IF the bill for an Act to Amend the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) Act and for Other Matters Connected Thereof, 2016 is passed into law by the Senate and given assent by President Muhammadu Buhari, the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) will henceforth enjoy a validity period of three years as against its present one year. Under the proposed law, candidates with old results will be given preference over new UTME candidates in subsequent admission processes by the tertiary institutions.
The proposed extension of UTME’s validity period has been greeted with criticisms in many quarters, forcing the Senate to suspend its earlier approval of the amendment. Although some Nigerians support the idea of JAMB results being eligible for use over a three-year period, many stakeholders in the education sector are opposed to it. They are of the view that it is lacking in merit, and will create more problems than it is expected to solve.
We welcome the Senate’s decision to suspend its move to amend the JAMB Act to provide for three-year validity for UTME. The Senate said it suspended the move to provide for adequate consultation with experts and other stakeholders in the education sector. The Senators should do just this. This is a policy that has to be carefully thought out. All its pros and cons should be properly considered to ensure that the final decision that will be taken will be in the best interest of the candidates and education in the country.
The amendment will significantly cut down the number of the people who will be taking the UTME every year. It will save those who have passed the examination once from having to sit for it again in the next three years.
It will, however, also reduce the chances of brilliant persons who are taking the examination for the first time from gaining admission, if the amendment is passed as presently proposed. This is because they will have to queue up behind those who took the examination in the last three years, which may rob the system of the most brilliant candidates.
This proposed amendment to the JAMB Act should be examined critically by all stakeholders to ensure that all grey areas are sorted out before President Buhari gives his assent to it. We are particularly worried about Section 5 (c) (iii) of the proposed amendment which provides that “A candidate awaiting admission shall be given preference in the succeeding year over fresh applicants who shall only become eligible when the backlog has been cleared.” This is a recipe for admission disaster.
It is erroneous for this section of the planned law to envisage that old candidates’ scores will always be superior to those of new ones. But, in reality, this is not always the case.
The intended law ought to be thoroughly scrutinized before it is presented to the president for his assent to avoid creating more problems in an effort to solve just one.
We believe that the admission crisis in our universities is not going to be resolved simply by extending UTME validity to three years. There are other issues involved and unless these are holistically tackled, we will be back to square one sooner than later. The best approach to the problem is to, among others, make polytechnic and colleges of education studies as attractive as those in the universities.
If many prospective UTME candidates apply for courses in the polytechnics and colleges of education in the country, the pressure on the universities will drastically reduce. The emphasis on university education is so much that the available admission spaces are not enough for the number of applicants in each academic year. This is the crux of the matter.
We advise the government to offer free tuition to students of polytechnics and colleges of education, to make them attractive to prospective students. A similar measure was introduced in the 70s and 80s for students majoring in education courses in federal universities and colleges of education, and it worked wonders. It can still be replicated now to attract more bright students to those segments of our tertiary education system. Alternatively, admission spaces in the existing universities can be expanded to accommodate more students.
Universities in the country should expand their programmes and facilities to accommodate more candidates. Apart from the older universities owned by the Federal Government, the states and private universities need to be expanded, instead of the mad rush to establish new ones in all parts of the country. Perhaps, an embargo should be placed on the establishment of new universities until the existing ones are brought up to standard in terms of academics and infrastructural development.
Above all, the initiators of the bill should fine-tune it in a way that no category of students will be given preference over others for any reason. The highest scorers should always be admitted in any admission season. Merit should not be sacrificed under the guise of clearing a backlog of applicants with older lacklustre UTME results.