Education

Stakeholders divided over Senate’s stance on admission age

CRITICISM

There are divergent views among stakeholders on the plans by the Senate to peg admission age into the nation’s university system and other tertiary institutions at 18 years. KAYODE OLANREWAJU reports

 

˜  Pegging age limit to 18 years, unreasonable – Dons

˜  ASUU: 18 years should be standard age for varsity admission

˜  SSANU: Move laudable, but will erode varsity Senates’ powers

 

Mixed grills have continued to trail plans by the National Assembly to limit admission age into the nation’s tertiary institutions, particularly university, to 18 years, while candidates yet to attain 16 years would not be allowed to sit for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME).

 

This is as critical stakeholders, including parents’ group, teachers and unions, have expressed divergent views about the move to peg the age of candidates writing the UTME, conducted by JAMB to 16 years and above.

 

The Senate Committee on Basic Education, led by Senator Akon Eyakenyi, had during its oversight visit to the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), last week, announced plans to amend the JAMB Act so as to limit admission age into tertiary institutions in the country to 18 years.

The Committee had during the visit indicated that age has a lot to do with children’s learning ability, and hence the issue of age should be dispassionately looked into.

 

According to the Committee, this would prevent under-aged candidates from participating in UTME for the purpose of securing admission into Nigerian universities.

 

The Committee, which noted that since education was critical to the development and future growth of the country, further stressed that the sector deserves maximum attention because quality education could only be achieved through proper funding and commitment on the part of teachers and students.

 

But, JAMB Registrar/CEO, Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, however, told the Committee that the Board does not have the power to disqualify any candidate on the basis of age, since individual institution decides on who to admit as it is the case with University of Ibadan, which does not admit candidates below 16 years.

 

Meanwhile, it will be recalled that based on this issue of age, the University of Lagos (UNILAG) had three years ago denied 15-year-old David Okorogheye with 336 highest  score in the UTME and 9As in WASSCE, who wanted to study Medicine admission on the ground of his age.

But, while the National Assembly is busy planning to peg admission age, a nine-year-old child prodigy from Belgium, Laurent Simons, who studied Electrical Engineering, graduated in 2019 with a Bachelor’s Degree in a tough course for even students of an average graduate age.

 

Laurent, who graduated from the Eindhoven University of Technology (TUE), a public university in Eindhoven, Netherlands, was reported to have planned to embark on a PhD programme in Electrical Engineering, while also studying for a medicine degree. Laurent was described as “simply extraordinary” for his genius.

 

Also, in a related development, a 10-year-old British-Nigerian youngster, Esther Okade, a Mathematics genius from Walsall, an industrial town in the United Kingdom’s West Midlands region, was enrolled at the Open University, a UK-based distance learning college.

 

Another India-born nine-year-old child chess prodigy living in London, Shreyas Royal, who plays for Battersea Chess Club, was reported to have been given the right to stay in Britain because of his “world class talent.”

 

Given the countless number of such children geniuses abound in other climes and who are being given the right opportunities and window to develop and harness their ingenuity, stakeholders in the Nigeria’s education project,

are displeased with the Senate’s decision, when it should be busy addressing the massive infrastructural decay in the school system.

According to them, rather than allow Nigerian geniuses to develop at their pace, it is lamentable that the government is touting and toying with policies that will hamstring them and further jeopardise their resourcefulness.

 

The Registrar/CEO of Teachers’ Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN), Prof. Josiah Ajiboye, who frowned at the development, said that making age of entry into the universities a matter of law is an absurdity.

 

He added that individual universities should be able to regulate their admissions through the Act setting up such universities, saying that there are institutions already having age limits in their laws whereas others do not. “I hope making this legalistic will not deny academic prodigies who are not up to that age of admissions when they are supposed to be given express admission.

 

Our laws should make our universities internationally competitive and not limit their growth. I consider it anachronistic at this age and time to be setting such age limits,” Ajiboye stressed.

 

Also, reacting to the Senate’s move, a don and the Dean School of Transport at the Lagos State University (LASU), Prof. Samuel Odewumi condemned the plan, insisting that it is archaic and constraining to slam a policy that has not been wellthought out and backed by any wellresearched fact to create barriers for Nigerian children.

“Our lawmakers should do their due diligence and not just be carried away by beer parlour opinions and sentiments,” he said, stressing that there was nothing new about the 16 years age limit being touted now.

 

“That is the operating rule now particularly for public universities, but private universities do not observe the guidelines of entry age. The idea of 18 years is definitely outrageous and going to be very damaging to the educational development of our children,” Odewumi noted.

 

The don, who insisted that he wouldn’t know of any place where 18 years is adopted as entry age for our type of education system, however, pointed out that the age 16 was already becoming very constraining for brilliant pupils that had double promotion in primary or secondary school.

