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The odds against polythecnic education

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Universally, polytechnic education is meant to provide technical learning that could assist a society in meeting its industrial aspirations. One distinctive mark of polytechnic education is the strong emphasis on practice-based learning. Work attachment is included as part of the practical curriculum and this can vary from the usual 6 – 8 weeks to 6 months in certain courses. This enables students to have on-the-job experience. The education provided is directly applicable to the students’ future careers.  Polytechnics give emphasis to the attainment of crucial skills such as that of communication and presentation as well as problem-solving.

The objective is to develop students’ self-belief and critical faculties which are essential for effectual involvement in societal growth and development. Therefore, it is naturally expected that a Polytechnic graduate would have limited difficulty in securing a job.

In Nigeria, it is, however, sad that polytechnic education is currently passing through a tough and difficult phase. In the last eight months, academic activities at federal and state owned polytechnics have been suspended as a result of the indefinite strike embark upon by members of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) since 29th of

April, 2013, in pursuance of a 13-point demand. Unfortunately, unlike it was the case when members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, recently embarked on a nationwide strike, everyone seems to be indifferent about the current ASUP strike. Expectedly, the on-going strike has caused severe damages to the already battered polytechnic education system in the country. It is no longer news that the fortune of polytechnic education in the country has seriously nose-dived. Ironically, the first polytechnic in the country, Yaba College of Technology, which was established in 1947, happens to be the first higher institution of learning in the country.

Till date, there are 72 polytechnics in the country, consisting of 22 federal, 38 State and 12 privately owned ones.

 However, despite the envisioned role which Polytechnics are meant to play in the technological progression of the country, polytechnic graduates have continued to suffer from the dichotomy created by employers of labour in the country, with government establishments being the most culpable. This dichotomy is reflected in disparity in salary Grade Level, especially in the civil service where Higher National Diploma, HND, holders are employed on Grade Level 07 while degree holders’ entry point is GL 08. Similarly, the HND holder cannot progress further than GL 14 in his/her civil service career. This variance in employment opportunity is also evident in other sectors. The various security institutions, for instance, are also guided by this entrenched discrepancy in terms of employment as a university graduate is commissioned into service while HND holders are not. Presently, HND holders who are seeking employment are frustrated because of the tough odds they face in the labour market. According to them, most recruiting firms and organisations prefer university graduates to HND holders.

The tragedy of the foregoing is that polytechnics are gradually losing their allure.

Currently, it is very difficult to see students who actually opt for

polytechnic education. Most of those who find themselves in polytechnics are there due to their inability to gain admission into their dream universities. Parents, who have been victims of the inequality in employment related matters involving HND holders, often swear not to allow their children to attend polytechnics. With this rather thorny state of affairs, it is difficult to see how polytechnic education could really fulfill its goal of turning out competent and resourceful technical personnel that would aid the country’s technological and industrial aspirations.

In view of the furor that the inequality between degree and HND holders have generated, the federal government has, over the years, attempted unsuccessfully to resolve the issue. Like every other burning issue in the country, the dilemma of polytechnic education is traceable to weak execution of policies. It will be recalled that the federal government once released a circular that was meant to nail the coffin on the disparity between university graduates and HND holders in government establishments. However, it remains to be seen to what extent authorities involved have translated the content of the circular into action because, till date, government is yet to implement the 2004 Federal Executive Council decision to remove the ceiling placed on the career progression of HND holders in the government employment.

Some analysts have tied the problem of polytechnic education to the slump in the country’s economy. According to them, decline in the activities of the manufacturing sector, is partly responsible for the current plight of HND holders in the country. The manufacturing sector unsurprisingly prefers to employ HND holders because of the belief that they are practical oriented people who could add value in terms of production related matters. Regrettably, the downturn in the economy has led to the shutting down of many industries thereby leaving holders of HND to compete for the few available public sector jobs with university graduates.

Going by the foregoing, the improvement of the economy, therefore, remains one means through which polytechnic education could be saved from imminent collapse.

Consequently, all tiers of governments need to provide the needed incentives to resuscitate the moribund industries in the country in order to provide more job opportunities for HND holders and, indeed, all job seekers. Undoubtedly, a functional economy would bring about buoyant and vibrant industries, which would naturally translate into more jobs across board for all.

Also, the National Assembly needs to critically look into the issue with a view to bringing about a lasting and acceptable legislation that could endure the test of time. Equally, corporate organisations, companies, agencies, the civil service and other such organisations that favour degree holders over their diploma counterparts should change this policy. No matter the number of universities that we have in the country, it is certain that it is not everybody that will have the opportunity of passing through the universities in pursuit of their career aspirations since there are numerous equally coveted courses at the polytechnics. It is also equally important to stress that employment opportunities should be based on the competence and resourcefulness of the individuals concerned rather than the institutions attended. After all, it is not a foregone conclusion that university graduates are better than those from polytechnics.

Tayo Ogunbiyi