Engineer Obafemi Omokungbe is the Rector of Yaba College of Technology (YabaTech) in Lagos State. In this interview, he spoke on the long-awaited upgrading of the college to a university and how polytechnics have been marginalized, among others. Excerpt.
There was a move to convert YabaTech to a university of technology, at what stage is the process now?
A senator representing Lagos-West sponsored that bill and it went through the first and second reading at the Assembly. There was a public reading and we made a presentation before the third reading on the floor of the house. It was subsequently passed to the Presidency for signing.
It used to be YabaTech and Kaduna Polytechnic before, but somehow along the line, it became YabaTech and Ilaro Polytechnic. I can tell you now that the bill is awaiting the signature of the President and we are waiting behind the scene to ensure that the college gets a university status.
What happens to the mandate of providing technical training?
If transformed, YabaTech won’t be a conventional university but will operate as a technical university. Most technical universities that were established are operating like the conventional universities and that is because the implementation of policies has always been a challenge and that is why you see the union is canvassing for polytechnics to become universities of technology.
Technical and vocational education has not been given the priority it deserves in Nigeria, what are the challenges?
In recent times we have been talking about TVET. What is missing in the country in the area of TVET is not because of not having Technical Colleges in place anymore but the fact that those students that are supposed to learn skills at will in the technical colleges no longer do so and we also no longer have technical colleges.
The students that are supposed to learn skills at the colleges are the ones riding motorcycles and tricycles. This is sad! If you need a carpenter or an artisan now, you have to import them. How long are we going to continue to do that.
I think that is why the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) under which the TVET should be, is now using the Polytechnics to undertake TVET education along with their mandates to arrest this ugly situation.
This is because we have noticed that there is a skill gap in the country and how do we salvage the situation, we can’t go to the university but rather come back to the polytechnic to make sure that the gaps are filled so that the unemployed youths can learn skills that will enable them to function on their own.
Here in YabaTech, we have a skills acquisition centre that is useful to the communities around us, which we are operating. If you want to be a shoemaker, tailor or hairdresser among others, we have programmes for you. These are courses under Technical and Vocational Education but that has not changed our mandate.
JAMB recently declared that of the 115,243 spaces allocated to polytechnics, only 79,891 were filled. How do you think polytechnic education can be made attractive to candidates?
We have done things in this country to the extent of marginalizing the polytechnics. Many people don’t want their wards to go to the polytechnic because they rate universities as superior to polytechnics due to the policy implementation. In the actual sense, polytechnic students are meant to be inventors and to drive the economy.
If Nigeria is doing well, polytechnic students should not be found in the civil service, they are supposed to be in the industries, driving the nation’s economy.
In Canada, those that go to technical schools, like some carpenters, earn more than PhD holders, but we are not implementing our policy right and that is why we are having problems.
Government also pumps more money into the universities than the polytechnics, yet we expect miracles. Many universities in China are converting to polytechnics because they want hands-on jobs, and they cannot get them in the universities. In Italy and France, those in the polytechnics are those involved in the policy and are the ones that drive the economy.
What is the way out?
If the mandates given to the polytechnics and universities are followed properly, there will be no need for any polytechnic graduate to struggle to get a job because they will know what they want.
But we have bastardized the system so much that you will see someone with HND in Engineering struggling to go into the civil service and you will begin to wonder what is he going there to do?
In the education sector, there are defined roles for graduates of polytechnics and universities and until we adhere to those roles, we will not get out of this situation. Parents are also not helping matters as they see university education as superior to polytechnic education.
How do we encourage students to attend technical colleges?
It’s simple, bring back the technical colleges. We have a policy of 6-3-3-4, which means six years for primary school, three years for junior secondary school, three years for senior secondary school and four years for higher institutions.
Ordinarily, when a student gets to JSS 3 and cannot cope, you can go to technical college and learn skills. This doesn’t mean that you are a failure but that is where parents miss it: if their child is recommended for technical education, instead of allowing the child to go ahead, they take him/her away from the school to another secondary school and at the end of the day, he will not be able to cope.
That was how we destroyed the system, so when we implement that policy well, Technical Colleges will come into place and then we will have artisans while polytechnics will provide technicians and technologists and universities will produce the engineers.
Inadequate funding has remained a challenge, what is YabaTech doing to enhance its IGR?
The college has launched an endowment fund to boost our Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) and to do those things that we think there is the need for us to do to make us relevant as well as to have relationships with the outside world. For instance, the Flour Mill came to our aid, gave us a bus and renovated some classrooms for us. The college’s Skills Acquisition Centre is also to enhance our IGR.