Is JAMB recipe for confusion in higher institutions?

Education Minister, Adamu Adamu

Nigeria’s tertiary education system is in a shambles – in terms of infrastructure, funding and academics – as it remains largely crisis-ridden for years. The recent reintroduction of the post-Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, the latest cut-off marks imbroglio and alleged back-door admission policy of higher institutions reveal the ugly underbelly of the nation’s floundering education system, reports Head, Education Desk, Iyabo Lawal

In Nigeria’s tertiary education, it never rains but it pours. ‘JAMB reinstates post-UTME’; ‘ASUU begins indefinite strike’; ‘JAMB reduces cut-off marks, varsities kick’; and ‘New cut-off marks to favour private varsities’, so the headlines have been screaming in the last couple of days.

There is a conundrum of claims and counterclaims; an example is the issue of the cut-off marks for the 2017/2018 session.

Everyone is angry with Prof. Ishaq Oloyede and the organisation he superintends over – the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB). Not a few vice chancellors of public universities have spoken up against the JAMB registrar and in the midst of the counterclaims and charges; nobody seems to be listening to the exam body, which has struggled over the years to remain relevant in its chequered history.

But left for the universities, a requiem would have been conducted on JAMB – as there is no love lost between JAMB and the institutions, especially when it comes to admission. Perhaps, it is time the Federal Government reconsidered the usefulness of the exam body, which in most recent times has been accused of formulating policies skewed in favour of private higher institutions.

With private universities, as claimed, more likely to accept admission seekers with low cut-off marks, public higher institutions seem determined to up their ante. There was also an allegation that JAMB’s latest policy on cut-off marks was designed to favour the North. With the current social-security issues in the North, fewer admission seekers are heading in that direction; that may sooner or later asphyxiate the continued sustainability of the universities and polytechnic in that region. Will JAMB’s lowered cut-off marks be enough incentives for parents to allow their children to head to the north for higher education in the face of daunting security challenges? Only time will tell, as many youths get frustrated with their inability to get admitted into the universities of their choice in the South.

There is obvious politics in the latest policy of the exam body, some analysts have claimed. They believe that no matter how hard it tries to shake off the various allegations levelled against it, JAMB will remain the whipping boy in terms of admission issues into tertiary institutions.

The recent volte-face of the vice chancellors is an ominous signpost that universities are succeeding in having their way while allowing JAMB to have its say, the exam board pressed between a rock and a hard place.

In 2016, at a Policy Meeting on Admissions, the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, scrapped the Post-UTME, arguing that such exercise was not only unnecessary but placed heavy burden on students and their parents – that did not go down well with the universities that felt JAMB and the education ministry were being too meddlesome in their admission process.

At the 2017 meeting, however, Adamu reversed the ban, asserting that the nation’s tertiary institutions should be independent in terms of the admission process.

On August 22, it was agreed that the tertiary institutions determine their admission process and that cut-off marks should be fixed by each school’s senate, not JAMB.

At that meeting, all the1,200 representatives of the various tertiary institutions agreed to the new cut-off marks regime which many vice chancellors and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) have kicked against as they described it as “sad policy decision,” and that it was in tandem “with the dream of the present government to destroy public universities in the country.” Universities are admitting students illegally and many of these ones did not write the UTME, JAMB insists.

“Today, we are where we are because many are afraid to say the truth. All heads of tertiary institutions were requested to submit their cut-off benchmark to the board, which will then be used for the admission.

“We are now starting the monitoring of adherence to admissions guidelines – cut-off marks inclusive. The cut-off marks being branded by the public were never strictly followed by most institutions as most of them were going behind to admit candidates with far less with others admitting candidates who never sat for JAMB,” a statement issued recently by JAMB said.

ASUU did not find that statement complimentary. “Where are those that JAMB registrar said entered universities illegally? Which universities admitted them? If 30 per cent did not take JAMB and found their way into the university system is that not corruption and a message that JAMB is not significant anymore? What sanction did those who did the illegal admission receive other than regularisation of illegality? We are watching because long before now we have said that JAMB has outlived its usefulness. Let the universities set their unique standards and those who are qualified can come in.

