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Among the problems militating against the growth of nation's education sector is that of inconsistency in policy implementation and funding, making the sector passive. The rector Lagos State Polytechnic (LASPOTECH), Dr. Abdulazeez Lawal, speaks with Taiwo Ogunmola on the need to reverse the trend. He also speaks on the university-polytechnic disparity.

The vexed issue discrimination between HND and B.Sc holders is causing ripples in the education sector; what do you think can be done to resolve this problem and encourage people to have more interest in technical education?

We attended a lecture recently and the lecture focused on the disparity between HND and the B.Sc holders. And when you look at this disparity, the lecturer was of the opinion that there was no disparity but the perceived disparity is attributed to the role of man. He traced the history of disparity to employment policy in public sectors that initially made it rare to find Polytechnic graduate working in the public sector. When they finished from school, they moved into the industry and they attained the pinnacle of the careers. Then the public sector was being managed with by the graduates from the university system, but later on, the polytechnic graduates found themselves in public service. But at the time they were there, those at the helms of affairs as the policy makers were graduates of universities and, therefore, they prevented the incursion of polytechnic graduates into the public sector, which introduced this barrier. Government tried in one way to remove this barrier, especially during the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo but because there was a definite statement by the government then and the statement was not properly implemented, those who are still managing the affairs of the country are graduates of the university system. From experience, we can look at it from this perspective of government itself.

Are you insinuating or saying that the government has preference for university education?

Yes, I think government has preference for university than polytechnic education. For instance, when government is asking for input on educational policy, they prefer to deal with the university; in fact, the last time there was a public hearing in respect of educational policy, university vice chancellors and provosts of colleges of education were represented, but they first had discussion with vice chancellors and after having extensive discussion with them, they just asked rectors of polytechnics to just submit their papers. This shows the disparity right from the government and that is why, to a large extent, it is essential for government to redirect its policy because polytechnic and university graduates are not competing but playing complementary roles. When you look at university graduates, they are trained to be researchers and to conduct research, while polytechnic graduates are to implement. If you compare polytechnic with university, you discover that there are researches that are practically oriented and polytechnic graduates always perform bette than their university counterparts. If you look at the field of engineering and accounting today, polytechnic graduates perform better. Those who formed the Institute of Chartered Accountant of Nigeria (ICAN) today came from the polytechnic; same for insurance,  leaving the banking industry. Another problem is with the parents, because they prefer their children to attend universities rather than polytechnics because they believe that when you gain admission to the polytechnic, people will look down on you. Even the children are not proud to be graduates of polytechnics and that is why it is our responsibility to build confidence into this students: it is not your certificate but what you make yourself to be. We cited an example of Bisi Onabanjo who graduated from a polytechnic and is now managing director of First Bank. He did not have certificate of  university. It the same with the President of LASPO alumni, Yomi Edu, who is also a polytechnic graduate, and a lot more. These people did not attend any university but polytechnic. So it is our responsibility to build confidence into the students, because the moment they go outside, it is essential for the students to demonstrate their skill, which will enable them to compete favourably. I can say it conveniently that I lecture in a polytechnic as well as a university and I know the quality of what we put in place in the polytechnic when we compare it with university; and that is why, in the past, most of our students when they enroll for professional examinations, we celebrate them. They win prices and this is an indication that graduates of polytechnics can compete favourably with university graduates. If you look at what is going on in the advanced country today, there are polytechnics in London today that are being converted to universities of technology but they would not deviate from their goal of provision of technical education. You have your bachelor of technology, Master of technology and in other words, you will still maintain the technical aspect of the skill, but in order to change the perception, most of these institutions were converted into university of technology. But the most important thing is what you make yourself to be, not your certificate.

The major challenges facing higher institutions in the country is inadequate funding and it seems Lagos State is tactically withdrawing from funding of tertiary institutions. Are you under pressure to increase school fees?

We have problem with funding. It is crucial to the delopment of education and we are trying as much as possible to sustain the development in this polytechnic with Internal Generated Revenue (IGR). We have a number of IGR that we are using to boost the fund position of the school. We run a number of part time programmes; we also engage in consultancy; we research and we are also of the opinion that that is need for us to re-engineer the polytechnic consult. We have a polytechnic consult which we expect to assist in boosting the fund position of the school. We have been looking for various dimensions, for instance, it is our position that government cannot do everything for us and if private polytechnics can succeed without government intervention, then we should always look for ways of achieving desirable performance by managing whatever we get from the government and that is why we are looking inward. We want to re-engineer our consult that we move to provision of sachet water, also block making and consultancy with various companies within our environment in order for us to gain from the industries that surround the institution. We are of the opinion that when the workshop is put in place, we will able to increase the revenue of the polytechnic, because the policy of government is that we should not increase tuition fee for the full time students and that is what we have been maintaining.

