By Farooq A. Kperogi
In the past few weeks, I have received no fewer than 10 emails from readers of this column asking questions about how the Higher National Diploma (HND) compares with American post-secondary educational qualifications.
Does the United States have the HND or its equivalent? If no, do American universities accept HND graduates from Nigeria and elsewhere for graduate studies without requiring them to take remedial courses? Or do American universities also look down on HNDs like Nigerian and British universities do?
The straightforward answer, which derives from my personal experience with the American university system, is that the HND is treated almost exactly like a bachelor’s degree here. I know of many Nigerian and Canadian HND graduates who have been admitted to the master’s degree (and later PhD) programs of many American universities without undergoing remedial postgraduate diploma courses. (In any case, American universities don’t offer postgraduate diplomas).
The closest and most recent Nigerian HND graduate I know of who is pursuing a master’s degree at a U.S. university as of the time writing this column is a man who graduated from the Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu, with an HND in mass communication. He is, incidentally, studying for his master’s degree in communication at the University of Louisiana—my alma mater.
I once narrated the story of an HND graduate from Canada whose qualification was mistaken for a master’s degree at the University of New Orleans. This confusion arose, perhaps, because in American English “diploma” is the generic word for a document certifying the successful completion of any course of study. It’s equivalent to what we call “certificate” in British and Nigerian English. (Even the document certifying the completion of the PhD is called a “diploma” here).
Given that background, it’s easy to understand how a “higher diploma” would be mistaken for an advanced degree. But that’s not the only reason why HNDs are not discriminated against in American universities. There are at least four other reasons.
First off, let it be known that the American university system has no concept of the HND. Institutions of higher education here just award associate, bachelor’s, master’s and PhD degrees. Associate degrees are awarded only by “community colleges” after two years of study. They are, in some sense, equivalent to our Ordinary National Diploma (OND) or, perhaps, British and Nigerian “A” levels.
Universities and colleges award bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD degrees. Although the word “college” is the generic term for what we would recognize as “university” in Nigeria (Americans describe people as “college-educated” if they have at least a bachelor’s degree) schools designated as “colleges,” for the most part, only award bachelor’s degrees.
Now, it is also usual for American colleges and universities to have the word “polytechnic” in their names even though they bear no resemblance whatsoever with the British and Nigerian concept of polytechnic. For example, 15 miles north of Atlanta, there is a school called the Southern Polytechnic State University, which awards bachelor’s and master’s degrees in technical and vocational fields, the humanities, the social sciences and the sciences.
Other popular American universities with “polytechnic” in their names are, the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (often just called Virginia Tech), Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (where Dr. Gabriel Oyibo of GAGUT infamy teaches), California State Polytechnic University, etc.
So when somebody comes to America with a qualification from a “polytechnic,” it’s likely to be regarded as the equivalent of a university degree since universities in America, as you have seen, can also be known as “polytechnics.” That’s probably the second reason why HNDs from Nigerian polytechnics and elsewhere are not discriminated against here.
The third possible reason why HNDs are not discriminated against by many U.S. universities is because the qualification is awarded after four years of post-secondary education. When you add to this the fact that these “higher diplomas” are given by “polytechnics” (a name often associated with universities here) it’s easy to understand why HNDs are easily accepted as the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree.
Now, compare this with the experience of Indians whose bachelor’s degrees from universities are never accepted as the equivalent of a U.S. bachelor’s degree precisely because it takes only three years to get a bachelor’s degree in the social sciences and humanities in India. An Indian master’s degree is accepted as the equivalent of a U.S. bachelor’s degree. That’s why every Indian here has a master’s degree.
Lastly, as I once mentioned on this page, admission to graduate schools in U.S. universities is often the result of a multi-faceted process. The most important of this process, however, is getting an acceptable score in the Graduate Records Examination (GRE). So even if you have an HND but received very high scores in the GRE you have a greater chance to get into graduate programs in U.S. universities than someone with a first-class degree from a university but with low GRE scores.
In the UK from where we inherited the tradition of HNDs, polytechnics have been discontinued since 1992. They have all transmuted into universities both in name and curriculum. As you would expect, HND holders still face discrimination in UK universities. In other words, U.S. universities are more welcoming to HND graduates than UK universities are.
Next week, I will write more about the idea of the polytechnic and how we can rescue it in Nigeria.
On the Parity of Esteem between Universities and Polytechnics