Candidates in an examination hall
The need to ensure that competent and qualified candidates are admitted into Nigerian universities and cross-validate the scores of candidates in the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) conducted by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) are some of the reasons given by public tertiary institutions to justify the introduction of post –UTME. However, controversy has continued to trail the necessity or otherwise of the screening exercise, writes IYABO LAWAL.
Last year, a female candidate applied to study Economics at the University of Ibadan (UI) with excellent results in the school certificate examination and UTME. She had eight distinctions in eight subjects at the school certificate level and 284 marks in the JAMB conducted examination – a fantastic result combination that attracted UI to invite her for the post-UTME test.
During the interaction, the panel members were so “impressed” with her supposed results until someone from the team, probably out of curiosity, posed a simple question to her. The lady began to fidget. Initially, some of the panel members thought she was intimidated by the presence of some professors, thereby, giving her time to relax. But, alas, the candidate bungled the answer, as she later confessed that someone wrote the exams for her.
In another instance, some prospective university students lost their lives on the roads while travelling to various institutions for screening. Candidates risk their lives on unsafe roads. While some are involved in fatal accidents, others live with permanent disabilities. Unfortunately, they might not get the chance to write the exam, pass or even resume school.
With these experiences, there is debate out there, whether the post-UTME should continue or not. The Federal Government in 2005, during the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, introduced the policy of post-UTME screening by universities, which made it compulsory for tertiary institutions to test candidates after JAMB results before offering admission.
In 2017, the Nigerian senate began moves to scrap Post-UTME as it mandated its committee on tertiary education to meet with relevant stakeholders, especially JAMB to come up with recommendations on how to achieve the set goal.
According to the lawmakers, the move became necessary because the introduction of post–UTME failed to remedy the problems associated with JAMB and its existence poses more challenges for tertiary education. While the policy was aimed at addressing the poor quality of students entering the university, some of the lawmakers said the test actually re-introduced and entrenched many of the problems it sought to eliminate. They also alleged that the policy, meant to be a remedy to the decay in higher institutions of learning, became an avenue of extorting prospective students.
A non-governmental organisation, Education without Tears, had recently revisited the issue and called on the Federal Ministry of Education and National Universities Commission (NUC) to cancel post-UTME.
The group argued that the test was an additional burden on students seeking admission into universities; more so, some parents could not afford the cost.
In an open letter to the minister of education, Adamu Adamu, signed by its national coordinator, Junaid Peters, the group said new innovations from JAMB have reduced examination malpractice and built the confidence of parents and guardians.
Peters noted that there was no need for other examinations to be conducted by universities after JAMB had administered the same, which it is statutorily empowered to do.
“As far as we are concerned, we have confidence in what JAMB is doing. Universities should not be holding another examination for prospective students. If JAMB is qualified enough to conduct Computer Based Tests (CBT), then, there should be no need to conduct another test for students to gain admission,” Peters stated.
A section of highly placed academics and education administrators, while aligning with the group described the post-UTME as highly exploitative as many universities have turned the exercise into a revenue earner.
They are also of the view that the adoption of a two-pronged qualifying examination- one conducted by JAMB and the other moderated by respective institutions, was simply unfair to candidates, their parents, and guardians, describing it as a duplication of efforts.
An educationist and Proprietor of Twinkles, Mrs. Ibiyemi Aloba, said there was no basis for post –UTME or any written test again if JAMB has conducted examinations for students’ admission.
She said: “Having another body to test candidates is not necessary. JAMB results should be viewed as authentic admission documents into Nigerian universities.”
Aloba, who lamented the financial burden borne by parents, said most of them were not able to pay their children’s school fees and buy textbooks for them in time due to economic constraints.
While defending JAMB and the steps it has taken to ensure the authenticity of its results, public analyst, James Nbong, said: “JAMB more than any of the examination bodies in Nigeria, over the years, has introduced new measures in the conduct of its examination. So revolutionary was the CBT that universities began to adopt it not only for post-UTME but also for their own internally conducted examinations.
