Conversion of polytechnics to universities worrisome


There was a dichotomy between Higher National Diploma (HND) holders and university degree graduates. University graduates were rated above their polytechnic counterparts at any meeting point to the dissatisfaction of the latter.

The narration was expected to change when a legislative bill was passed to put an end to the discrimination between the two. The bill empowers holders of HND certificates to access jobs as would any graduate with bachelor’s degree.

There was this sign of relief and general belief that the manpower needs of Nigerian industries would be met. Again, it was envisaged to ensure social justice and improve corporate governance while encouraging patriotic contributions among HND employees in both the public and private sectors.

In a way, the new law served as a motivation for polytechnic HND holders. The only thing that was left unresolved is the issue of equating the requirements for admission into the two institutions.

Unfortunately, the events that followed this giant stride could be equated with retrogression, as no fewer than 20 polytechnics and colleges of education have been converted to universities primarily by state governors, the Senate and the Federal Government.

It’s a move that has not gone down well with the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, and education reform activists have tagged the move as a plan to “bury” the essence of technical education in the country.

Governors and members of the National Assembly have been accused of engaging in an act of unlawful proliferation of universities in the country.

Their counterparts from the university communities, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in a statement also warned against the establishment of new universities due to the paucity of funds for the sustainability of the existing ones.

Experts too have shown concerns over the trend of upgrading polytechnics to universities, describing it as being worrisome considering the function the two cadres play in producing middle-level manpower.

Polytechnic education is expected to provide technical and vocational training, technology transfer and skills development to enhance the socio-economic development of the country to meet the nation’s requirements for technological take-off as provided in the National Policy on Education.

The governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu upgraded  the Lagos State Polytechnic to the Lagos State University of Science and Technology.

The Governor of Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa, in 2021,announced the upgrading of Delta State Polytechnic, Ozoro, to the Delta State University of Science and Technology.

Some of the other affected polytechnics are: the Abia State Polytechnic;  Abia State College of Health Sciences and Management Studies; Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro; Federal Polytechnic, Ofa; Yaba College of Technology; Ogun State Polytechnic and the Kaduna State Polytechnic, among others.

In defence of this trend, the Executive Secretary, NUC, Prof Abubakar Rasheed, noted that the reason for the upgrade of the institutions to universities was to increase access to university education for citizens. This was countered by the National President of ASUP, Dr Anderson Ezeibe, describing it as a frivolous upgrade and a “manifestation of lack of consistency in pursuit of vision by proprietors of public polytechnics in the country.”

He went further, “Polytechnics were established to produce professionals in technical/technological and vocational education, which should address national manpower needs in such a direction. This is why the practical component in the curricula for polytechnics is higher as they are expected to produce people with hands-on expertise. This is not the same with universities.

“The question for those who are on this voyage of conversion like the Lagos State Government is whether the need for such manpower has been satisfied. The principal reason for the poorly thought out conversion is just because the enrolment figures are dropping across polytechnics due to the discrimination against the polytechnics and their products as well as the rustic and anachronistic policies of the government on degree-awarding status for the polytechnics.”

The ASUP president lamented that the future of that level of tertiary education was at risk.

He added, “That’s the reason why our union is crying out as the future of the polytechnics is at stake. Our proposal of allowing polytechnics to attain degree-awarding status will resolve all these issues: satisfy the quest for degree-level certification, deepen technical/technological education through curricula enhancement, retain the expanding pool of qualified manpower in the polytechnics, attract funding and stop the HND/degree dichotomy.

“We are saying that polytechnics should retain the OND certification as middle-level manpower and use the same as feed for a bachelor of technology certification to be awarded by polytechnics in their names as polytechnics if requirements to be set out for this are met.”

It has been argued by education reform activists that the nation’s leaders do not understand the philosophy behind the establishment of polytechnic institution.

“The philosophy of polytechnics is to produce practical-oriented graduates who will go to the workplace and hit the ground running…., but we have a country that doesn’t appreciate that philosophy. It was mentioned that China in 2018 converted over 600 universities to polytechnics rather than vice versa.

Some other stakeholders have lent their voices over the matter, describing it as misplaced priority and unnecessary.

National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), just like ASUP and official of the Federal Ministry of Education, faulted the conversion, and likened the action to “taking a step forward and many steps backward.”

Describing government’s action as a misplaced priority, ASUP National President, Anderson Ezeibe, said what is imperative at this time is to give the needed attention to existing public polytechnics by adequately funding them, providing requisite infrastructure and improving staff welfare.

According to him, “The establishment of new polytechnics by the government or granting of licence to private operators for new ones is equally unnecessary at this time, as proliferation of polytechnics in the country would not translate to an automatic increment of access to polytechnic education by young Nigerians.”

Ezeibe said ASUP is not carried away by government’s upgrading of some polytechnics to university, as that was not the major issue to lecturers, as far as polytechnic education is concerned. He explained that the issue is for government to look after existing institutions.

“So, let the government change if it likes the name or status of one school to another many times, the problems will remain the same if proper attention is not given to such schools,” he hinted.

To Ezeibe, there is nothing wrong if polytechnics are allowed to award degrees like universities of technology are doing, as the Act establishing polytechnics makes provision for them to produce high-level manpower as universities are doing.

In the words of the Executive Secretary, NBTE, Prof. Idris Bugaje, ‘‘We must stop this crave of converting polytechnics to universities. The universities are swallowing polytechnics. If you convert college of education to university, you are upgrading it, but if you convert a polytechnic to university, you are degrading it and this will not help the economy.

“While countries like China and Germany are giving priority to technical and vocational education and with China even converting universities to polytechnics because they know that is the future, we are now in the craze of turning our polytechnics to universities. We are having dearth of technicians while we are heading for a glut of university graduates.

“There should be paradigm shift. What we need to compete well at global level is to produce manpower that is skilled. We may not need a situation where you will be asking for five credits at General Certificate in Education level or somebody who scores 300 in the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME).

“If you have people who have the skills, get them in, brush up their talents and you may award them Skill Qualification Certificate. The Indians and Chinese doing welding jobs here, who says they have five credits in GCE?

In the same vein, an official in the Federal Ministry of Education, Kenneth Osuagu, noted that one of the effects of the conversion, will be the scrapping of National Diploma and Higher National Diploma programmes, as universities would not be able to produce those levels of students anymore.

He said: “It is like shooting yourself in the leg because you are reducing your capacity. They should rather increase their carrying capacity, enrol more students and improve on the facilities they have.”

He reminded that universities and polytechnics have different roles to play in the education system, adding that polytechnics were established to meet middle-level manpower needs of the economy.

“All over the world, the polytechnic sector is critical to economic development; it is not about conversion but performing the roles for which they were established. Polytechnic is a skill-oriented system, and when it is changed to university, that attribute could be lost. I think we should strengthen what we are doing and make sure we are doing it well. If a polytechnic is noted for one particular thing, local and foreign companies will be sourcing their staff from that institution.

“For instance, only one polytechnic in Nigeria trains students in underwater welding. So, if there is a burst oil pipe, it is only from that institution that the welders will be sought. Otherwise, they will be brought from other countries. So, polytechnics just need to look for a need in the society that they can meet.”

Instead of seeking an upgrade, he said polytechnics should continue their affiliate programmes, step up and produce more graduates.

As the country’s population is increasing, so is the need for technical manpower. With the number of developmental projects across the country and advancement in technology, the polytechnics owe it to the country to produce the skilled workforce to handle these.

For these reasons, polytechnic education must be allowed to stay, and of course looked into, for it to strive as the benefits in technological advancement of a nation can not be overemphasized.