Knocks, applauds trail admission cut-offs

There have been barrage of criticisms trailing Tuesday’s announcement of new UTME cutoff marks for admission into universities, polytechnics, colleges of education and innovative institutions by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), the agency conducting examination into the nation’s higher institutions.

The criticisms are responses of stakeholders to the reduction in the cut-off marks as announced by the JAMB Registrar, Prof. Is-haq Oloyede. Oloyede, shortly after the twoday 2017 Combined Policy Meeting with vice-chancellors, rectors and provosts of tertiary institutions in Abuja, had announced the reduction in the cut-off marks from 180 to 120 for universities and from 150 to 100 for polytechnics, monotechnics and colleges of education across the country. He pegged the cut-off marks for the innovative institutions at 110.

Since the announcement, key stakeholders in the nation’s education sector, including university proprietors, administrators, students and parents, have expressed worry over the development, saying rather than bringing about the desired results, it would further draw back the wheel of progress of the system.

Thus, they have condemned the decision of JAMB in strong terms, saying if the nation’s higher education is to occupy its rightful position in the comity of higher education delivery across the globe, the policy must be reversed. According to them, given the background of poor position of Nigerian universities in the global ranking, where none has fared better, the reduction in the cut off marks into the institutions would further demean the quality.

Raising his voice against the development, the Founder and Chancellor of Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti (ABUAD), Aare Afe Babalola (SAN) has condemned the new policy, describing the decision as the worst in history of Nigeria’s education. The legal icon, who described JAMB’s action as “violence to university education,” is calling for an urgent education summit of all regulators and operators as well as well-meaning stakeholders in education to diffuse this “thick ice of confusion that has engulfed the nation’s education landscape.” He, however, raised some pertinent question as to whether “the reduction is a deliberate ploy to make things worse?”, saying those behind the reduction should be aware that even candidates who pass UTME at 180 and above still find it difficult to secure admission into Nigerian universities because there are more qualified candidates than the spaces available and because of lack of facilities in the existing universities.

But, in a swift reaction to the controversies, the JAMB Registrar, Prof. Is-haq Oloyede, said what stakeholders must understand is that the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) conducted by JAMB, is not an achievement test, and not a qualifying examination but a ranking test, as anyone seeking admission to universities must have basic five credits in O’Level results. “It is not the UTME that qualifies them, it is because we do not have space for all of the candidates that we now say let us rank them in order of performance,” Oloyede added, saying: “Before, what we used to do was to say anyone that scored below 200 marks had no chance in any of our universities, but this year we are saying even if a candidate has 120 he or she could be admitted into universities.

And again, because many of those who score 200 and above do not have the required O’Level results and without that they cannot be admitted if they do not have the required five credits in their O’Level results.” Echoing this position, the Vice- Chancellor of University of Ibadan (UI), Prof. Idowu Olayinka, who frowned at the reduction, expressed dismay over the announcement and described it as a worrisome development.

He insisted that the reduction should worry the university management, as patriots and major stakeholders that candidates, who scored only 30 per cent in UTME could be admitted into some of the universities. Idowu insisted that his university, as an institution aspiring to be world class had never admitted any candidate with lower than 200 marks of the minimum 400 since the inception of JAMB in 1978.

But, the only consolation to this development, the vice-chancellor noted, is that the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, who chaired the meeting, had apologised publicly for canceling Post-UTME screening last year and that universities could now conduct screening exercise for students seeking admission. “In effect, universities are now allowed to conduct post-UTME, using modalities approved by the Senate of each institution.

As strongly canvassed by us at every opportunity, for University of Ibadan, the need to admit the best admission seekers is the primary motivation for post- UTME, and not money, even though we do not pretend that you can run any university so properly called without funds,” he added. Despite this position, Aare Babalola, however, pointed out that the caveat by JAMB that each university has the right to set its own standard, would not help the situation as it portrays the country as not having an acceptable limit for setting standards.

Babalola, the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) for seven years, insisted that some of the first generation universities such as UNILAG, UI, UNIBEN, UNN and OAU, would not take less than between 250 and 270 in some courses. According to him, in Afe Babalola University the minimum JAMB score the institution take for Law and Medicine is 240 marks, saying this could even be higher in the first generation universities. He said: “In the University of Lagos, for instance, where I was Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council for seven years, no candidate would be admitted to study Medicine with less than 270 marks. “As a stakeholder in the education sector, I am, therefore, worried and curious that this farreaching decision could be taken without due consideration for its implications on the quality of education on offer in Nigerian tertiary institutions.”

Meanwhile, the students, under the aegis of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) have also condemned the development, saying such downward review of cut-off marks would encourage indolence among candidates.Though, the institutions were at liberty to raise their cut off marks for admission above the minimum set by JAMB, the NANS President, Chinonso Obasi, however, argued that knowledge acquisition was a function of determination and hard work, adding that aspiring students should not be encouraged to relapse into laziness. He said; “If over the years, students were able to work hard to meet cut-off points, it does not make any logical sense to now lower the standard. The inability of any student to meet the cut-off points is a function of outright indolence that should not be encouraged.

“The general impression is that Nigerian graduates are not employable; therefore, lowering of standard will translate to a disastrous outcome in the future by churning out young men and women, who cannot fit into the demands and expectations of the 21st century.” He added that the 21st Century is being driven by innovation and competitiveness and lowering the entry level into tertiary institutions would have negative implications on young ones’ zeal to step up performance.

The NANS president, therefore, listed some of the challenges facing higher education in the country to include lack of modern teaching facilities, low level of morale by the teaching staff, and lack of enabling environment for effective learning. Thus, Obasi urged concerned authorities on the need to conduct a comparative study and analysis of policies of other climes that support functional learning in order to produce young people who would be globally competitive, rather than lowering admission marks. But, the former Vice-Chancellor of Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko (AAUA), Prof. Femi Mimiko, has expressed worry over the controversy trailing the development, saying even from quarters that should ordinarily have a better appreciation of the issues have proved otherwise.

However, compelled by the circumstances, he said it is the tradition of JAMB, in consultation with heads of all the higher institutions, to fix the minimum benchmark score for admission into the universities, below which the Senate of a university cannot fall. “By the way, admission is strictly in the purview of the Senate of each university. The choice, therefore, is that of each university to make vis a vis its own cut-off point for the different courses it offers, as long as it is not admitting below the benchmark score. This is applicable, mutatis mutandis, to the other higher institutions.

In summary, there is nothing fundamentally out of place in what JAMB has done in this instance. It is left to each university to decide what it considers as adequate cutoff point, depending on what it seeks to achieve,” Mimiko said. According to him, the assumption behind this is that the Senate of a university, made up statutorily of professors, is responsible enough to do what is right. Indeed, he said ultimately our system should move away from its statist orientation to one driven by market forces, even as he stressed that the logic of the market would further compel responsible behaviour on the part of our universities in this regard.

He added that in truth, JAMB examination, like all matriculation examinations, is not exactly the ultimate requirement for admission, saying it is merely to complement, in our own instance, the School Certificate, which is a product of at least six years of cumulative knowledge. Mimiko further explained: “This certificate is far superior to a one-off matriculation examination; meaning that, having not done very well in this one matriculation examination does not completely suggest that a candidate is useless.

The only reason for fixing cut-off marks highly in this clime, therefore, may not be more than the need to moderate access, given the abysmally low intake capacity of our universities. “So, the 120 benchmark score does not suggest that better qualified candidates would be left out as long as the principle of merit in admission is taken as sacrosanct. It only says that under no circumstance will anyone with a score lower than 120 get admitted.”

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