“Even in those days, 40 per cent was graded as fail. But now JAMB said with F9, which is scoring 30 per cent, you can be admitted. They deliberately want to destroy education. Even for polytechnics 100 marks is 25 per cent. It is sad. And that is where we are in Nigeria. They want to destroy public education at all cost. This is not setting standard for education in Nigeria. It is purely lowering standards and digging the grave for the future. This is why ASUU is currently on the struggle to influence the government to do the needful for education in Nigeria,” Chairman ASUU, University of Ibadan, Dr Deji Omole, said.

The history of Nigeria’s Ministry of Education, JAMB and that of the ASUU is a chequered one – there is largely no love lost between the two entities (the ministry and JAMB on one side and ASUU on the other side). The current stand-off between the education ministry (including JAMB) and ASUU is a reflection of their crisis-ridden relationship.

Last year, the union had staged a protest condemning the decision of the ministry to scrap post-UTME. Precisely June 2016, Adamu, at a combined policy meeting on admissions to higher institutions banned the examination.

That year, the lecturers breathed fire and brimstone, warning the Federal Government that the ministry of education’s scrapping of the examination portended a serious danger for the quality of education in the country.

In the heat of that development, the union also pointed out that the decision undermined the autonomy and powers of universities’ senates as the highest policy-making body on academic matters, particularly admission of students and award of degrees.

ASUU was even more livid because the education minister did not consult the union on the matter. “The cancellation of post-UTME to us portends a serious danger for the quality of education in this country. The argument of the federal government on the policy is unacceptable and potentially harmful to the future of the nation’s education system.

“We call on the government to rescind its decision and convene genuine stakeholders‘ meeting on the issue before making any policy statement,” the ASUU President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, had said.

By August this year, that hotly contested decision was reversed. At the combined policy meeting with stakeholders where the controversial issue of new cut-off mark was arrived at, government lifted the ban on the conduct of examinations usually organised by universities for admission seekers after the UTME.

Making this known in Abuja that universities, polytechnics and other institutions are free to organise post-UTME screening as a pre-condition to gaining admission into public institutions, the education minister disclosed that the Federal Government scrapped the controversial examination in order to fully understand what is going on in the institutions.

Adamu, in making the announcement, also noted that his ministry has become wiser regarding the conduct of the post-UTME. He, however, urged the institutions and its authorities to make the fees for the post-UTME screening affordable in order not to impose huge financial burden on parents and students who fend for themselves.

“We are going to allow universities to have some choice. Universities can now decide to organise post-UTME, if they want. We have asked them not to impose huge financial burden on the parents. The burden should not be more than what they can bear,” the minister stated in a conciliatory tone even though he reiterated his confidence in the examination conducted by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB).

The current decision is a volte-face to what the education minister promised to do after the initial scrapping of the exam – Adamu promised that machinery that would bring the post-UTME to its logical end would soon be set up.

The minister had felt that it was unnecessary for individual institutions to conduct a separate examination to guarantee admissions, when JAMB already performs such functions.

Not everyone had agreed with the initial decision to scrap the exam – while some stakeholders appeared to support the ministry’s action, scrapping the post-UTME because of inherent abuses, others had censured the Federal Government for taking a decision that would make it easy for a number of unsuitable admission seekers to gain admission into the universities and similar institutions.

To them, the post-UTME was vital to ensure that unqualified candidates did not slip into higher institutions of learning. However, the post-UTME turned out, according to some education experts, to become a money-making venture for universities.

Before his removal, the then JAMB Registrar, Prof. Dibu Ojerinde, had argued that the post-UTME should stop following the introduction of the Computer Based Test (CBT) examination mode. It was thought that the CBT would eliminate examination malpractices. That must have inspired the minister’s infamous announcement cancelling the post-UTME.

The exam had its issues, ranging from extortion to corruption; some people felt that it was an overkill to subject admission seekers to two different examinations with the aim of gaining admission into just one institution.

Those in support of the scrapping argued that apart from financial burden of an extra exam to be passed by the prospective students, the time and efforts involved could be excruciating at times.

For instance, a university that has the capacity to admit just 4,000 new intakes has been accused of collecting post-UTME fee from about 100,000 admission seekers.

They, thus, advised the Federal Ministry of Education and the tertiary institutions to devise other means of assessing the successful admission seekers instead of focusing on written tests.

No doubt, it will appear that the Federal Government decided to change its policy that outlawed the post-UTME because it is making concerted efforts to placate ASUU, which is currently having an upper hand over it in the ongoing strike by the union.

So far, there is silence from the side of parents and would-be students of tertiary institutions.



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