Stanley Uzoaru, Owerri
Dr Michael Arimanwa is the Rector of Federal Polytechnic, Nekede, Owerri, Imo State. In this interview, he talked about the need to upgrade some polytechnics to award degrees, dichotomy between lecturers, students of polytechnic and their university counterparts.
Why do some polytechnic lecturers and students feel inferior to their university counterparts?
It is an attitudinal thing. Whether inferiority complex or superiority complex, it is attitudinal. I do not see why anybody who is worth his onions should feel inferior to any other person. Many polytechnic lecturers teach in the universities and I also use to teach at Federal University of Technology, Owerri as well as in Imo State University.
It has to do with attitude. If you understand that it is the same environment where those people were trained is where you are trained. Some obtained the same degree, if you have your Masters and PhD, I do not see why you should feel inferior to anybody.
Would you support converting some polytechnics to degree awarding institutions?
Yes, to the extent that the situation that we have on ground in our environment. There are banks and companies you will go to, if you do not have degree they will not employ you. Provided the facilities are on ground, at least the topmost polytechnics should award degrees in technologies and it should not remove the practical content of study.
Students usually pick polytechnic as second choice instead of first choice, is it an afterthought?
That is societal issue and any student doing that may be doing so ignorantly. We have had people with degrees and they come back to study here. We have about three or four of such people.
They studied HND after their degrees because they went to work somewhere and they do not have the practical content and the companies advised them to go to the polytechnic. They chose this place because they considered it as a very good place to acquire the knowledge.
How can polytechnics attract more students during admission exercise?
Polytechnics can attract more students during admission if we continue to emphasise that the polytechnic is not an inferior place because the information that we send out affect the people out there. I graduated from this institution before I went to the university to read further. But I do not understand why anybody should see the polytechnic as an inferior place.
The idea of if I cannot get admission into a university, I can manage a polytechnic; no that is not the spirit. The polytechnic is as important if not more important than the university because we train people with practical skills.
The immediate past bursar also went through this school. We have both of us who have polytechnic background doing brilliantly well. I do not understand why we see the polytechnic as a second choice. What we are trying to do is to project one of the polytechnic brands, so that the people will understand that when they come here and graduate, they will fit in and compete with anybody in any part of the world.
What kind of polytechnic did you inherit?
I inherited a fairly standard polytechnic known for academic excellence, a polytechnic as at the time I came on board had made a mark in the history of polytechnic system in Nigeria. Even though the award of the best performing polytechnic came during my tenure, but the build-up to it happened before I came. The immediate past administration and all other administrations were involved in the build-up which culminated to the award as the best performing polytechnic in the country.
Did you inherit some expired courses, if yes; have they now been accredited by NBTE?
When I came on board all the courses were running but we were due for reaccreditation in some programmes. We were still trying to introduce new courses if not for the travel restrictions as result of the Coronavirus pandemic which is a global issue. The National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) officials would have come late March but because of the lockdown and the difficulty in movement, everything has been suspended.
What is the school policy on sexual harassment and hand-outs?
Completely, hand-outs have been phased out. It is an offence to give hand-outs to students because it was abused and a hand-out is not supposed to attract money. If you look at the dictionary meaning of hand-outs, it is free but in recent time lecturers started selling and making money from it but it has been completely abolished in this school.
Sexual harassment, we have a documented policy. It was when I came in that I set up a committee to come up with a policy on sexual harassment to define what sexual harassment is and how a staff can be guilty of sexual harassment. Staffs are aware of it and we are working with that document produced by staff of this school.
I do not want to have any issue with staff harassing anybody sexually. Usually it is the men that harass women but sometimes it could be the other way round. We do not want male lecturers harassing female students, everybody must be able to pass or fail on their own. We have a document, we have a policy and we are following it.
Has any lecturer or student found violating the policy?
We had a situation and we handled it administratively. We have taken a position on sexual harassment. In any case that incident happened before the document was launched but we applied administrative punishment.
As a lecturer, can you recall any funny incident with a student?
I think the funniest incident I remembered immediately is my students knew that I do not take nonsense. I also do not take anything from anybody. In fact, I use to give them rather than ask from them. If I have books, sometimes I look out for indigent students and I give them free.
But one of my students, a female, came to my office one day and told me she had a gift for me. I told her that I do not collect gifts, she said no sir. It was a shirt she dropped it on my table and ran away. I insisted that she collect it back but she refused. So I took the shirt and gave it to some else. That is the funniest encounter I can remember right now.
The Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) is clamouring for a Polytechnic Commission, do you subscribe to that?
Certainly, a polytechnic commission will reposition polytechnic education in Nigeria better than it is today. NBTE is trying but because we have all the polytechnics and technical colleges under NBTE, so, there are over 300 institutions under the board. If we transmute the current NBTE into polytechnic commission and create another body for technical colleges, it will reposition the polytechnic education in the country and make it more functional and efficient.
If you were given opportunity to address educational challenges in the country, what would you do?
The major thing facing education in Nigeria is funding. Education is extremely expensive and it is not funded as much as it should be. The United Nations states that if education must be functionally and make progress, the country must allocate about 26 per cent of her budget to education.
That is the minimum benchmark worldwide and many African countries are ahead of us in this provision, some have reached 18 or 20 per cent. I do not think at any point we have gone beyond 10 or 11 per cent since the history of Nigeria. In fact, there was a year it was six per cent.
You cannot make progress like that. Government must provide fund, the money is used to pay salary, while researches that are done are funded by external parties like the oil companies. Government is not providing enough and we should not blame the government because the resources are also not there.
We really need to prioritise education, cut down on few other things and make sure we beef up what is happening in education. That is the only way we can venture into effective research because education without research is useless.
What is your greatest challenge in office?
My greatest challenge I met on ground is that of changing the orientation of staff. To change the orientation of staff has been a difficult task. Before I came on board, things were done manually. I wanted to introduce a digital environment to automate certain processes, in fact almost all processes were automated and I found out that many staff were not computer literate.
We organised training for lecturers, we convinced staff that this is the way to go. Right now on campus, we are still trying e-learning lectures. This was something I started to talk about without even knowing that coronavirus pandemic was coming. Now that it has come we can no longer completely depend on brick and mortar space for learning.
We definitely need to complement with digital environment, so that students can learn at their own convenience and learn from different places without having to come to one small classroom, where they are likely to infect people around them. The greatest challenge has been to sell the idea that this is a better way to go and somehow we have overcome it and staffs have been able to key into the new normal.
What achievements have you recorded?
We have been able to attract some agencies of government and some other people to look at our facilities and we have injected new life into the polytechnic. If you go round the campus you will see some of the constructions that are on going.
We have provided space for construction workers so that they do not mingle with the society, probably get infected. We have also made efforts to move away from the manual ways of doing things to digital way. We have created a digital space as well as create a digital environment. Our files can now be documented digitally and it is better and more efficient to do it that way.
What is your relationship with staff and students?
The relationship is cordial. I have cordial relationship with the different unions. I have one-on-one contact with the students’ union executives. My office is open and the staff have access to me on a regularly basis.