The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board have become unpopular because of allegations of examination malpractices, corruption and its inability to place candidates in tertiary institutions. Should it be scrapped? Some Nigerians say yes, but some powerful ones are kicking against it
| By Anayo Ezugwu | Sep. 30, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
EBERE Onyema has what looks like a daunting ambition: to gain an admission into a Nigerian tertiary institution. After graduating from a secondary school in 2007, Onyema has sat for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, UTME, conducted by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, JAMB, five consecutive times without gaining admission into any of the nation’s universities.
“I checked my result and it was 187 points. The University of Lagos was my first and second choice institution, but now, it’s obvious my score doesn’t qualify me for the post-UME. I’m sick and tired of this whole situation and I have sworn that this is the last JAMB I will sit for. Over the years, I have scored 250 points but I wasn’t admitted. Well, my cousin told me that 187 will qualify me for admission into the polytechnic and that is where my attention is right now,” she said.
Precious Chijioke is another candidate who is finding it difficult to pass the UTME since he left secondary school in 2010. He sat for the examination in 2012, but couldn’t meet the 200 cut-off mark required to sit for the post-UTME at the Abia State University.“ I registered for this year’s UTME and, unfortunately, my centre was in Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State, where the biometric capturing machine could not capture my thumbprint. After some delay, I was allowed to sit for the examination, but when I checked my result later, I saw ‘no biometric verification’. I am appealing to JAMB to please release my result to enable me gain admission this year into Imo State University,” Chijioke.
Based on personal experiences, there are many candidates who believe that the post-UTME is the problem. Kehinde Babatunde, who left secondary school in 2006, is yet to gain admission since he has been sitting for the UTME in 2007. “In 2009, I scored 230 points in my UTME and sat for the Lagos State University, LASU, post-UTME, where I scored 87 points, beating the 55 cut-off mark for non-indigenes. But I wasn’t given any admission that year for reasons beyond my imagination. I was shattered and almost gave up on my academic pursuit, especially as a friend of mine who scored 45 points in the post-UTME was admitted that year.This year, I scored 210 in the UTME and I chose the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Ogun State, and I pray for God’s favour this time,” he said.
Like Babatunde, Odinaka Enuka, a National Diploma graduate, from the Institute of Management and Technology, IMT, Enugu, shares the same viewpoint. Enuka’s failed attempt to gain admission into the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, in 2010 forced him to the IMT, Enugu. “After passing the 2010 UTME, I scored 55 points in the UNN post-UTME to study Law. I wasn’t admitted, but a friend who scored 48 points was given admission. This shows the level of the rot in the university admission system whereby qualified candidates can hardly gain admission on merit. I sat for this year’s UTME and chose the UNN again, as my most preferred institution, I pray the admission comes through this time around,” she said.
These are a few stories of the personal experiences of thousands of Nigerian youths seeking for admission into universities and other higher institutions of learning in the country. For various reasons, some of them now engage in all sorts of examination malpractices like hiring of mercenaries, creating special centres and impersonation to gain admission at all costs. Some of the candidates also enter examination halls with mobile phones by which answers will be sent to them through text messages. Others wear T-shirts with answers to anticipated questions printed on the sleeves. In many cases, these candidates are being aided by their parents, security personnel and invigilators.
With all these irregularities, JAMB has come under heavy criticisms over the years by Nigerians for its inability to organise credible examinations for entry into tertiary institutions in the country. As a result, the university system turns out half-baked graduates who cannot defend their certificates. The inability of many Nigerian youths to justify their UMTE scores forced individual universities to introduce post JAMB tests to be sure of the quality of the students they admitted. Although, it was greeted with public uproar, post-JAMB test, now post-Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, UTME, was finally adopted as an official policy in 2006. This was an effort to rescue the education system in Nigeria and also to ascertain that students being admitted into the universities and other tertiary institutions do merit their admission.
Justifying the official policy, Don Baridam, vice chancellor, University of Port Harcourt, said in a press conference last year, that the motive behind the introduction of the post-UTME screening for the candidates seeking admission into universities was to ensure that only qualified candidates are admitted for studies. But that is not without its own problems. For instance, the UTME this year witnessed a high level of examination malpractice, corruption, irregularities and other examination frauds nationwide. The statistics from the examination board showed that only 10 candidates scored above 300 marks, while 801,804 scored below 200. The massive failure recorded this year is unarguably the worst in the history of the board.
