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    Friday, December 1, 2023

    Ending Unnecessary B.Sc./HND Rivalry

    Much as the dichotomy between university degree and HND holders in Nigeria needs to be rested, so that the country can focus on the more substantial imperative to produce graduates of high productivity, the top-up measures being proposed to address the problem appear ridiculous and most likely to proffer the right solution. The National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) is reportedly introducing a programme to convert Higher National Diploma (HND) certificate to Bachelor’s degree through a one-year online top-up programme with foreign accredited universities.

    One of the issues that may arise from this proposal is whether the NBTE will not be usurping the powers and functions of the National Universities Commission (NUC), which ordinarily can undermine the proposal’s credibility. Also, why foreign accredited universities, when there are universities in the country that can conveniently undertake the functions; and at what cost, given that most of the candidates sought to be upgraded can hardly afford the N650,000 being suggested for the programme? Furthermore, what role should the 10th National Assembly, in particular the House Committee on Education, play in this matter? 

    According to media reports, the Executive Secretary of the NBTE, Professor Idris Bugaje explained that to kick-start the programme, NBTE uploaded contents of accredited HND programmes into a software, to enable it to pick B.Sc. contents of corresponding universities outside Nigeria, match them and find the gaps between the two. This, Professor Bugaje referred to as “… credit mapping, which will now bring out those specific courses that would require one to meet up with university degree holders.”

     Bugaje further explained that this arrangement is being made so that HND holders are not left behind in terms of progression. This development of ‘top-up’ will seem to be an addition to other attempts in the works aimed at addressing the dichotomy between university degree and HND holders in Nigeria? For instance, to restore parity, the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Interior, in 2017, mandated that entry levels for both degree and HND holders should be grade level 8, particularly in all the paramilitary services.

    Notwithstanding, HND holders cannot rise beyond level 14 or 15, without obtaining additional qualifications, such as Masters degree, while a degree holder can rise to level 17, which is equivalent to the Permanent Secretary cadre.

    Again, to address this issue, the National Assembly, in 2021, passed the “Bill for an Act to abolish and prohibit dichotomy and discrimination between degree and HND holders in the same profession for the purpose of employment, and for related matters. However, despite repeated appeals by stakeholders, the former president failed to assent to the bill before his exit on May 29 this year.

    It is worrisome that NBTE is shifting from its mandate to that of the National Universities Commission (NUC), which is responsible for university education in Nigeria. Why would NBTE be interfacing with a foreign university on university education for Nigerians? This appears absurd! Again, why run the programme with an India-based institution, Mewar International University, which has a branch in Nasarawa State; when several Nigerian universities, including Kwara State University, Ilorin; Bells University, Ota; Federal University, Oye Ekiti; Delta State University; Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo; Lagos State University, Ojo; and Babcock University, Ilishan run top-up programmes?

     Furthermore, it is important to be economically realistic while searching for a solution to the dichotomy between university degree and HND holders in Nigeria. For instance, based on the fact that the application fee for the Mewar International University ‘top-up’ programme is N50,000, while the school fees starts from N650,000 depending on the course of study, it is obvious that the cost is high for prospective students having regard to the country’s economic realities. Hence, it is misplaced to engage a foreign institution to run the ‘top-up’ programme.

    Also, the attempt at floating a ‘top-up’ may be counter-productive as it appears to foreclose the push for presidential assent to the “bill for an Act to abolish and prohibit dichotomy and discrimination between degree and HND holders’, which may demoralise many HND holders.

    The attempt to blur the BSc/HND dichotomy is placing undue emphasis on credentialism at the expense of competence, performance and productivity on the job; and without recognising that HND holders are meant to fill the middle level manpower and technical needs of the country, which is part of the reasons for the establishment of polytechnics. So, the niche for polytechnic education is technological and technical manpower development, underlined by the running of Ordinary National Diploma (OND) certification.

    It is equally important to note that entry qualifications into the universities and polytechnics are different, signifying that it is by choice that some opted to study in the universities rather than polytechnics or vice versa. The country’s concern should therefore be how to attain technological breakthroughs and produce innovators and technology giants like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.

    Nigeria and Nigerians should place emphasis on competence, performance and delivery of quality service; and make them the determinants for career progression instead of tying it to credentials. Private and public sector employers should not cap the career progression of HND holders or tie job retention to certificate; rather these should be tied to experience, competence and capacity. The use of certificates as a basis for career progression and job retention is reiterating meritocracy not mediocrity.  Therefore, employers should be keen about people who can do the job instead of ‘credentialism.’

    In more developed countries, there is no discrimination against holders of both certificates. Policy change is imperative to position polytechnic graduates towards competitive self-fulfillment along with their university counterparts, and this should be the priority of NBTE!

    Hence, it is important to be focused as a nation and be more strategic, coordinated and methodical; not rudderless in the search for solution for the dichotomy between university degree and HND holders because polytechnic graduates do not need a ’top-up’ programme to compete on the job.

    So, this 10th National Assembly, particularly the House Committee on Education should rise to the occasion to raise innovative and creative citizens that would turn around various sectors instead of focusing our energies on ‘certification’ at the tertiary level of education. The NBTE and NUC should be made to stay within their mandates.

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