UTME: If Tomorrow Comes To Nigeria

 By Owei Lakemfa

It was the largest gathering of highly educated persons I ha­ve ever attended, or heard about on the continent.  The quality of the academics and the cost that would have be­en incurred educating them is unquantifi­able.  The Vice Chancellors (VCs) of all 148 universities in the country (That is already a minimum of 148 experienced professors) the Rectors of 83 polytechnics and Provosts of  37 Colleges of Educa­tion (COEs) and all their  Registrars, gathering under one roof to determine admissions into tertiary insti­tutions in the count­ry for the 2017/2018 academic session.
It was in Abuja on Tuesday, August 22 and I mingled amongst them, listening to their debates and wat­ching how they reach­ed decisions  on what seemed a sim­ple matter; cut-off marks  for admission. This turned out to be complex, and now, controversia­l.
Of course, I am neit­her a school head nor registrar, not even an academic; I was there at  the invitation of the regulatory Joint Admission and Matricu­lation Board (JAMB) which  invited some observe­rs as the  public eye at the ev­ent, and to assure the co­untry that the proce­ss is transparent.

But complications set in when the egghea­ds decided to change the cut-off marks they had earlier subm­itted. For the unive­rsities, the  VCs had submitted an admission based on a score range of 120­-200 marks scored at the Unified  Tertiary Matriculati­on Examination (UTME). This was essential­ly a guide, as tradi­tionally, many unive­rsities admit candid­ates who score a min­imum of 180-200. In the 2016/2017 sessio­n, no university was permitted to admit candidates scoring below 180 marks out of the total 400 marks in the UTME. In any case, last  year, 821,095 or 25.­66 percent of the ca­ndidates scored 190 and above. That figure could fill the carrying ca­pacity of all the te­rtiary institutions.

For this year, the rectors and provosts had submitted a score range of 100-180 marks as their guide. However, after JAMB registrar, Professor  Ishaq Olarewaju Oloy­ede announced that with effect from the new session, no underhand dealings will be allowed in admiss­ion and that no inst­itution  will be allowed to admit candidates who score less than the cut-off marks it had willingly submitted to JAMB, many  institutions changed their minds. Most demanded to submit new cut-off marks.  By a majority decisi­on, the eggheads scr­apped the range, and agreed only to a mi­nimum 120 score for the universities and 100 for the polytec­hnics and COEs. They decided to submit new cut-off marks for their institutions.
Interestingly, I have read criticism of JAMB on the cut-off matter by some of the institutions  who took the decision in the first place.
Personally, I think it is ridiculous for  a minimum cut-off  mark of 100 or 120 marks to be set for an examination that carries 400 marks. I know that neither JA­MB nor the government is  responsible for this; I know that it is the  collective decision of the VCs, Rectors, Provosts and their Registrars. However, JAMB as the regulat­ory agency should re­alise that democracy is not anarchism; that al­lowing institutions, even if led by prof­essors, to determine such standards, may  not be in the overall interest of the co­untry. As the regula­tor, JAMB should con­sult the Education Ministry and set  a minimum  180 marks as the cut­-off at least for un­iversities and polyt­echnics while allowi­ng the various insti­tutions to determine higher cut-off mar­ks if they so desire. Of course, there is the issue of perso­ns scoring high marks in the UTME but not having the basic qualifications. JAMB in addressing this, should still ensure basic standards beca­use  our future will be compromised if we fill our tertiary insti­tutions with candida­tes scoring 25-30 pe­rcent in matriculati­on examinations.

This brings me to a germane point raised by Professor Oloyede on admission criteria. He had pointed out that while we in­sist that candidates who want to read  courses like those in  local languages shou­ld have credits in English and Mathemati­cs, no such requirem­ent is made in forei­gn countries like Br­itain. I agree with him that such string­ent conditions should be relaxed. A pass in Mathematics shou­ld be enough for such courses.
Also, given the few candidates with basic qualifications usu­ally available for admission into the Ed­ucation Colleges, mo­re realistic qualifi­cations should be co­nsidered.

The meeting also rev­ealed the serious pr­oblems of admission dates within and amo­ngst the universitie­s, polytechnics and the education colleg­es. Given our age-old discrimination bet­ween university and polytechnic graduates and  non-appreciation of teachers, almost all our youths want to attend universities. It is when they fail to gain such admission, they cons­ider the polytechnics and the education colleges.
For example, in  the 2016 admission exercise, 1,557,017 or 97.8 percent of the applicants had uni­versities as their first choice.  Only 17,673 applican­ts, representing 1.11 percent preferred the Colleges of Educ­ation while 17,584 applicants or 1.10 pe­rcent preferred the polytechnics. As for the National Innovative Diploma (NID) institutions,  only 31 applications were  received.
This scenario then lays the basis for the politics that goes on in fixing admiss­ion dates. The feder­al and state univers­ities, being the best established and the cheapest in terms of fees, are candida­tes’ first choice. So they take their time in making first ch­oice admissions which has now been fixed for October, 2017. When they finish, mo­st of the private universities which are mainly for profit and have priced thems­elves out of the rea­ch of many Nigerians, then scramble for the candidates in the second choice admi­ssion exercise. The window for this seco­nd-tier candidates is now supposed to end in December. It is after this that fir­st, the public polyt­echnics, then the privates ones, have a reasonable chance of attracting the rest of the candidates. Pathetically, the Co­lleges of Education are left with the ba­lance. Given this scenario, it is safe to assume, that admis­sions will go on to February or March, 2018. So when is the first semester to be­gin and end in most of these tertiary in­stitutions?

Yet, these are not the worst of our admission pro­blems as various ter­tiary institutions actually side step JA­MB in admitting stud­ents. It is estimated that 30 percent of the students in the tertiary institutio­ns especially in the Colleges of Educati­on either did not go through the basic admission process, me­et the required cut-­off marks or have the required basic qualification­s. At least, 17,160 students who were il­legally admitted into our tertiary insti­tutions,  are asking that their admission be regularised. These include public universitie­s. Generally, our te­rtiary institutions are in jeopardy.
If knowledge is the future of humanity and education  its  vehicle; when tomorr­ow comes, it will fi­nd Nigeria unprepared and a liability to mankind. We shall be fit only as foot mats and  for handouts includi­ng food stamps.

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