Besides other irregularities, candidates complained of massive rip-off in admissions. A great number of those who purchased the forms, sat for the examination and passed were unable to secure admission into any of the higher institutions of learning. For instance, of the 1,735,720 candidates who sat for the last JAMB examination, this year, only 520,000 candidates would be given admission, leaving out more than 1.2 million in the cold. This is because the 520,000 is the admission capacity of all tertiary institutions, including the colleges of education. That is even an improvement from the 450,000 that was the carrying capacity two years ago.
More alarming was the revelation by Dibu Ojerinde, JAMB or the UTME registrar, that at 40 examination centres, some candidates paid between N5,000 and N20,000 to be allowed to cheat. He said that the results of 78,310 candidates from various centres were undergoing screening to ascertain their culpability in examination malpractices, while the results of 12,110 candidates were withheld for possible disciplinary action.
It was against this backdrop that the Stephen Oronsaye-led Presidential Committee on Rationalisation and Restructuring of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies recommended that the examination body should be scrapped. Ike Onyechere, an education consultant, who supported the scrapping of the board, said that the JAMB as an admission agency in Nigeria is no longer in line with conventional global best practices. According to him, it is a regretable fact that thousands of institutions in the world are ranked higher than Nigerian institutions each year.
“One distinguishing feature of all institutions that rank higher than their Nigerian counterparts is that they enjoy full autonomy in conducting their admission processes. In trying to defend the continued existence of JAMB, the registrar once said that even in the United Kingdom, you have what is called University and Colleges Admission Services, UCAS. It is a clearance body like the JAMB. Again, I beg to disagree with the learned professor. The UCAS does not conduct admission examinations for tertiary institutions in the UK. The law establishing the agency and its terms of operational reference are there on the website for everybody to see. But there is even no point belabouring the issue because the tens of thousands of Nigerians that have schooled or are schooling in British schools did not go through UCAS. This is one reason why JAMB should be scrapped. There is no institution abroad whose admission is being controlled by government parastatals,” Onyechere said.
Like Onyechere, Olabisi Deji-Folutile, an education analyst, said the relevance of the JAMB in determining admission process in Nigeria would need to be re-examined. She raised crucial questions that need to be answered by the JAMB. According to her, if the JAMB is still this relevant, why subject admission seekers to unnecessary stress? Why does the JAMB have to wait for weeks before releasing its cut-off marks? If the JAMB could release UTME results within one week of writing the exam, why should it wait for another six weeks before declaring its cut-off marks? Why allow parents to spend thousands of naira to obtain admission forms to private universities or pay for different post-UTMEs, wasting money on needless trips before releasing the cut-off marks?
“I don’t really subscribe to fixing cut-off marks for admission; fixing 180 for university admission would have been okay by me if there are no question marks on either the integrity of the JAMB as an exam body or on UTME as a whole. There were reports of cheatings and other forms of exam malpractices in this exam which unfortunately cannot just be swept aside. Whether the JAMB likes it or not, the ministry of education will still have to work something out to resolve the issue of admission into Nigeria’s universities. With public universities over-stretched and multitudes of admission seekers out there, government needs to take a more pragmatic measure to solve the gigantic problem in the education sector. Every year over one million people seek admission to higher institutions in Nigeria. The figure keeps increasing every year. But the entire system could only absorb 500,000, according to the former minister of education, Professor Ruqayyatu Rufai. A country in a situation like this need to work on maximising its capacity to absorb as many students as possible,” Deji-Folutile said.
She noted that she did not see the reason in conducting the post-UTME by universities particularly private universities when candidates’ good performance in that examination does not really guarantee anything. Since what universities do with the post-UTME result could still be subject to the dictates of the JAMB. “Why do universities make both parents and admission seekers go through unnecessary hardship when they know that JAMB has the final say on who is admitted to the university at the end of the day? Parents and guardians of admission seekers spend extra money every year on air and road travels in their bid to take their children and wards to venues of their post-UTME.
