President Mahama has taken yet another giant step towards fulfilling one of his 2012 campaign promises when he officially launched the conversion of Polytechnics to Technical Universities policy. Over the years, graduates from Polytechnics have complained about how they are discriminated against at the job market. In many instances, they play second fiddle to their counterparts from the universities. There were also issues of academic progression. In fact, the highest qualification from a polytechnic is the Higher National Diploma while universities run courses up-to Doctor of Philosophy degrees. Polytechnic graduates would have to go back to university, and in many instances, start from scratch when they want to pursue higher education. The role of technical education in the development of any nation cannot be under emphasized. In this time and age, technology rules the world. This fact was acknowledged by the President himself, when he noted at the launch of the policy at the Takoradi Polytechnic, that it is time to lay a solid foundation that will produce the technical, creative and analytical problem solving human resource base that will move the nation forward.
There is no doubt that the conversion will help re-position the polytechnics as strategic institutions for the training of highly-skilled human resource to drive the nation’s socio-economic development. In as much as this is good news, care must be taken so that the converted polytechnics do not mimic the traditional universities by duplicating their courses and programs . The Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology was set up as a purely Science and Technology University, but unfortunately it is now competing with the University of Ghana and co for courses and programs in the Humanities and Social Sciences. This fate must not befall the converted Polytechnics. They must focus on the provision of technical training to their students. The universities of technology in South Africa, and the universities of Applied Science in Germany, the Netherlands and Finland are good examples of such industry-focused higher education institutions.
It is laudable that the Committee that worked on the conversion did not recommend a wholesale conversion. The committee set out 16 criteria, some of which are the qualification level and practical industrial experience of lecturers, the collaboration of the polytechnics with industry and business, infrastructure, equipment and training facilities. This will undoubtedly ensure that each converted Polytechnic is adequately positioned to deliver on its mandate. So far, six Polytechnics have met the 16 criteria and are ready for conversion. They are Accra, Kumasi, Ho, Takoradi, Koforidua, and Sunyani polytechnics. Four others, Tamale, Wa, Bolgatanga and Cape Coast polytechnics could not make the cut. As a result, students from these institutions, particularly, the Tamale and Sunyani polytechnics have been protesting. This may have been largely inspired by anxiety about the future of their institutions. But, sadly, it is observed that several misrepresentations about the processes have been thrown into the otherwise useful discourse. It is unfortunate that the discussions have also assumed tribal and political twists and turns. It is regrettable that, almost everything in Ghana is viewed with political and tribal lenses. It is equally disturbing that intellectuals, who have been made aware of clear cut criteria for the conversion, and are expected to argue whether or not their institutions meet all the criteria or whether or not any of the converted polytechnics did not meet all the criteria, are also towing the line of serial callers. The National Council for Tertiary Education has given assurance that the four polytechnics will be given the needed attention to enable them to overcome their short comings. The Cape Coast and Tamale Polytechnics have applied for reassessment based on progress they have made since the last exercise. Information available indicates that an expert panel sat yesterday and will sit again on Friday to reassess the two institutions. This should be enough to calm nerves. Perhaps the desire to convert the polytechnics also calls for a change of attitude towards and a re-invigoration of technical and vocational education right from the basic level. The notion that those who pursue technical and vocational skills are not academically talented must be erased completely. The point has been made abundantly clear that technical education is the panacea for Ghana's development challenges.
BY: MAWULI KOFI ABASESE, FROM KLIKOR, VOLTA REGION.