Nigeria – First Degree and HND Rivalry; The Essentials

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In today’s world of new technology and globalise labour our country, Nigeria, cannot afford to be left behind in the necessary and quality education. The ongoing argument as to why the Higher National Diploma (HND) should be scrapped, retained or have equal recognition with first degree should not be handled with levity. In our country, we tend to place too much emphasis on qualifications without consideration for content, value and productivity.

There are no doubt clear disparities between the HND and first degree. What relevance are the differences? The HND is technically orientated. It is neither available nor suitable for many courses. The first degree, in most cases, is both technical and academic. It is suitable for many courses. HND is only a two-year course while first degree is a three-year course in a normal education environment. The first degree requires higher entry qualification, the course is of higher standards and embrace advanced studies than the HND. In our country, these are not the situation hence the agitation for equal recognition on one hand or outright scrapping on the other.      

The holders of HND in most engineering subjects supposed to and should be valued more than the holders of first degree in most art subjects. The private sector had long recognised this generally for high productivity. Unfortunately, in the public sector where certificate takes priority, the Government tend to generalise without consideration for value and productivity differential.

In the Civil Service, the holder of HND should start employment from the grade of a higher clerical officer or a senior technician as the case may be. It should definitely not be on the same level with the holder of a first degree. But after one year’s work experience, the holder of HND should then be lifted to the starting grade of the holder of a first degree. Thereafter, managerial training or promotion for both categories should be determined on the basis of competence rather than certificate differential. However, to minimise the clear disparity or to be recognised on parity with holders of first degree, most holders of HND always take a related post HND one-year diploma course before they settled down for employment.

In as much as we appreciate the desirability of relevant education of which the HND is part of, what we need to do is to redefine the course and put it on its undisputed platform. The present OND nonetheless should be scrapped. But the OND and HND syllabuses that normally take four years should be consolidated to take three years. Both syllabuses can be conveniently covered in three years, as most of the subjects are the same but only in different standards. This would become the new HND but with the same content and value. The National Certificate Education (NCE) should be changed to HND in education. Where it is feasible, it should be tenable in the same institution with other HND courses or at a separate education institution of its own.

With regard to higher education in the country in general, the minimum entry qualification for the NCE and HND courses should be Secondary School Certificate/GCE ordinary level and their equivalents. The minimum entry qualification for a three-year first-degree course should be three subjects in GCE advanced level or an Access Diploma. A one-year preliminary course that is generally taken at the University before a first-degree course should not be entertained in the country. GCE A/L or an Access Diploma that is a two-year course enable a student to be fundamentally ready to take on higher education, a job career, with responsibility, little or none of the distractions and undesirable indulgence we now witness in the higher educational institutions in the country. Moreover, the holder is less likely to repeat or becomes an outright dropout.

The GCE A/L and its related Access Diploma course that normally take two years always create opportunity for private educational institution establishments. This post-secondary education preparatory institution, for higher education, is the area where private education is much needed in the country rather than at the tertiary stage where they are not required, which is now stagnant. The preparatory schools would be fresh sources for the much-needed employment in the country. 

Secondary school education as before should strictly be a five-year course. The GCE A/L and its equivalent Access Diploma courses should be a two-year course. A University first degree should strictly be a three-year course. Strikes should be barred in the education sector of the country. All the unresolved disputes between the employees and employer should always be handled by an arbitration that is jointly established by the employer and the union of employees.

However, the HND and NCE are the much highly needed education to hold the centre in employment and sustainable production in the country. NCE should be the minimum qualification and the level of teachers required to teach in primary schools in order to maintain standards and without breaking bank on salary. The holders of HND in engineering courses are the technicians we need to sustain our industries. As gone are the days of the artisans, the HND, literate, technicians would form the bulk of workshops and small-scale industries owners in the country.

We should bear in mind that quality, relevant or sustainable education does not depend or it is only obtainable at degree level. For example, agriculturalists, instrumentalists and laboratory technologists, the much-needed skill labours in our society today, are better trained and produced at HND courses. There is the need to strengthen the Colleges of Education, Polytechnics and Colleges of Technology that produce the bulk of the necessary intermediate manpower.

If you scrap the NCE or HND today, tomorrow first degree will be downgraded. There will not be sustainable labour force in the country. Many people will not even bother about higher education. As it all comes down to making a living, they might as well be traders etc. after the secondary school education. Who would want to spend a good three or four years in higher education and then come back to be treated or start as a secondary school leaver?  Let common sense prevail!

Although the Universities in the country that produce degree holders and those that run the institutions are matured enough to know what they supposed to do, there is the urgent need for competence, attainment of world standard, the need to be competitive with the rest of the world best institutions, which most of them attended at one stage or the other.

Like honesty, competence and efficiency are inherent in human. Lacks of them are merely artificial. The education sector cannot be isolated from the public fund leakage that pervades the rest of society. Therefore, inadequate funding, which has been the common scapegoat for low standards and non-performance, can no longer be accepted as an excuse. It is now incumbent upon the National Assembly to take the necessary legislative measures to address these inadequacies in our education.   

Alfred Aisedionlen, London, 30th June 2008.   (Published by Tribune on 31 July 2008).  

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