“Apart from the huge costs involved, some die in accidents. Some of the victims of the last plane crash in the country were parents and children going to keep UTME dates. This year again parents came from as far away as Abuja to Lagos, and other parts of the country accompanying their children who were writing their post-UTME. I can recall some of the reasons adduced for the post-UTME by universities a few years back. One of them was to ensure that universities admit quality students. According to them, candidates offered admission by JAMB often ended up being below standard. The idea was to be able to sift candidates selected by JAMB to ensure they are up to standard,” she said, adding that the universities’ decision to sift their candidates might not be a bad idea.
However, the universities are silent on what happens when they adjudge candidates who failed to meet JAMB cut-off marks to be good for admission. This has remained the crux of the matter. “As a mother whose daughter sought university admission this year, I had cause to take her to different universities for her post-UTME test. At that time JAMB had not released its cut-off marks for university admission. The question parents kept on asking university authorities at the parents’ forums was: what happened if their children did well in the university exams and failed to meet the JAMB’s cut-off marks? The universities had no answer. It turned out that many candidates did well in the post UTME tests but scored below JAMB’s cut-off mark. For instance, Babcock University asked candidates whose names appeared on its admission list but failed to meet JAMB’s requirement not to bother paying the university’s acceptance fee,” the analyst said.
On his part, Steven Alumona, lecturer, Nnamdi Azikwe University, Awka, is among those who support the conduct of the post-UTME tests by universities. He said that unfolding negative incidents at the JAMB have convinced him that the examination body had overstayed its usefulness in the country’s educational system. He said that the high level of cheating in its examinations was unprecedented and that even the security personnel and officials of the JAMB who were supposed to apprehend candidates engaged in examination malpractices were the ones aiding and abetting what they were engaged to control.
“It was so bad that young candidates writing the exam for the first time were shocked beyond imagination. Candidates waited patiently for mercenaries specially employed to help in writing the exam. Some got answers as text messages directly on their mobile phones. This is not to say that everybody was involved. A large number of candidates still did the right thing in that they neither cheated nor sought help from anybody. In some centres, security operatives assisted candidates to smuggle their phones to exam halls despite the ban placed on such items in exam halls. Candidates paid as little as N200 to bribe security personnel and invigilators. It was really bad. But going by these developments, the purpose of sitting for UTME has been defeated.
“Or how do you describe an exam that is not producing candidates that are truly qualified? Each university would still need to administer its own test to get the good ones. What is the point of sitting for an exam that will not be the true test of a candidate’s intelligence at the end of the day? Whether we like it or not, some of these poor candidates will escape and find their way to the university. They are not likely to do well there. They are the ones that will make the university environment hostile to other serious students and members of the academic community. They are the ones that will join cult groups and threaten lecturers to either give them marks or risk their lives,” Alumona said.
He acknowledged as valid the arguments in some quarters that admission might be done on a cash and carry basis if it should be left completely in the hands of universities, but said that a transparent process and effective monitoring would help to curb such a situation. “The universities can’t afford to compromise their standard for too long as any wishy-washy admission process will produce weak and poor graduates that will ultimately affect the rating of the university. Any university known for admitting wrong candidates will have serious image problem and won’t be able to compete globally. Sincerely, the earlier the JAMB hands off UTME, the better it is going to be for everybody,” the lecturer said.
Another source of worry for some Nigerians is the progressive reduction of cut-off marks by the JAMB this year. Simon Okechukwu, a social commentator, said that the reduction was not a healthy development for the university system and the future of the country in general. According to him, the various arguments put forward in support of the reduction of the JAMB’s cut-off mark were based on emotion rather than on reason. He said that the JAMB, over the years, had set a standard to ensure that many students were admitted into universities. “Setting this precedence invites the question of where do we actually draw the line in the future? If we find out the next year that many more fail to reach the 180 cut-off marks, do we further reduce the cut-off point to, say, 150? Granting persons who are simply not good enough a leeway into our universities is dangerous because genuinely good students are going to end up being distracted by mingling with too many bad students and our limited academic facilities are going to be over stretched even further,” Okechukwu said.
