■ Former Vice Chancellors, students knock horns
By Sam Otti
Criticisms and commendations trailed the recent decision by the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, to scrap the post-Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME). Reactions poured in torrents across the country. Some described the decision as a drawback to the concerted efforts to improve the quality of students admitted into the nation’s universities, while others gave a clap offering to the government for the courage to restore the battered autonomy of the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB).
A vociferous objection to the decision came from seasoned educationist and Proprietor of Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti (ABUAD), Aare Afe Babalola, (SAN), who reportedly described the decision as a regrettable mistake. He stated that in 2003 when he was the Pro-Chancellor of the University of Lagos and Chairman of Pro-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities, “it was discovered by university administrators in this country that many of the students admitted into Nigerian Universities through JAMB were not only academically deficient; they could also not justify the high marks scored in JAMB examinations.”
Another erudite scholar and former Vice Chancellor, University of Lagos (UNILAG), Prof Tolu Odugbemi, held similar opinion. He said the decision to scrap the post-UTME without proper research was ill-conceived and utterly worrisome. He maintained that universities should have the right to admit suitable students based on relevant and objective criteria.
“Is there data or published research studies available either for or against dumping “post- UTME” in our universities to back such important policy? Have the problems which led universities to introduce the post-UTME exam been addressed? Government policies are based on facts and research data”, he said.
Odugbemi, who was also the former Vice Chancellor, Ondo State University of Science and Technology (OSUSTECH), canvassed autonomy for Nigerian higher institutions, especially on academic and research issues if they were to meet the challenges of the 21st century. He explained that government ministries carry too much load that unnecessarily court hostile views from various segments of the society.
He also advised the regulatory bodies of universities to pay due attention to their duties and responsibilities to guard against undue interference in the day to day running of local universities.
He explained that in the 50s/60s even up to the 70s, many secondary schools in the country had excellent admission policies and procedures for selecting new students. This included written examinations, oral interviews and tests for sporting potentials.
“Universities should be free to decide on procedures for admitting their students in the 21st century,” he advised.
Benumbed by the development, former Vice Chancellor, Nnamdi Azikiwe University (Unizik), Awka, Prof Boniface Egboka, told Campus Sun that he was surprised on hearing the news. According to him, the emplacement of the post-UTME was widely discussed in the public and accepted for use by Nigerian universities.
“Late Senator Uche Chukwumerije, his team and the last Senate worked so hard on the matter before the general approval and use. There were serious problems with JAMB exam that resulted in the emergence of the exercise and those problems are yet to be solved”, he explained.
Prof Egboka noted that some universities abused the process by charging outrageous fees for the exam, far above the N1000 fixed by the federal government. He noted that large number of students pass JAMB exam every year, but further screening often reveal that they were not qualified. He argued that conducting the post-UTME allowed universities to select the best out of the mammoth candidates.
While calling on the federal government to reconsider its decision, he said, “From the way it is now, Vice Chancellors and their teams are going to have it very tough in admitting the most credible and deserving candidates”.
Rather than scrap the exercise, Egboka called for an effective implementation mechanism that would ensure proper monitoring of the examination across universities in the country.
A contrary view was expressed by another reputable scholar and former Vice Chancellor, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University, Lapai, Niger State, Prof. Ibrahim Kolo. He warned that 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 globalizing world. He said the credibility of examinations conducted by the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) has improved remarkably over the years, which had over-ruled the essence of further post-UTME tests by various universities.
Kolo explained that the use of external monitors, security agencies, paper and computer test approach, and n computer based test (CBT) had greatly improved the quality and reliability of the results of JAMB examination.
“Indeed JAMB has taken the lead already in adopting measures to overcome genuine challenges associated with the use of technology for ease of public transactions in Nigeria while encouraging other public examinations to begin the CBT approach. 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”, he said.
Kolo, who was also former President, Counselling Association of Nigeria (CASSON), explained that the post-UTME exercises (not necessarily post-UTME Screening) bring immense psychological pressure on candidates, subjecting them to mental trauma of another examination after at least two of the same psychometric typology. He also raised concern on the tendencies for manipulations and malpractices by the host institutions (the same allegations JAMB was accused of), coupled with the insatiate crave for making more money in the name of Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) by the universities.
He also questioned the lack of technical qualities in the subjective examinations, which are often not subject to reliability and external validity procedures. “JAMB may have in the past had issues with the acceptability of its examination, particularly by the universities, but, certainly, adequate measures have been taken year after year in correcting observable lapses and the strengthening of the reliability of the tests conducted for use for admission into tertiary institutions. The exam body has also not foreclosed its doors to any further complaints or suggestions meant for strengthening the testing mechanisms in use”, he said.
Kolo said genuine concerns should be channeled to having the Communications Technology Sector facilitate the CBT-based UTME; enhancement of the transparent conduct of the UTME; facilitating the transition required by JAMB to migrate from academic achievements testing to the development and use of academic and professional aptitude testing for pre-entry and pre-career entry purposes for the tertiary education system. He argued that more technically guided involvement of tertiary institutions in the conduct of the UTME and the elimination of tendencies for double or multiple admissions as spelt out in JAMB’s guideline for this year’s selection would guarantee a strong and credible exam body.
A lecturer at the University of Benin, Nnonso Nnabuife, said government’s decision to scrap the post-UTME was a welcome development that would save parents, wards, sponsors and prospective candidates the increasing cost and pressure of such examination. He advised universities to explore other criteria for students’ admissions, after the JAMB or UTME, without any financial burden or pressure on the prospective candidates.
Also, a graduating student of Psychology, Ebonyi State University (EBSU), Princess Aluma, hailed the decision to scrap the exam. According to her, Nigeria should leverage on new technologies to conduct examination that would benchmark global standard and best practices.
“We are no longer in pen and pencil world, everything is now being computerized. Since students now write JAMB-CBT, that ensures validity and reliability in results. And since the results are reliable and valid, post-UTME is no longer necessary. Above all, post-UTME is costly and time consuming”, she explained.
Another student, Felix Abijoroh, 400 level, Ekiti State University (EKSU), said scrapping of post-UTME was long overdue and commended the Minister for taking the bull by the horn. “It was nothing but an instrument employed by tertiary institutions to perpetrate ‘extortion’. If the managers of our universities no longer have confidence in JAMB, then they should advocate its scrapping, rather than impose additional burden on the already impoverished populace”, he added.
Also, a student of Federal Polytechnic, Idah, Benue State, Andy Buchi Ezugwu, said scrapping post -UTME would curb corruption associated with the examination.
“This will also control overcrowding of candidates every year in different universities for the exam. Students who travel long distances to write post-UTME, are exposed to risks on the highway. Scrapping the exam is goodnews that should be applauded by all.