The pegging of cut-off marks for admission into the nation’s tertiary institutions at 120 for universities and 100 for polytechnics and colleges of education, in the 2017/2018 academic year, is generating diverse reactions from stakeholders in the education sector. Many institutions, lecturers and students have condemned the decision, while a negligible and apparently non-vocal few support it. The decision to drastically reduce the minimum score for admission was reportedly taken by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), alongside Vice-Chancellors, Rectors and Provosts of higher institutions at a combined policy meeting on admission into the institutions, on August 22 in Abuja.
However, the Registrar of JAMB, Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, has clarified that while universities should not go below the minimum 120 cut-off mark adopted by the combined policy meeting, any institution can fix its cut-off above that mark. In other words, each institution can set its cut-off mark for admission but should not go below the minimum 120 adopted by the policy meeting. Oloyede emphatically said that the Senate and academic boards of universities would be allowed to determine their cut-off marks.
To avoid this needless confusion, JAMB and the admission policy committee should allow the universities and other tertiary institutions to fix their own cut-off marks without any interference. In addition, no institution should be made to admit any student whose score is below the minimum fixed by its academic board under any guise whatsoever, including the controversial quota system. It will also be helpful for the institutions to be compelled to make their cut-off marks public, to encourage them to admit only those who obtained reasonable marks in the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME).
It has been said in some quarters that JAMB took the decision to expand access to tertiary education and to help some institutions fill up their admission quotas. JAMB has, however, argued that the UTME is not a qualifying examination, but a ranking one, as the qualification for admission into the institutions is the Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE), with credits in the required number of subjects. It also said the decision was taken to reduce the rush for education in foreign institutions.
There are speculations that some private universities that are having low patronage are behind the move to crash admission scores, although some of them have strongly denied this. There are also fears of a political motive for the decision. This is probably because some highly placed public officers can use the ridiculously low cut-off marks to force admissions into choice universities and other tertiary institutions for their children and wards who performed poorly in the UTME.
Be that as it may, condemnations of the cut-off marks have come mainly from vice-chancellors of some universities, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS). For instance, the University of Ibadan, University of Lagos and University of Nigeria, Nsukka, are among those that have pegged their minimum cut-off mark at 200. Some private universities, including the Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti, have also adopted 200 as their cut-off marks, with the exception of certain courses like Agriculture, for which they will accept 180.
The unprecedented lowering of minimum admission score may lead to the admission of under-performing students who only scored 30 per cent in the UTME, and produce half-baked graduates. This is likely to worsen the quality of our graduates. It will also worsen the already bad rating of our universities and other tertiary institutions abroad. Already, some foreign universities subject Nigerian graduates to remedial programmes before they are allowed to pursue higher degrees. The implication of this embarrassing practice is that the quality of our degrees is lower than those from other parts of the world. We strongly believe that the new cut-off marks will worsen this situation.
We call for a reversal of the official minimum university cut-off score to 180, and 200 for the more popular and academically exerting courses because there are many students who attain this score, yet are unable to secure admission, even when they have good SSCE results. This should be the permissible minimum and anything short of this can only harm tertiary education in the country. This is more so at a time that many universities do not admit candidates who score lower than 260 for popular courses, such as Medicine, Law and Engineering.
University education, which is at the apex of the education pyramid, is supposed to attract the best and brightest of our students. Basic education is at the base of the pyramid and it is the broadest as it is an all-comers affair. It is closely followed by post-basic education, which is also broad, while tertiary education, which is at the top of the academic pyramid is always narrow and takes only the best. Lowering the JAMB cut-off mark is the greatest disservice we can do tertiary education in Nigeria. It is neither good for the prospective students nor the institutions. Both ways, we are all losers.
Instead of lowering the cut-off mark, we believe that the reverse should be the case in order to shore up the standard of tertiary education in the country. Only the best candidates should go on to tertiary institutions while those who cannot cope with the academic rigour should be afforded the opportunity to have quality vocational training. Let the government reverse this unpopular decision before it undermines varsity education in the country.
The only way to assure Nigerians that the lowering of the cut-off mark has no political undertone is to discard it and allow each university to determine its cut-off mark. Government should intervene forthwith and save the higher education sector from this needless controversy. The earlier this decision is annulled, the better for tertiary education in the country.