By Iyabo Lawal
With the Federal Executive Council giving approval for the scrapping of the award of the higher national diploma (HND) and the approved submission of two executive bills to the National Assembly for enactment, the death-knell of the dichotomy between BSc and HND has been sounded.
There was no fanfare when the announcement was made during the Federal Executive Council meeting held recently concerning the decision to scrap the award of HND by polytechnics. It was a subtle decision that drew no rancour or debates among the ministers in President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet. The FEC also decided to limit the award of certificates by polytechnics to National Diploma (ND) and turn the institutions to campuses of proximate universities. This appears simple on paper but there will likely be issues ahead stemming from state government-owned and private polytechnics.
The decisions and their approval were part of a comprehensive reform of Nigeria’s tertiary education system. If actions are expedited on the plans, it means that the award of HND will be limited to only students currently admitted for the programmes in various polytechnics across the country – particularly federal government-owned polytechnics. Similarly, all the programmes run by the polytechnics, which are not technology-based, are expected to be scrapped.
There is more: just as the polytechnics are expected to become campuses of the proximate universities, the vice chancellors of those universities will be saddled with the responsibility, under the new system, to appoint provosts for the polytechnics. This appointment, according to the new policy, is subject to the ratification of the universities’ councils.
The polytechnics will now be limited to award of the National Diploma (ND) while students that proceed to further their education will be awarded the Bachelor of Technology (B. Tech) by the proximate university. To kick off the new system of tertiary education, plans are underway to rename two of the country’s polytechnics – Yaba College of Technology and Kaduna Polytechnic – to City University of Technology, Yaba, Lagos and City University of Technology, Kaduna.. An executive bill has been approved by the government for submission to the National Assembly to that effect.
It is hoped the bill will address the issue of what becomes of private polytechnics in the new scheme of things. With education being on the concurrent list, the states may wish to consolidate their tertiary institutions. But if they do not wish to follow the federal government’s example, it is not clear how they will address the issue of BSc-HND dichotomy. According to the federal government, the first bill will concretise the setting up of the two city universities while the second bill will approve the preparation and consolidation of all federal polytechnics and colleges of education as campuses of proximate universities.
Interestingly though, the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu., stated that under the new reforms, licensing of private polytechnics and colleges of education for the award of qualification at ND and National Certificate in Education (NCE) levels will continue.
“There will be no more award of HND. After we have exhausted the current students under the programme, there will be no more award of HND. This means that there will be no fresh admission for HND programmes. And in addition, any programme that is not technical will be (taken) out of the polytechnics. About 70 per cent of polytechnic graduates are in the non-technical courses. It is going to be a rigorous implementation programme,” Adamu pointed out.
The minister added: “The HND certificate will remain a legal tender in Nigeria and holders of such certificate will continue to be recognised as the equivalent of first degree holders without discriminatory remunerations and limit to progression in the work place. The NCE certificate will be retained as the minimum teaching qualification at the basic level of education. Any higher qualifications by these private or state-owned polytechnics will be only affiliation to a university. So, HND is no longer in existence, but existing HND will be respected and considered legal tender.”
In Nigeria – both in private and public organisations – BSc certificates are considered superior to HND certificates and holders of the latter have been subjected to financial, emotional and professional humiliation over the years. Until recently when the federal government announced that it had removed the dichotomy that existed between HND and BSc, admission seekers have done all they could to acquire university education with some even going to illegal universities.
The practice in the federal and state civil service was that while entry level graduate with BSc started on salary grade level 8, his HND counterpart had to go a level lower; in security service, a BSc holder was a commissioned officer, while an HND holder was non-commissioned; an HND graduate was not expected to go higher than GL 12, while a BSc graduate has no limit.
Two years ago, specifically July 2016, the Federal Government had expressed its intention to end the issue of dichotomy between HND and BSc holders – when Adamu, spoke at the 32nd combined convocation and diamond jubilee celebration of The Kaduna, Polytechnic. That same year in August, the minister affirmed the readiness of the President Buhari administration to address the issue once and for all. But by December of 2016, the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Polytechnics (SSANIP) issued a three-week ultimatum to the government to implement the White Paper on the abolition of HND-BSC dichotomy.
