AMIDST sprays of teargas and hot water, students and staff of polytechnics and Colleges of Education held their ground, protesting at the front of the National Assembly in Abuja on Tuesday.
Their grouse -that the Federal Government must bring an end to the many challenges facing these education sub-sectors which led to their protracted strikes. For Polytechnics especially, this is more than an issue of money or attention. One word runs through their every cry -disparity.
The Polytechnic Act for example has not been amended since 1993. More than 80 per cent of the members of the Governing Councils of Polytechnics are politicians who have no idea how the polytechnic system works. But University Governing Councils have 60 per cent from within the system, only about 40 per cent are from outside. Whether it concerns employment, entry qualifications or career growth, when it comes to polytechnics, there is always a high level of discrimination.
It is only polytechnics that do not have a Commission, primary schools, Nomadic education, Colleges of Education – they all have their own Commissions. But there is no regulatory body specifically for the polytechnics.
“Even during the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examinations, UTME, the cut-off mark for polytechnics is always lower than that of universities, giving students the idea that polytechnics are somehow inferior to universities. We have outgrown a lot of the policies being forced on us and we are tired of Government officials just saying, ‘we want them to do what they say.’
It would be recalled that Supervising Minister of Education, Nyesom Wike, told newsmen recently that the dichotomy between Higher National Diploma (HND) and university degree holders will be resolved soon. According to him, President Goodluck Jonathan has set up a committee, headed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, to address the controversy.
This will not be the first time Government officials seem to be paying lip service to the issue. While in office as President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo on January 5, 2006, at a meeting with members of the House of Representatives Committee on Education and the then Minister of Education, Mrs. Chinwe Obaji, approved a policy, which reversed the discriminatory policy restricting HND holders from rising above Level 14 in the civil service.
Eight years later, polytechnics and their products are still being treated as second class citizens within and outside the education system. Some private companies do not even accept polytechnic students for industrial attachment, and pay polytechnic graduates less than university graduates for doing the same jobs.
Mr. Adeyemi Lukman, the Senate President of the National Association of Polytechnic Students, is more worried about his future after graduation, than the ongoing strike. He says: “If I want to work in the civil service after graduation, I have to begin from level 7 while my counterpart from the university begins from level 8. I cannot go beyond the level of Assistant Director with my HND.
Even when Federal Government agencies are embarking on mass recruitment, I will be put together with school certificate holders. Even among the youths, there is disparity; although productivity figures show that we are usually more competent than university graduates, all Nigerians care about is the certificate.
Even this ongoing strike is as a function of the disparity. We have been on and off strikes for the past 11 months, but no one seems to care. When the universities were on strike, Mr. President himself sat with the lecturers and saw an end to the strike, but the situation is different with polytechnics.”
The President, Association of Proprietors of Enterprise Institutions, Dr. Andrews Jegede is also a product of the Polytechnic sub-sector. “Europe, where we copied the polytechnic system from, does not have this challenge. The polytechnics there are degree-awarding institutions.
These policies have to be reversed, and institutions must learn to work within their jurisdiction. For example, I do not believe that universities have any business running engineering courses; such technical know-how is the responsibility of polytechnics. But instead, tertiary education in this country has now become a playing ground where institutions do as they please. Because people are so crazy about university certificates, they don’t seem to care about competence anymore.”
Polytechnic students have been at home for a total of 182 days because of the ongoing strike action. Tired of the ‘half bread is better than none’ attitude, stakeholders are calling for the full loaf or nothing.