Nbong added that the examination body has taken the lead in adopting measures to overcome challenges associated with the conduct of examinations. “The problem with us is that we are most often not patient enough to allow innovations to work, even when it is in tandem with international best practices. Unfortunately, Nigeria cannot allow itself to veer off the lane of international best practices in educational development as a core element of facilitating competitiveness in a fast globalising world.”
Prof Chika Izuchukwu, of Benue State University, Makurdi, said JAMB may have had issues with the acceptability of its examination in the past, but the body has taken measures over the years to correct observable lapses and strengthen the reliability of tests for admission into tertiary institutions.
An education consultant, Louis Adams, said post-UTME is unnecessary in a 21st Century educational system. Adams argued that the world is more civilised and things have changed for the better.
“The issue of UTME or post-UTME is obsolete. The ideal thing should be, let admissions into tertiary institutions be through concessional entrance examination.”
He cited Ghanaian universities, where there are no unified examinations to pre-qualify students for admissions. He added that students secure admission into tertiary institutions with only the basic requirements of five credits in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), and other relevant examinations in Ghana.
“Let universities conduct concessional entrance examinations for their students. This is what is obtainable in Europe and what is popular all over the world. Students stay in their rooms with computer sets, make requests for admission forms, and within 24 hours they are offered entry into tertiary institutions,” Adams said.
The education consultant maintained that admission processes should not be cumbersome as has been the case in recent times.
He said: “We are faced with a challenge of no spaces in our universities and unfortunately, there is also the misplacement of available vacancies. That is why Nigerians are talking about UTME. All these are not obtainable in civilised societies.
“As stakeholders in education, the government should begin to partner with the private sector by sending surplus students who have no space in their first and second choice universities to private colleges of education. They can assure them admissions because there is desire and propensity for education in the Nigerian child.”
Adams deplored the excessive emphasis on paper qualification and not on knowledge acquisition in the country, adding that in advanced democracies, practical education, which is lacking in the country, holds sway.
However, some educationists and administrators did not think that two examinations were too many to properly sieve qualified candidates from those who were aided by corrupt officials and unwholesome elements.
Prof Esther Ndidi, who noted that JAMB is still a relevant player in the sector, said post-UTME, as originally conceived in 2004, is imperative if the country was to get better quality students for the nation’s higher education system.
Rather than shut the door on post-UTME, Ndidi said the government should take away whatever the universities are not doing right.
According to her, the attendant furore has continued to fester for two main reasons: the failure by many to understand the role of JAMB as provided by the law setting it up, and a gross lack of understanding of the technicalities of standardised tests.
An education consultant, Dr. Olu Obawoye, said through post-UTME, brilliant, indigent students have access to tertiary education as they are admitted on merit.
“Any student with a 200 and above score in UTME is expected to pass post-UTME without stress. This has helped a lot. Some students with ridiculous high marks in UTME fail the screening, while some that managed to score above 200 in UTME do well in post-UTME. This provides a fair play in the process of admission seeking. Post-UTME is the saviour of those that do not engage in exam malpractice and those with good grades but from humble backgrounds,” Obawoye said.
Besides, she noted that post-UTME screening helps students to know their capabilities. “Not all students are meant to be in universities; those that cannot meet the cut-off marks set by universities settle for polytechnics, colleges of education, and other universities with lower cut-off marks. Post-UTME also helps students to discover their abilities, talents, career, and capabilities.
Rather than do away with post-UTME, she urged the government to step up measures of improving infrastructure in public universities and expanding the same to accommodate more students that are itching for quality tertiary education.
On his part, Prof Mohammed Idris of the University of Maiduguri said scrapping post-UTME might put serious pressure on public institutions, which do not have the capacity to cope with the rising numbers of applicants.
He wondered how an institution with a capacity for less than 5,000 students per session and with over 500,000 applicants would be able to choose the best without post-UTME.