‘No’ to plan to upgrade polytechnic diplomas to degrees
The National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) earlier this year floated a one-year top-up degree programme to enable polytechnic graduates to convert their HND to bachelor degrees.
The move was aimed at removing a dichotomy between bachelor degree holders and HND graduates, who are, among other aspects, being treated differently in the workplace, and to enhance the diploma holders’ opportunities for postgraduate study.
To achieve this, the NBTE introduced credit mapping, which reviews the credit loads or course-building blocks achieved during an HND programme and compares it with the credits required to obtain a related bachelor degree.
To convert a diploma to a university degree, the gap between the HND credit load and the related bachelor credit load could be addressed over a period of time. The board was also working with foreign universities from Malaysia, Russia and India to implement the process.
Within one month of this initiative, 30,000 Nigerian HND holders applied for the top-up programme, according to Professor Idris Bugaje, the executive secretary of NBTE.
However, Chris Maiyaki, the acting executive secretary of the NUC, said the conversion scheme would pose a challenge, as a university degree is not the same as an HND awarded by polytechnics.
Indeed, admission requirements into universities and polytechnics in Nigeria are different.
The minimum Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination score for admission into universities in 2023 was pegged at 140; that of polytechnics was 100.
Similarly, candidates seeking admission into universities are expected to achieve at a higher level in English and mathematics compared with those wanting to access polytechnics.
The polytechnics were established to drive Nigeria’s technical education.
But the dichotomy in university and polytechnic education has been a long-standing one in Nigeria’s education system. Polytechnic graduates complain that they are being marginalised. Whereas, they are not able to go straight for masters or doctoral degrees except if they first obtain a postgraduate diploma, graduates of polytechnics are paid lower salaries than their university counterparts in the civil service.
They are also limited in terms of positions and levels they can attain in the public service. For instance, HND holders cannot rise beyond level 14 or 15 without obtaining additional qualifications, while a degree holder can rise to level 17, which comes with better pay and seniority.
Several moves, including attempts at legislation to place polytechnic and university graduates on an equal footing in the public service have yet to yield results. In 2021, the House of Representatives passed a ‘Bill for an Act to Abolish and Prohibit Dichotomy and Discrimination between First Degree and Higher National Diploma in the Same Profession or Field for the Purpose of Employment; and for Related Matters’, but this is yet to be ratified as a law.
Due largely to this dichotomy, more Nigerians are opting for a university education. This has fuelled fears that the ‘poly education’ may soon go into extinction, which works against the need in higher education systems across Africa to differentiate in terms of their education and training offerings.
In the 2018-19 academic session, only 342,986 candidates applied to go to polytechnics and other technical colleges in Nigeria, out of 1.8 million students seeking tertiary education. According to the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board 1,761,262 candidates sought access to tertiary education in 2022, but only 86,952 applied to polytechnics.
NBTE boss reacts
Reacting to the NUC’s stand on its top-up degrees, the NBTE executive secretary, in a statement obtained by University World News, said the initiative is entirely beyond the jurisdiction of the university body.
According to him, only the division of evaluation and accreditation in Nigeria’s Ministry of Education has the power to assess foreign degrees (from Malaysia, Russia and India) if students with HNDs have upgraded their qualifications.
“[Such a] top-up is an alternative to the Postgraduate Diploma (PGD) offered by Nigerian universities. The admissions are made by foreign universities, and their senates award the degrees.
“The NBTE only provides HND curricula content for credit mapping and eventual credit transfer admissions. In a democracy such as ours, HND holders should be allowed to make a choice between a PGD and the top-up to a [bachelor degree],” he said.
He added that the programme is not for all HND holders, but rather for those who have the ambition to further their careers in an academic environment such as teaching and research in polytechnics or universities.
Lecturers, students react
A lecturer at the Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro, Ogun State, Babajide Taiwo, believes the top-up degree programme is a valuable pathway for polytechnic graduates to pursue further studies.
“As a polytechnic lecturer, I have seen first-hand the dedication and hard work of our students. I believe that they are capable of achieving success at the university level. The programme will help them gain the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the workforce,” he told University World News.
Another lecturer, who asked to remain anonymous, said that, although he understands the concerns raised by the NUC, the potential benefits of the top-up degree programme outweigh the risks.
“Polytechnic graduates are often well-trained in practical skills, but they may lack the theoretical knowledge that is required for certain jobs,” he said.
Another lecturer, Najeem Adelakun of the electrical and electronics department, Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro, described the NUC’s decision as a setback for polytechnic graduates seeking to upgrade their qualifications. “This decision reinforces the existing dichotomy between BSc and HND graduates,” he said.
A mass communication lecturer at the Ibadan Polytechnic, in Oyo State, Dr Akinfenwa Peters, has mixed feelings about the NUC statement. “On the one hand, I understand the concerns raised by the NUC. However, I also empathise with the polytechnic graduates …
“It is disheartening for them to see that their hard work and qualifications are not being fully recognised or valued in the same way as [that of bachelor] graduates. In my opinion, instead of completely dismissing the top-up degree programme, a more constructive approach would be to work towards finding a solution that bridges the gap between bachelor and HND graduates.”
He recommends a thorough review of the curriculum and assessment methods in polytechnics to align them more closely with university standards, urging the NUC to consider implementing a system of accreditation for the top-up degree programmes, to meet the required academic standards.
Meanwhile, polytechnic students have rallied behind the NBTE’s initiative, viewing it as fundamental to helping move education in the country forward.
Francis Chibube, who is currently studying at a polytechnic institution, described the situation as an issue that required adaptation to retain global relevance. “Other countries’ polytechnics are giving degree certificates, why can’t Nigeria do the same?”
Akinwale Tawakalt, who graduated from a Federal Polytechnic in south-west Nigeria, appealed to both the NUC and the NBTE to find a solution to the dichotomy, adding: “The top-up degree is the only means by which HND holders could receive their bachelor certificates in Nigeria.”
Another polytechnic graduate, Samuel Olaniyan, urged the NUC and NBTE to work together to resolve the issue in the interests of the students. “The two government entities should not disagree on issues of the utmost importance like this,” Olaniyan said.