Thus, he recommended the reintroduction and return of Higher School Certificate (HSC) into the nation’s education system in order to serve as the immediate stop gap for secondary school graduates before seeking admission into universities.

 

Odewumi, however, advocated a reduction of the age limit to 15 years because of the precocious development of the present days kids, not-ing that when we keep brilliant kids at home for nothing more than their age when they are in full throttle of academic achievement, they may find it difficult to pick up when they return to school at the permissible age.

 

Therefore, he said: “The HSC will give the children a two years maturation period without laying them off rigorous academic activities. Besides, when they complete HSC they are qualified for direct entry which will reduce the number of years they need to spend in the university.

 

“This will go a long way in reducing pressure on the universities with a provision of an effective buffer between secondary school and universities. In addition, if the HSC graduate still could not secure direct entry admission into the universities they are now better prepared to undertake professional examinations and part-time open distance degrees from home.”

 

The former Vice-Chancellor of Adekunle Ajasin University, Prof. Femi Mimiko, said he really did not have any objection to putting an age threshold for admission into university in Nigeria, provided such does not violate any fundamental human rights law.

 

But, he added that the penchant to rush kids through the school system is an elite predilection in the country, saying educationists have consistently made the point that there was no advantage to this, neither to the society nor the country.

 

However, Mimiko, a Professor of Political Science at the Obafemi Awolowo University, said for him a child lower in age than 16 years has no business enrolling into a degree programme.

 

Mimiko said: “From the point of view of maturity alone, such a kid that is rail-roaded into a higher institution under age 16 will find it rather tough to cope. “Remember, education is not limited to intellectual capacity alone. But even the cognitive ability of a child at that age is hardly developed such that it should ordinarily be subjected to the rigours and tedium associated with undergraduate education.

 

“Many countries understand these issues and put systems in place to force compliance.

 

Thus, by the time a kid is through with the HSC or Advanced Level GCE, or what have you, in the United Kingdom system, which is the entry point into university, they are grown and matured enough to go into the university system. “You don’t short circuit the process.

 

So if these are the types of motivation informing the planned creation of age limits for university admission in Nigeria, I am all for it. Sincerely, I am of the firm conviction that any kid below age 16 should be allowed to mature enough before being thrown into university education.”

Meanwhile, the National President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, recalled that the age limit was decided long ago, but has been disregarded by the operators of private primary and secondary schools, as well as JAMB.

 

To him, the standard age for admission into primary schools is six years, plus six years in primary school and six years in secondary school.

 

“Therefore, the standard age for entry into universities and other tertiary institutions should be 18 years. Recall that in the 60s and 70s you cannot be admitted into primary school until you are six years old, but because the greedy private sector has conquered the primary and secondary schools, age no longer matters,” the ASUU President noted.

 

On his part, then Vice President (West) of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Abdussobor Salaam, said the move to peg admission age to a certain age limit, although reasonable and laudable, seems to erode the powers of the university Senates to determine policies for admission of students.

 

According to him, the implication of the age limit is that the autonomy of the universities is being watered down.

 

He stressed that while there may be a need to peg age for admission, but insisted that his belief was that such should be determined by the Senate of the respective universities and not through national legislature.

He said: “Indeed, prior to now, many universities had pegged the age limits of matriculating students to not less than 16 years. I am aware that some institutions rejected candidates who had the highest scores in UTME but are below age 16 or 18 as the case may be.

 

“This is to ensure that the applicant attained the age of maturity and independent study which university education demands. To that extent therefore, the idea behind the suggested legislation is not new and has been a practice of not a few universities in line with their powers to determine their admission policies.”

 

Also, a former Dean, Faculty of Arts, and a Professor of African and Oral Literatures at the University of Ibadan (UI), Prof. Ademola Dasylva, described the issue of age as critical in university admission, which he noted had been on for quite some time.

 

The don, who said he strongly believes that there is the need to allow a child to be sufficiently mature to possess the mental capacity that is capable of processing knowledge at such a tertiary level of education, again stated that mental maturity is something relative.

 

Dasylva, who said he was not speaking from the point of an expert in Sociology and Psychology, disagreed with the Senate on the 18 years age limit for admission, but advised that the status quo already existing on the present 16 years for admission should be allowed to remain, considering the nation’s environment and the level of Information Technology (IT).

 

“Over the years, there have been cases of candidates at age 14+ and 15 who sat for and passed the UTME, and had had to wait till they attained the requisite age of 16 years before they were considered for university admission. But, I will not support 18 years. That will not be fair to candidates, who could pass the examination at age 15 or 16 years,” he said.

 

The don, who noted that he was aware that in countries such as the United States and Canada, children move from class to class according to their age, said that there was always a provision for gifted children to run a track much faster, ahead of their age mates.

 

Other stakeholders that have reacted to the development, including the Secretary-General of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Dr. Mike Ike-Ene, is of the view that it is not ideal for a student to sit for the UTME at under 16 years.

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