When Mr. Fabian Ojo got admission to study Mass Communication at the Institute of Management, Enugu in 1985, he looked forward to graduating from the institution with a Higher National Diploma five years after.
But, two years later, precisely after obtaining the Ordinary National Diploma, Ojo changed his mind about continuing with the course and the polytechnic education altogether. Reason: he was not getting the inner satisfaction of being an undergraduate. The polytechnic system, he said, did not accord him the needed psychological recognition.
Among his peers in Esan, Edo State, especially those in the university, he realised that they were not on the same page. Not that they were better off academically, but there was a reduction in his rating because he was in a polytechnic. So, the fact that he was in IMT and not a university became an instant minus for him.
The story of Mr. Victor Jegede, a HND graduate of the Ibadan Polytechnic, paints another scenario. Following the discrimination that he faced, in terms of promotion, in the organisation where he worked, he had since gone for a post-graduate diploma course to enable him to secure a university degree. Before then, he alleged, younger university degree holders in the firm got accelerated promotion and were made to supervise him just because he possessed an HND.
The stories of Jegede and Ojo are just a tip of the iceberg concerning what many polytechnic graduates undergo in the country. While the older OND/HND holders are complaining about facing promotion ceilings in their different organisations, the younger ones who are seeking employment are grumbling about the frustration and hard times in the labour market. In fact, many firms, they claim, prefer recruiting university graduates to those who hold diplomas from the polytechnics.
The discrimination that Ojo faced about 30 years ago is still playing out. Like a cancerous growth, it has refused to heal and it was not surprising that the issue of disparity came to the fore again recently, when the Committee of Chairmen of Governing Councils of Federal Polytechnics met at the Yaba College of Technology in Lagos. For some of the stakeholders who spoke on the occasion, there was the need to put an end to the B.Sc/HND inequality in the country.
For instance, the Executive Secretary, National Board for Technical Education, Dr. Masa’udu Kazaure; and the Rector, Yaba College of Education, Dr. Margaret Ladipo, urged the Federal Government to address urgently the inequality between university and polytechnic graduates.
The disparity, they said, was affecting the growth and development of polytechnic education in the country.
Apart from Kazaure and Ladipo, unions like the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics and Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Polytechnics, among others, have protested against the disparity in the past.
Even as the unions kick against the discrimination, some analysts argue that the Federal Government’s efforts at resolving the issue has been nothing but unfortunate. They posit that the government has not shown strong commitment to ending the inequality.
An ex-Education Minister, Prof. Ruqayyatu Rufa’i, perhaps affirmed this when she said the FG had not received any formal document to bring the two positions at par.
According to her, the National Council on Establishments, comprising all heads of service in the country, has yet to meet to rectify the decision.
But a former SSANIP National President, Mr. Ganiyu Akinyele, disagrees with Rufa’i, saying the FG has never mustered enough political will to resolve the issue.
Akinyele notes that during the era of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, after exhaustive deliberations among government agencies comprising officials of the ministries of Education, Labour and Productivity, a circular authorising the government to equate degree holders and their HND counterparts to the same entry point was released.
The idea, he says, is to end the lack of motivation being faced by the likes of Jegede and Ojo and to turn around the nation’s polytechnic education.
Akinyele adds, “The problem of polytechnic education borders on poor implementation of policies and this has resulted in the discrimination against diploma holders. The essence of the circular, which was released many years ago, was to ensure that HND graduates could rise and terminate at the same level with their university counterparts. Theoretically, the government must have released the circular. But as I speak, its execution has not taken place. So, who are those not interested in the execution of the policy?”
“Again, have you ever bothered to ask what the government has done to establishments and firms that discriminate against polytechnic graduates in terms of employment?”
The National Secretary of SSANIP, Chief Monday Jegede, who shares Akinyele’s view, links the unending disparity to the actions of policy makers.
For instance, he wonders why the NCE would, till date, not implement the 2004 Federal Executive Council decision removing the limiting of the career progression of HND holders in the civil service.
Beyond that, the SSANIP National Secretary, who hails the productivity of polytechnic graduates, partly blames his colleagues for sabotaging the initiative.
He notes, “This is an issue we have been fighting for over the years, to no avail. I also think there are concerted efforts, even from within the polytechnic system, to make sure the disparity remains.”
Apart from affecting the psyche of polytechnic graduates negatively, other analysts argue that the disparity has put pressure on the country’s university admission process. To this, Akinyele concurs, remarking that many Nigerians see the polytechnic education as second to university learning.
But for an education consultant, Dr. Olusegun Omisore, the debate about the disparity is just a distraction. According to him, what should occupy the minds of Nigerians is a better framework that will enable the country to face the vicissitudes of life and the global challenges.
The citizens, Omisore advises, should challenge the Federal Government to concentrate on providing better educational policy and funding rather than engaging in the disparity controversy.
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He adds, “There isn’t much in terms of the provision of funds and facilities, whether in the universities or in the polytechnics. Many of the graduates of these institutions are not masters of their disciplines. So, for me, the disparity debate is premature. All we need is the political will to go back to the basics.”