To help stop the miseries, the National Universities Commission, NUC, is fashioning out ways of making university education accessible to more Nigerians. Julius Okojie, executive secretary of the commission, disclosed when he declared open a three-day workshop on e-learning and education resource in Abuja, on Tuesday, September 17. He said the NUC was worried by the increasing number of students, who failed to gain admission to universities because of the JAMB’s inability to meet the increasing demand. “This workshop is, therefore, aimed at bringing together stakeholders in the sector to discuss e-learning. New technology has continued to change ways of doing things and there is the need to open ways that those intending to acquire university education can do so without having to go through JAMB,” Okojie said.
Shedding more light on the project, the NUC boss said through e-learning, students could study and acquire degrees “at their convenience.” He said through open and distance learning, the programmes would be designed according to the approved academic minimum standards. According to the NUC boss, the introduction of e-learning would ensure that Nigeria is on the same page with other ICT advanced countries.
Nevertheless, Jubril Aminu, former education minister, said that what was happening in the JAMB showed that laws establishing it needed to be reviewed to make it more efficient in the discharge of its duties. Aminu advised against scrapping the agency in the interest of the nation, pointing out that doing away with the JAMB would create a serious challenge to the nation’s tertiary education system than imagined. The former university don observed that the problems that gave rise to the setting up of the JAMB were even more pronounced than they were before the establishment of the agency, and any attempt to jettison the agency could throw the nation’s tertiary institutions’ admission process into unmitigated chaos.
“Nobody should be talking about scraping the JAMB because that would mean the end of the sanity into the admission process in Nigeria. Look, if some people have forgotten, the JAMB was formed with serious thinking with a view to removing the challenges that confronted the admission process in Nigeria. Among other things, it was to remove the problem of tribalism, ethnicity and favouritism that had become rampant in the admission process and pave the way for a standardised method of enrolling students into tertiary institutions in Nigeria. It was not perfect but it has helped immensely in setting a certain standard and national leverage in the admission of students into tertiary institutions in the country and reduced undue pressure of parents on the authorities because if your ward does not pass the UTME conducted by the JAMB, there is nothing you can do to get a place for him or her. So, my candid advice to the government is that no matter what it is, the JAMB should not be scrapped. If it is not performing maximally, there are many options open to the administration to make it to work better and serve the Nigerian people rather than scrapping it,” Aminu said.
Based on the irregularities associated with the board, Ojerinde said JAMB would be made to shape up to ensure credible examinations that would be acceptable to all Nigerians. He disclosed that the board had concluded plans to scrap the paper-pencil test in 2015 in order to control examination malpractice. “We are thinking of 2015. By 2015, we will be asking candidates to go fully into Computer Based Testing but that again depends on availability of centres. For now, we have only 70 centres all over the country conducting computer based test and this is not sufficient. We are encouraging as many individuals, who can participate in this project to go and build their centres then we will patronise them. We are flexible; we want to see how far everybody is able to cope with it,” the registrar said.
The JAMB as a body that regulates entrance examinations into higher institutions in Nigeria was established in 1977, but the law establishing it was Decree No. 2 of 1978 promulgated by the then Olusegun Obasanjo federal military government of Nigeria and was later amended in 1988. The amendment was codified into Decree 33 of 1989. Before the establishment, the existing federal universities in the country which were about seven by 1974, conducted their own concessional entrance examinations and admitted their students. This system of admission had limitations and quite often, it became a waste of resources on the part of the universities and candidates. Besides, the multiple offers of admission to candidates became a big problem to some universities. All these and the irregularities going on, in JAMB, have made Nigeria the most fertile ground for recruitment of students by institutions from all over the world, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, China, Ukraine, Singapore, Malaysia, Ghana, among others.
Their embassies have provided promotional support with all manners of advertisements, education fairs, seminars and interviews. Even countries like China that still operate central socialist systems of government have unchained their tertiary institutions to compete globally for the students. Amanda Ci, a Chinese educationist, who was in Nigeria in 2010 on a one-week students’ recruitment drive, said that in recent years, the Chinese government has been rolling out new policies to promote its education to attract international students.
Things are changing fast. Nigeria spends several billions annually to pay school fees for its students schooling in overseas. For instance, available records reveal that Nigeria spends more than N150 billion annually to keep Nigerians students in Ghanaian schools. Even though JAMB also conducts UTME every year in some designated countries, the question many Nigerians ask is: How many foreign students are attracted to Nigerian higher institutions?
Reported by Vincent Nzemeke