The Federal Government recently announced the abolition of the catchment area policy in admitting students into federal universities. President Muhammadu Buhari disclosed this at the 45th convocation ceremony of the University of Benin, Benin City, held on November 26. The president, who was represented on the occasion by the Deputy Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Suleiman Yusuf, warned that any institution that flouted the directive would be sanctioned.
All federal universities have been directed to ensure that every local government, all states and all geo-political zones are represented in their admission of new students. The government has directed the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and the NUC to ensure that all federal varsities comply with the directive beginning from the 2020 admission season. The Federal Government is worried that the demographics of the various Nigerian universities do not reflect national institutions in terms of the national spread of their staff and students population. In these universities, there is allegation of over-localisation and over-indigenisation of their staff and students.
While it is good to encourage diversity in the nation’s universities in terms of staff recruitment and students admission, we advise that the abolition of the catchment area policy should be done with a great deal of caution. It will be done in such a way that it there will be no need to reverse the policy. There are also fears that the policy may not be fully implemented in some parts of the country. These are some of the issues the government will address before introducing the policy.
The catchment area policy was introduced some years ago in the varsity admission process to enable prospective students from host communities and adjacent states gain admission into the university located in their area. The measure was tailored to ensure that those within the locality of the university are not denied admission. Unfortunately, the implementation of the once laudable policy was riddled with corruption to the extent that it later became a tool through which academically unfit candidates were admitted into the universities as well as recruitment of staff.
While the catchment area policy may have been necessary at the time it was introduced in the 1970s, there is no doubt that the policy is no longer necessary at present due to inherent abuses. It is contradictory that a candidate with high score in Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) is denied admission while another candidate with a lower score is offered admission for the same course. The same applies in the recruitment of staff in some of these varsities.
With 43 federal universities, 48 state universities and 79 private varsities, it can be safely argued that the continuous use of the catchment area policy cannot be justified. It can also be said that Nigeria is ripe for the abolition of the catchment area policy. We may also say that we have reached the stage where admission into the varsities should be by merit only.
We believe that the new measure as announced by the president would further democratise access to university education and make university education equally accessible to all, irrespective of local government or state of origin. If properly implemented, the measure would make our varsities to be universal, democratic and liberal in outlook.
It is worth pointing out that the best universities in the world, also known as the Ivy League universities, have built their reputation on the diversity and universality of their faculties, courses and students. In fact, the more diverse and universal a university is the better. The University of Ibadan and all the first generation universities established between 1948 and 1962 were highly rated in Africa, the Commonwealth and globally because of their diversity in staff recruitment and admission of students.
One of the best ways to get the country on her proper footing is to get her education right. With good policies, adequate funding of research and development, our universities would be in a position to propel the nation’s industrial and technological development. Above all, we enjoin all universities in the country to encourage diversity in their staff recruitment and students admission. It is one of the best ways to nurture great institutions of higher learning.