By Dr. Ahmed Adamu
The Nigerian senate last week agreed to review the Act establishing the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), recommending the reduction of its Unified Tertiary Matriculation and Examination (UTME) registration fees from N5000 to N2, 500. The senate also recommended for the extension of the validity period of the UTME result. No doubt, the senate did this with good intentions to enable the children of the poor afford the mandatory entry examination into tertiary institutions. However, this decision will not serve the desired purpose and would require thinking out of the box, which this piece attempt to do.
First, there is the need to go back memory lane on the need for the UTME itself. Forty years ago, precisely in 1976, there was no Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and then only seven federal universities existed, which individually administered their concessionary examinations before admitting candidates. The military administration under General Olusegun Obasanjo noted that there were some limitations and challenges for this kind of admission system, and there were wastes of resources especially on the part of the candidates during these concessionary examinations. The government then decided to create JAMB to address these limitations.
If JAMB was established to address problems that existed 40 years ago, did Nigerian government ever thought of addressing these particular limitations associated with university discrete admission system? The answer is no. Similarly, the creation of JAMB brought its own limitations and still cannot eliminate the concessionary university entry examinations and its associated waste of resources.
This means that those limitations that JAMB was created to address are still manifesting since Universities still have stake and administer the final assessment of candidate’s suitability for admission. If the limitations associated with the university concessionary examinations were addressed directly then, JAMB would have been scraped for long. Nowadays, for a candidate to go to a University, he/she has to go through numerous (at least five) examinations, and there are charges for each of these examinations, and paying for this charges still cannot guarantee one’s admission. This means, the waste of resources on the part of candidate which the JAMB was supposed to eliminate is even exacerbated now. If a candidate is to be admitted into a University, he/she has to pass his/her school continuous assessment, West African Examination Council (WAEC) or National Examination Council (NECO), UTME, and Post-UTME. This makes access to University extremely difficult and complex, and results to inconsistency in the assessments, and led to denial of access to the tertiary education.
Many believed that passing UTME is by chance. Being an objective test; it may not exactly test one’s depth of knowledge and suitability for admission. Many confessed guessing the answers and eventually getting the required result. Now, UTME has become relaxed to the extent that some candidates interchange computers during the examination, and there were many reported cases of inadequacies and malpractices. In some cases, those that scored higher UTME result do not score good results in Post-UTME and semester examinations.
So, the question to ask is, which of these examinations truly test student’s qualification? In many circumstances, students that acquired good grades in WAEC/NECO still fail in UTME, and there are situations where the reverse is the case. For example, there is a student who has a very good result in WAEC, but failed UTME six times, and had to end up in polytechnic. Similarly, a candidate may pass all the entry examinations, and then perform poorly in the semester examinations. So, this inconsistency necessitated narrowing the entry examinations to few. So, it is better to select one or two entry examinations and make it efficient and adequate. And UTME should not be considered here, as the need for it does not exist anymore.
The reduction in UTME fees is a welcome development, because there are many students who could not join university because they could not afford to pay for the UTME, and with this reduction, at least half of these students can now pay for the UTME. However, it is not about sitting for the UTME, as in 2015 only 40% of the candidates that applied for first degree (under UTME) eventually secured admission.
This proportion will now reduce as the number of the applicants will definitely increase, as the admission capacities remain unchanged. For example, in 2015, around 1.5 million candidates applied for first degrees under UTME and only 500,000 eventually secured the admission. With this reduction of UTME fees, the number of applications may reach around 2.3 million, and yet only 500,000 will still get to the university. So, this will add to the frustrations, under-studentships and overstretch of university capacities. Therefore, what we need now is to fix our universities education issues and expand their absorption capacities, so that all the qualified candidates can get into universities and acquire quality education. And UTME cannot truly test one’s qualification.
Some believed that, it is a deliberate effort to make the system complex and make it determined by chance, so as to reduce the number of qualified candidates, because the Universities do not have enough capacity to absorb all the qualified students. So now, by reducing the UTME registration fees, you are by extension increasing the number of people that may likely qualify for admission, and there is no immediate corresponding increase in the university absorption capacity.
So, this will eventually compound the entire issues. Apart from money, other factors play role in denying candidates access to higher education. The first call will be to improve the quality of the education, increase the university capacities, employ more qualified teachers, and then invite more applicants. Of course, the number of entry examinations have to be reduced and made efficient.
Therefore, secondary schools should be strengthened to efficiently examine and assess their students’ qualification at each level up to the graduation, so that, it will be expected that any candidate finishing from Secondary and passing the external examination from WAEC or NECO and passing the Tertiary institution’s concessionary assessment shall be qualified for University admission.
These three examinations (Secondary school’s continuous assessments, WAEC/NECO and University examination) shall suffice. The additional hurdle and extra charges (no matter how little) related to UTME should be eliminated, and this can only be done by scraping the UTME.
Ahmed Adamu, PhD, is a Petroleum Economist, Development Expert and Pioneer Global Chairperson of the Commonwealth Youth Council. He is a lecturer with the Department of Economics, Umaru Musa Yar’adua University, Katsina.
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