“I am aware that in choosing institutions, students and their parents take a lot of things into consideration such as proximity, cultural or traditional background, the status or reputation of the university and even religion and economic means”.
In continuation of my examination of the controversy generated by the policy announced by the Joint Admission Matriculation Board by which the choice of students in deciding which institution they would attend was limited, I will this week discuss the salutary effects which the introduction of Post-UTME tests had on the admission process and conclude with a suggestions as to how the current controversy could have been avoided with emphasis on a need to protect the right of every student seeking admission to decide which institution he will attend.
EFFECTS OF THE INTRODUCTION OF POST-UTME
The Post-UTME screenings have had a profound effect. It has greatly increased the quality of students admitted in the Universities. At the inception some students who scored very high marks in the examination conducted by the JAMB failed to justify such high ratings in the Post-UTME screening. The experience we had at the University of Lagos immediately after the introduction of the exercise encouraged us to continue in it. For example, there was a case of a candidate who applied for law in the university. His UME result was so impressive that we could easily have passed him as a first class candidate. During the post-UME exercise, he was asked whether, as a literature student, he knew a novel called “Things Fall Apart”. He quickly responded, “yes”. We asked him the name of the author and he responded ABACHA! That was an example of many other heart-rending experiences we had on that day. This has been the case in almost all the universities in Nigeria. The screening exercise is however helping the universities to reverse this trend. The introduction of screening exercise saw instant reduction in the large number of candidates parading high JAMB scores.
There has been a noticeable decrease in the number of students who are often asked to withdraw after the first academic session for reason of poor performance. This in turn has increased the quality of scholarship in the Universities as Lecturers now have students who are truly interested in academic pursuits and are thus more easily engaged in class.
Even JAMB itself was positively affected by the introduction of the Tests. Seeing the success recorded by the Universities, which was in effect an exposure of the failings on its part, JAMB was forced to reinvent itself. This led to the introduction of several innovative measures including computer based tests which amongst others enabled results to be released hours after the conduct of the examination and also reduced the chances of manipulation. For this and many innovations, JAMB under the stewardship of Professor DibuOjerinde must be commended.
STUDENTS MUST HAVE A CHOICE
This is why in my estimation, the policy introduced by JAMB and which resulted in so much controversy should have been avoided. As stated earlier, as Universities were allowed to set their own cut-off points different from that recommended by JAMB, the Policy thus mandated that students who did not meet the cut-off points of their universities of choice would be referred to other Universities which they did not choose.
It is my belief that availability of educational opportunities to the citizenry carries with it a choice on the part of the citizen to decide just where he would be educated. I am aware that in choosing institutions, students and their parents take a lot of things into consideration such as proximity, cultural or traditional background, the status or reputation of the university and even religion and economic means. A student whose parents are of less than average financial means may for example be reluctant to choose a school too far away from the location of his family. He may decide to commute to school from home rather than incur added expenses of hostel accommodation. As sad as it may sound, there are students whose major obstacle upon resumption of the school year is not even the payment of school fees but transportation fares to take them from their home state to their school. Therefore adopting a policy whereby students would be allocated to schools that were never in their contemplation was totally unnecessary and I believe Government was justified to intervene.
In any event, the controversy brought to the fore, the huge gaps that still exists between some first generation public universities and other universities that came after them. While Universities like University of Lagos, University of Ibadan, Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, University of Nigeria Nsukka and Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife attract the large majority of applicants every year, other Universities including some state University attract very few applications. The same thing applies amongst Private Universities as Universities such as Afe Babalola University, Covenant University and Babcock University attract a huge number of applicants, others attract very few applicants. This lopsidedness in choices may have influenced the now suspended policy of JAMB.
MEASURES TO IMPROVE QUALITY OF EDUCATION
However I feel a better approach would have been to address wholesale issues contributing to the decline of qualitative university education in Nigeria. Some of the measures which I have identified on several occasions are:
To improve the quality of education in our public universities, it is suggested that:
- Government should increase funding of universities as much as possible and as well encourage them to seek alternative funding or income. This could be done by setting up income-generating enterprises.
- Public universities should be made fully autonomous so that they can take their fates in their hands and run their programmes within their income.
- The NUC which is the regulatory body should be strengthened by giving it more powers especially for the Executive Secretary.
- Pro-Chancellors of public universities should be chosen from philanthropists and educationists, who have demonstrated their interest in qualitative education.
- University Councils are not avenues for council members for making money. Only contented men who are also interested in education and willing to make sacrifices should be made members of council.
- Research must be encouraged seriously among teachers and students.
- The existing federal universities should be well funded and expanded instead of spending a few billions of Naira for the establishment of nine universities in abandoned buildings or schools.
In addition to some of the measures suggested for public universities above, government should ensure:
- Strict compliance with the law on establishment of private universities and the terms of their licenses in terms of carriage, infrastructure, and staffing.
- Private universities must be made to register as non-profit outfit and continue to be run at no profit to the proprietors.
- Stiff penalties should be meted on proprietors who abuse or breach the terms of their licences.
- Private universities which are registered as non-profit which: (a) have been granted permanent license (b) have graduated three sets of students and (c) have full accreditation in such programmes should be entitled to share in Tetfund since at the end of the day, they are rendering service to the public
- No license to operate a private university shall be granted to any proprietor until he has put up sizeable quality structures with modern teaching aids on a permanent site.
AARE AFE BABALOLA, OFR, CON, SAN, LL.D