The Bill for an Act to Abolish and Prohibit Dichotomy and Discrimination between First Degrees and Higher National Diploma in the same Profession/Field and related matters on Wednesday scaled second reading in the Senate.
The bill, which scaled second reading after heated debate at plenary on its relevance, seeks to resolve controversy over wage disparity and gross discrimination against HND holder in public and private sectors of the economy.
The Senate President, David Mark, in his remarks, said it would be difficult to legislate on the bill, given that polytechnics were not originally established to be degree awarding institutions.
He said rather than canvass for abolition of the dichotomy, polytechnics should be changed to degree awarding institutions.
“The problem here is whether we can legislate on this. I think obviously that is not going to work for several reasons that we have all advanced here.
“We can’t legislate here and say you must employ an HND instead of employing somebody with B.SC.
“I think it is more of attitude than what we can legislate on but we can get an arrangement where the polytechnics begin to award degrees, in which case the polytechnics will no more be polytechnics; they will be universities,’’ he said.
Mark, who did not outrightly condemn the bill, said it should be sent for public hearing, to get the views of relevant stakeholders on the way forward on the issue of dichotomy.
He, however, said that “our attempt really to equate HND to a degree is not likely to work. Nobody who has done a degree has gone back to the polytechnic to do HND and you can’t blame that logic.
“The whole essence of allowing the bill to go through second reading and public reading is for us to get more ideas about how to get the way forward.
“That will be the only benefit that will come out it’’, he said.
The lead debate, presented by Patrick Akinyelure (PDP-Ondo), highlighted the need to abolish the discrimination between HND and First Degree.
Mr. Akinyelure said the continuing discrimination against HND holders was threatening to ruin the nation’s core policy thrust of evolving a technological and scientifically based society.
He said that findings had proved that some polytechnic graduates were in some cases better on the field than their university counterparts.
“To all intents and purposes, a government employment policy that places degree holders ahead of HND holders without recourse to skill and ability of the HND holder thereof does more harm than good to the nation’s development plans.
“Therefore, the aim of the bill is to promote the technological advancement of our great nation by encouraging many qualified candidates to pursue polytechnic and technological advancement,’’ he said.
Some lawmakers, however, argued that rather than seeking to abolish the dichotomy, efforts should be made to transform all polytechnics to degree awarding institutions.
The Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, said even if the bill did not succeed, it would help to raise awareness on the dysfunctional nature of the country’s educational system.
He decried the growing trend where polytechnics offered courses outside their field, adding that in order to correct the abnormally, all polytechnics should be converted to degree awarding institutions.
“All we need now is to expand the knowledge base of our polytechnics, increase entry qualification and employ qualified teachers for the polytechnics.
“We should then make conscious effort to set up technical schools that would award only diploma to support our industries and help the system industrially.
“To say we will abolish the dichotomy is difficult. The committee to handle the bill should invite experts to look into harmonising the institutions,’’ he said.
On his part, Ita Enang (PDP-Akwa Ibom) decried the poor standard of some polytechnics in the country.
He called on the regulatory body in charge of polytechnics to adequately regulate the establishment of the institution in the country.
“I have seen polytechnics operate in two bedroom flats and this is the situation that brings suspicion about the quality of our polytechnics.
“I have also seen standard polytechnics and the quality of their product compete favourably with universities.”
He called on relevant agencies to improve on the carrying capacity of universities to accommodate all those seeking admissions.
He also called for harmonisation of universities and polytechnics to help manage a situation where people went to polytechnics because they could not secure admission into universities.
“This bill should pass a second reading to find solution to the problem. I support this bill,’’ he said.
Chris Ngige (APC-Anambra) said in as much as he sympathised with HND holders, the bill should be dropped.
He said that relevant agencies should rather harmonise the institutions and make polytechnics degree awarding institutions.
“The bill evokes emotion but laws should not be made based on that to avoid mistakes. This has to do with fundamental structure of the education sector.
“Let us conserve the resources of the senate; it will not go through second reading,’’ he said.
Abubakar Bagudu (PDP-Kebbi), a member of Senate Committee Education, said if the dichotomy should be abolished, there would be standardisation of policy.
He argued that standardisation of policy was vital because universities and polytechnics had different structures.
“The university is theory and research oriented as compared to polytechnic which is supposed to turn out industrial ready graduates,’’ he said.
Similarly, Olusola Adeyeye (APC-Osun), the Vice Chairman of Senate Committee on Education, canvassed for the harmonisation of the institutions to enable polytechnics to award degrees.
“I believe that for as long as there is difference in admission standard and training for both institutions of learning, there will be difference in employment.
“Let us go the U.S. way and equalise both polytechnics and universities and have specialised institutions to handle the technical aspect.’’
The lawmaker explained that Nigeria inherited the polytechnic system from the colonial masters, who thought of having a middle level manpower where people could be trained without the lengthy period in university.
He further explained that UK subsequently abolished the system after meeting the purpose for which it was established to meet its industrial need.
“We need to make the admission standard the same for polytechnics and universities; forget the dichotomy issue. It is a lie to say you need HND to run an industrial state,” he said.