25 September 2012

Nigeria: ASUP Is Wrong On Varsity Dons


The Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) in a recent statement proposed a permanent end to the convention that allows for the appointment of university dons to head polytechnics as rectors.

The union asserted that only "products of the polytechnic system" would best understand the needs of such institutions and how to address them. Speaking during the opening ceremony of the union's 71st National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting which held at the Waziri Umaru Polytechnic in Birnin Kebbi, its National President, Mr Chibozor Benjamin Asomugha, said that only polytechnic teaching staff of the rank of chief lecturer would henceforth qualify to head such institutions in the country. Asomugha added that the union's dogged position on the issue recently made it possible for a polytechnic product to be appointed as the new rector of Kaduna Polytechnic, even though all the candidates shortlisted for the post were university professors.

To articulate a policy that would preclude professors from becoming rectors of polytechnics is not only unwise and myopic; the notion contradicts the principle that guarantees equal opportunities for all Nigerians in matters of education and employment. It may be true that polytechnic graduates could have some edge over others because of environmental factors, but they may not be the best qualified or most competent, vis-à-vis university products, who could have in fact passed through the polytechnic before entering the university system. Specifically barring professors from vying for being polytechnic rectors devalues competition, and the standards that Asomugha referred to might equally suffer as a result.

ASUP's opinion is short-sighted given the chaotic consequences that would ensue if universities, colleges of educations, monotechnics and other specialized tertiary institutions were to adopt a similar position. Besides, the "insider" concept has failed in some institutions where staff members insisted on experimenting it. It should not matter whether or not the potential rector in a polytechnic was an 'insider' or otherwise, so long as he is deemed to be qualified.

The weakness in ASUP's proposition is clearer when the statutory duties of a rector as head of the institution is properly put in context. The headship of a tertiary academic institution including polytechnics is more of administrative and managerial competence than technical expertise.

It is strange logic for ASUP to assume that a rector, even if he were an "insider" being a product of the system, would single-handedly run the administrative and academic units. It is important for the leadership of ASUP to realize that the success of a polytechnic product as a rector largely depends on the ability of such a person to bring skills and experiences in human resource management to bear upon all administrative procedures necessary for achieving academic excellence, which is the primary goal of all educational institutions. The collapse of the system in nearly all sectors of our national life may be responsible for ASUP's wrong perception of administration in the country's tertiary institutions, but it cannot supplant the time-tested process of aiming for the most competent, whether or not they come from outside the system.

The effective administration of educational institutions including polytechnics before the rot set in was essentially committee-based. But things changed in the past four decades, when heads of tertiary institutions arrogated to themselves administrative powers they do not statutorily possess.

A better argument on the part of ASUP could have been reminding the authorities of the long-standing but unresolved dichotomy between HND and BSc graduates in terms of entry point into the civil service; the bar in the career progress of HND graduates, etc. It would be in the interest of ASUP members as well as the system if they vigorously pursue the practical take-off of post-graduate programmes particularly in polytechnics that have been recognized as degree-awarding so that Masters and PhD degrees would cease to be the exclusive preserve of universities, reason that that could have prompted their recent position.

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