To the association, the years of endless waiting for the government to walk the talk had ended. SSANIP had also wanted Buhari’s government to adequately fund polytechnics, calling for the release of the outcome of the NEEDS Assessment Committee’s report and to make funds available for the immediate implementation of the recommendations as contained in the report. It also noted the need for the government to constitute governing councils for all federal polytechnics, pointing out that the smooth running of the institutions was hampered by bureaucratic bottlenecks involved in the process of securing approvals from the education minister.
On April 10, 2017, a little spark of light shone through the tunnel when the Nigeria Customs Service announced it had removed the dichotomy between HND and BSc. Prior to that time, abolishing the HND-BSc dichotomy in the ranking of personnel in Nigeria’s public service has been a subject of constant demand, particularly from Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP). The Comptroller-General of the service, Hameed Ali, made the announcement through a statement signed by the NCS spokesperson, Joseph Attah.
“As part of the ongoing reforms in line with circular Ref: HCSF/EPO/EIR/CND/100/ST/98 of 8th September 2016 from the Head of Service of the Federation and the approval of Government since April 1992 for Nigeria Customs Service to align with the Nigeria Police Force rank structure, the CGC approved the removal of dichotomy against holders of Higher National Diploma from Bachelors Degree in the Service,” the statement had said.
Ali, therefore, directed immediate alignment of rank structure of the service with that of the police. Consequently, officers in the Inspectorate cadre on salary grade level 08 and above are to align with the appropriate rank in the Superintendent Cadre. He had added that HND holders on level 7 in the service were automatically moved to level 8, noting that a supplementary budget will be made for their salary arrears.
A day following that statement, a bill seeking to end the age-long dichotomy passed second reading in the House of Representatives. The bill, sponsored by Ali Isa from Gombe State and Edward Pwajok from Plateau State, was meant to end the discrimination against polytechnic graduates and remove the ceiling placed on HND holders, especially those in the public service.
Speaking on the bill, Isa said, “It will enable HND holders to attain the highest level in their career both in the public and private sectors and make their certificates respected outside Nigeria.”On his part, Pwajok noted that there was no justification for the dichotomy that had existed between BSc and HND. But a lawmaker, Diri Douye from Bayelsa State, had argued, “The HND curriculum is drawn differently from degree curriculum. We should look at policy differentials rather than legislative. We actually cannot sit down here and legislate on this.
As the debate was raging on the floor of the House, the Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE) had thrown its weight behind the National Council of Establishment for removing the dichotomy between HND and BSc. The council last year voted in favour of the removal of the dichotomy.
The AUPCTRE urged the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation to immediately release the enabling circular without further delay, pointing out that the release of the circular would ensure the commencement of the implementation and enable HND and BSc holders to receive same treatment and ratings.By July 2017, the government had abolished the dichotomy between BSc and HND holders in the paramilitary services as the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Interior, Abubakar Magaji, had announced: “The Civil Defence, Fire, Immigration and Prisons Board (CDFIPB), at the end of its meeting held on July 11, 2017, under the chairmanship of the Minister of Interior, Lt Gen. (retd.) Abdulrahman Dambazzau approved the regularisation of the dichotomy between holders of university degree and Higher National Diploma in all the Services.
“To this end, the board directed that all officers with HND to be upgraded to COMPASS 08, which is the salary grade level for holders of degree certificates at entry point. While the nomenclature for the HND holders will start with the rank of senior inspector, the degree holders are with the rank of assistant superintendent II.”
Prior to that announcement, the Senate had had a heated debate on the qualification of the person who should man the Federal Roads Authority. The argument had come up during the consideration of the report of the Committee on Works – the bill set out to repeal Federal Roads Maintenance Agency Act 2017 and to Re-enact Federal Roads Authority Bill 2017. The bill recommended BSc or HND certificate as equivalent with COREN membership as compulsory qualification for headship of the proposed agency.
“This is not in line with our tradition in passing bills. We have graduates for both HND and university. The issue of HND and university dichotomy had always generated heated issues, which have held back the progress of this nation. It has been lingering. HND is equivalent to a degree. This matter is not in line with our constitution, which says that any law passed that is not in tandem with our constitution is null and void. We must not be shut down,” Senator Kabir Marafa had argued.More fireworks are expected to take place as lawmakers in both chambers scrutinise the new bills seeking to scrap the award of HND and annexing existing polytechnics to proximate universities for the award of B. Tech. If the new system is well implemented, stakeholders believe that at the end of the day everybody will be a winner.