approach to knowledge; ‘Sabi’ in this context means “To Know” and ‘sabificate’ in Queen’s English depicts ‘Competence’).
Recently, the National Board for Technical Education, out of concern for its polytechnic system of education, unveiled an online top-up programme for Higher National Diploma holders to convert their certification to Bachelor’s Degree. This would be done through an online top-up for one year, with foreign accredited universities.
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This would have been a welcome development but for its foreign bend. Foreign universities keep on creating avenues to attract Nigerian students, milking the country of hard-earned reserves.
According to the Institute of International Education in the US, Nigerian students spent about $514 million (about N2.5 trillion) on school fees in the country in 2021. Ghana raked in about N250 billion from school fees in 2022 from roughly 19,000 Nigerian students. The Central Bank of Nigeria has acknowledged that between 2010 and 2020, the country spent $28.66 billion on fees by Nigerian students in foreign institutions of learning, an amount that translates to an average of $2.86 billion a year. The utmost priority should be placed on the Nigerian system of education to reawaken and improve the strategies of training. Since polytechnics have shown merits of existence, the government can create avenues such as industries where graduates of polytechnic can be harnessed to showcase their potential. Part of the discrimination may also have to do with the dying quality of education in polytechnics. Without doubt, experience has shown that the quality of education in polytechnics has deteriorated at a much faster pace than in universities. This is then a wake-up call to polytechnics to make their market more competitive.
Dr Marcel Mbamalu, a veteran journalist and Editor, is the publisher of Prime Business Africa
Follow on Twitter: marcelmbamalu
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