Is there any plan to provide hostel accommodation for the students in the school?

Initially, when higher institutions were established in Lagos, the policy was non-residential and the reason is to prevent students' unrest, because it is the common belief that if students have the opportunity of converging in a place, there is tendency for that institution to be confronted with crisis which would disrupt academic activities, and government realised that it will not be ideal and that is why, today, LASU and LASPOTECH are non-residential. Despite the fact that they are not residential, we still witness confrontation from the students and, recently, the government has changed the approach to residential. We provide hostel for students through Public Private Partnership (PPP). We entered into agreement with a number of build, operate and transfer (BOT) arrangements. They will move to site soon and commence the construction of hotels, but it would be on BOT because the government is of the opinion that, for us to construct a hotel, we will need a huge amount of money. Within two or three years, we should expect a hostel in our campus, not only in our school but in all the institutions in Lagos.

About two years ago, there was a move that polytechnics should collaborate with hybrid colleges on the development of vocational village; what is your administration doing to forge ahead?

In respect in hybrid colleges, we have a relationship with them in respect of human capacity development and we are maintaining that till now. We have not moved into final stage, but the stage we are now is human capacity development. They send their staff here to train us. They ensure that we have required skill before we implement our relationship.

The federal government seems to be lowering the standard of education as JAMB's cut-off mark is now 180 for university admission and 160 for polytechnic; are we not killing education in Nigeria?

At the last policy meeting we had in Abuja with the minister of education, there was controversy relating to cut-off mark. In fact, the minister was of the opinion that we should have a uniform cut-off mark for all institutions, but we realised it would not be appropriate to have a uniform mark, taking into consideration the population of the students and the percentage of the students that would fall under pass mark. We realised we should maintain the cut-off mark for last year, which is 180 for the university and 160 for polytechnic and colleges of education. We had some people who argued that by lowering the cut-off mark for the polytechnic,  we are accepting the fact that polytechnic graduates are inferior, but later we realised that we are not admitting for Higher National Diploma (HND) but National Diploma (ND) and we cannot equate ND with B.Sc. And that is why we agreed to maintain 160. What we are saying is that the adoption for 160 is not that we are lowering the standard, but it was based on the capacity and performance during the last JAMB examination.

The students of LASPOTECH are presently witnessing a challenge in the issuance of certificates; what is your administration doing to solve this problem?

We realised that because of increase in enrolment, we encounter problems in preparing the result; that is why we are trying to change the existing software to the one that would accommodate a larger number of students. But, in addition, we have certificates because the policy of the institution is not to delay the certificate. We have certificates that are ready till 2010 and LOC ready to 2011. The problem is about students who have problems with their result. For instance, there are students who finished from one polytechnic and before we can issue any certificate, we have to verify from the school the student finished his or her National Diploma. When we send our staff to the schools, they don't answer us on time. We cannot force them to give us result. It is when they give us the result that we can issue ours here. The problem is verification of results from former institutions that the students attended for ND programmes. In most cases, when student complain, we don't know the genesis and we have received a number of petition from students and when we looked into it, we got to know that the problem emanated from their former institutions.

With the resources and amenities the institution has, will you recommend that the institution be upgraded to a university of technology?

There was an attempt to convert it into a university but the government had to wait because of the processes involved. The one that was approved by the federal government, Kaduna Poly and Yaba Tech, are yet to be converted because it is a long-term project. That is why the direction of government is to consolidate LASU, because the institution is a state-owned institution with various problems and the government is interested in solving the problem before establishing another one. But sincerely, when you look at the facilities we have, we are ready to be converted into a university. We have the engineering department, and the last time we had an engineering conference, we displayed inventions and innovations from the School of Engineering . When the special adviser on education visited during the conference, he was surprised to see most of our inventions, and part of it is solar energy which the department of electrical engineering are working on, and it would be our own contribution to solving the energy deficit in Nigeria. We appreciate that we have problems in the area of electricity, and we have been having a good relationship with Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) to provide us light.

What is the relationship between the institution and host communities, because some of your students have confrontations with people from the community?

Our social responsibility with the community is non-negotiable. We realised that, as an organisation, for us to maintain cordial relationship with our immediate environment, we need to be socially responsible; and we have been trying our best to maintain social responsibility. We have instituted a number of community services and we usually have meetings with our neighbourhood. We appreciate the fact that sometime, as a result of youthful exuberance, some of these students engage in unethical activities, and, as a result, we need to monitor them. We also have relation with the police community and we have made a donation to the community and the police. That is why public relations unit, once we have a request, we look into it and make our contribution.