Of JAMB Act, NUC and cut-off marks

Written by the Editorial Board of The Guardian Newspaper

The recent Senate action seeking presidential assent to the extension of the validity of the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) from one year to three years and the order by the National Universities’ Commission (NUC) banning pre-degree and diploma programme in universities as well as the proposal of the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) to scrap cut-off marks, have rekindled hope for this most important sector bedeviled by falling standards.

These directives are likely to generate renewed interest in university education at a time many had thought that the death knell for university education had already been sounded by its administrators and regulators through inconsistent policies.

Citing the hardship experienced by parents and guardians while sponsoring their children and wards for the UTME, the Senate decided to tinker with the JAMB Act by inserting a new section spelling out the validity of a UTME result.

According to a report of the Senate Committee on Tertiary Institution and TETFUND, the new section inserted into the Act extends validity of UTME results from one year to three Years. Besides, the new provision confers eligibility of qualified and admissible candidate for the same period and gives preference to candidates awaiting admission over fresh applicants “who shall only become eligible when the backlog has been cleared”.

While some perceived good intention of the Senate may not be in doubt, upon thoughtful scrutiny, the reason adduced for the bill is obnoxious and pretentious. Going by the wording of the inserted sections, the arguments in support of this reason are not only illogical but inconsistent with expectations from the Senate. What sense does an extension of the validity of the UTME result make? What wisdom is there in giving admission preference to those with the three-year validity over qualified fresh entrants?
Besides, cut-off marks at the UTME are judged by the overall performance of students in a given year, and this varies from time to time. In a situation where fresh entrants in a certain examination year get higher cut-off marks than holders of the three-year validity UTME results (as is often the case), does it make moral sense to grant admission to the latter? Given the admission quota provided by the

NUC to universities, can the backlog of admissible applicants be cleared in three years? Apart from the problem of managing candidates and sustaining this admission procedure, the policy shift will expand the saturated pool of eligible candidates and put undue pressure on the system. Therefore, there is no sense of justice or fairness in this kind of treatment.

Furthermore, the reason of hardship adduced by the Senate for the three-year extension of the validity of UTME result is neither cogent nor tenable. It is ill-advised and may not have been critically thought through. If hardship faced by parents and guardians were a sound reason for extension of the validity of an assessment or eligibility examination, so many other things would deserve constitutional amendment on the basis of hardship.

Besides, because the disadvantage of this extension both to students and the educational sector far outweighs the banal excuse of hardship, the Senate’s erroneous extension of the UTME is deceptive, questionable, self-serving and absurd. It seems to rehash through legislative means the decadence in the university education, which the NUC audaciously sought to address by banning pre-degree and diploma programmes in the universities.

Unlike the Senate that tended to create confusion through its ill-advised bill, the NUC made a decisive move by scrapping pre-degree and diploma programmes in universities.  For many years, parents and guardians in collusion with universities have cut corners for their wards to secure university admissions through disparate standards facilitated by questionable pre-degree and diploma programmes.

Before this ban, there were complaints about the management of these non-university programmes. Apart from their use to generate revenue for the university, their exorbitant fees, especially for pre-degree programmes, give opportunities to wards of wealthy parents and guardians and those in some privileged class. Besides, they overstretch facilities and resources, such as staff, classrooms, hostels, teaching aids, which are meant primarily for universities’ undergraduate and graduate students. Monotechnics and polytechnics are established to cater for such programmes.

Though the NUC as a regulator of the university system had in the past wobbled over this matter, its current intervention is quite commendable. If the NUC is an organ of government that allocates funds to, and oversees the management of universities, it must live up to its responsibility as a regulator by courageously defining what is good for the system.  With nearly 150 universities that cut across diverse peoples and cultures, and more still being licensed, the university system would require continuous quality control to meet global best standards. This responsibility requires vigilance of a regulator.
It is also for this reason that this newspaper supports a recent call by the Registrar of JAMB, Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, for a debate on the propriety of uniform cut-off marks for universities. Following the uneven state of existence in nature, the Nigerian federation is also unevenly distributed in terms of needs and aspirations, typical amongst which is the distribution of admission resources in universities.

Accordingly, Oloyede’s proposal for the scrapping of uniform cut-off marks on the basis of socio-economic privileges, which the rich have over others, should be taken seriously. Considering the disparity in education needs of the federation, it may not be expedient to create equal standards for admission. However, whilst this kind of discretion is required, the sacrifice to be made should not be at the expense of quality. In the same vein, that institutions should admit what they want according to their needs should not remove the role JAMB should play both as a regulator and a collaborator with NUC in ensuring systemic quality for universities.

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