‘Converting’ HND To Degree Is Absurd

The recent disagreement between the National Universities Commission and the National Board for Technical Education over a ‘top-up’ programme to convert Higher National Diploma obtained in polytechnics, to bachelor’s degree offered by universities, is an absurdity. President Bola Tinubu, and the Minister of Education, Tahir Mamman, should intervene quickly and stamp out the blather.

Both agencies have argued over jurisdiction to award degrees, and over attempts to “convert” HND to one. The NBTE is reportedly seeking collaboration with foreign universities to create “an alternative to the post-graduate diploma” for HND graduates as an entry route for those intending a career in the academics.

The NUC insists that the NBTE lacks such powers. Besides, it declared, “Both the NUC Establishment Law and its Operational Law: Education (National Minimum Standards and Establishment of Institutions) Act vest in the Commission the powers to superintend and regulate university education in Nigeria, lay down minimum academic standards in the nation’s universities and other degree-awarding institutions, and accredit their programmes.”

But the NBTE countered, “Only the FME (ministry’s) Division of Evaluation and Accreditation has the power to assess the foreign degrees (not NUC) after the students have graduated.”

Mamman should step in.

HND and bachelor’s degrees are not the same though they have similarities. Both are valuable. Claims of superiority or inferiority are also misplaced. Trade certificates, professional craftsmanship qualifications and polytechnic education originated to drive industrialisation by combining practical and technical training with academic grounding to provide skilled technicians for factories, mechanised farms, and offices, and social services infrastructure.

In the 1960s up to the 1980s when Nigeria’s industrialisation was about taking off – with textiles, vehicle assembly plants, beverages and steel rolling mills, and electronics assemblies among others sprouting – polytechnic graduates were in demand. Today, with the rollback of manufacturing, they struggle for relevance.

The misguided ‘top-up’ reflects the lack of a viable and functional national developmental plan tied to the country’s educational structure.

The real issues remain. The salary entry-point disparity between HND and degree holders in the public service provokes accusations of discrimination. In 2021, the National Assembly intervened, passing a bill to abolish the dichotomy, but the then president, Muhammadu Buhari, withheld assent.

A certificate cannot be “topped up.” There are already prescribed and effective routes for HND holders to upgrade their skills through the postgraduate programmes in the universities.

A caveat: universities, local or foreign, are free to prescribe their own entry qualifications for degrees. National jurisdictions exercise accreditation rights.

The NBTE needs to reinvigorate the importance of the technical education and to engage government to drive the much-needed industrialisation in the country.

Government should revitalise the mining, and industrial sectors. It should push for mechanised farming and ICT by creating an enabling investment environment, and investing in infrastructure. This will rejuvenate polytechnic education.

The OECD said major world economies have transitioned from, and outsourced manufacturing, and more than 70 per cent of their GDP now comes from services, thus reducing the need for polytechnics. Many UK polytechnics have been restructured to universities utilising the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. They did not “convert,” or “top up” HND to degrees!

Polytechnics are still important. Experts explain that the HND programme comprises practical work experience and academic studies for hands-on skills. The bachelor’s degree focuses on quantitative skills in the classroom with lab-based courses. Polytechnic education was introduced in Nigeria to drive the mechanisation and industrialisation through the training of technical manpower, it must not be erased. Nigeria will likely still industrialise.

The “top-up” plan is ridiculous; it should be dropped immediately.

Punch Editorial Board

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