Stakeholders divided on cancellation cut-off marks

The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), at its policy meeting last week, announced the cancellation of national admission benchmark, otherwise called cut-off marks. With the scrapping of the age-long method, each of the nation’s tertiary institutions is now authorised to peg its admission benchmark.

Already, universities, polytechnics and colleges of education have sent their various cut-off marks to JAMB.

JAMB Registrar, Prof. Is-haq Oloyede, said universities, such as University of Maiduguri  (UNIMAID) proposed 150, Usman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto, proposed 140, Pan Atlantic University (PAU) proposed 210, University of Lagos (UNILAG) 200, Lagos State University (LASU) 190, Covenant University (CU), Ota, 190 and Bayero University Kano (BUK) 180.

The decision has elicited mixed reactions from stakeholders, as some faulted the directive while others described it as long overdue.

For professor of Economics at Bayero University, Kano (BUK), Prof Hassan Mohammed, setting uniform cut-off marks was a laudable idea of establishing minimum standards in the admission process.

According to him, uniform cut-off marks ensured that tertiary institutions and their products would not suffer stigmatisation because of disparity in admission standards.

He said: “The new policy practically takes us back to pre-JAMB era, when my generation applied to individual universities, which set their own admission standards. The latest development is, however, different in the sense that JAMB still acts as a clearing house. It is, however, tantamount to the deregulation of the admission process.

To that extent, the cancellation of uniform cut-off marks is good for devolving initiative to the institutions, giving them liberty to determine their minimum standards. This is advantageous for implicitly raising the standards of the top-ranked institutions and further enhancing their reputation for admitting the cream of candidates.”

On fears that allowing individual institutions to fix cut-off marks may affect quality and standard, Mohammed said the nation’s tertiary institutions should be ranked explicitly and implicitly as it is done elsewhere, adding that it does not mean that lower-ranked institutions are poor in all respects.

“For example, while an institution could set a minimum cut-off mark of 120 for all programmes, it could also demand 250 for two categories of programmes, namely flagship programmes duly reputed for the quality of staff and support facilities which make them competitive vis-a-vis higher ranked institutions or those available only at a handful of institutions, such as Medicine or Architecture.”

Mohammed said as competition intensifies in the higher education sector, each institution would raise standards, invest in equipment, facilities and personnel to attract a higher quality of intakes, while also sustaining less competitive academic programmes. Besides, the former vice chancellor said more flagship programmes would emerge through this process.

On concerns that only 10 to 15 universities are in high demand by candidates, leaving others scouting for students, a Professor of History, Ayodeji Olukoju, reminded that every country has its cohort of Ivory League institutions, which will attract the cream of applicants although not all of them will get in.

Speaking on why thousands of admission spaces are lying unfilled in some institutions, while a few are filled, he said: “I believe that only the talented 10th should get into Nigerian tertiary institutions. Besides, institutions must strive to justify their existence by creating an ideal environment for study, training and research. In addition, education should address the short- and long-term needs of the economy and society.”

The professor of history said the nation’s universities should be producing graduates with broad, trans-disciplinary education, a complex skill set and ability to solve problems.

He said:  “I have in mind a system that combines the general education of the United States and the skills-focused systems prevalent in Germany and Japan.”

Since it is not possible to provide hostel, laboratory and lecture rooms for all eligible candidates, Olukoju stressed the need to expand the capacity of virtual and distance learning (MOOCS).

In addition, he said there should be minimum standards of study, teaching and learning environment in all tertiary institutions to attract foreign students. Hence, all stakeholders – the government, private sector, partner institutions and international funding bodies, the recipient institutions, alumni and host communities – should collaborate to create the ideal institutions that are internationally competitive.

On his part, Professor of Food Science, Adebayo Adeyemi, described the cancellation as a return to “status quo ante”.

He recalled that prior to its establishment, each institution was saddled with the responsibility of admitting candidates after due screening of credentials, either through direct entry or examinations and interviews, as may be conducted by the institution.

Adeyemi, a former vice chancellor of Bells University of Technology, Ota, noted that with the cancellation of national cut-off mark, each institution operates within the national minimum cut-off points, which is a base line for schools to work with and ensure a streamlining of admissions.

On fears that the decision may affect quality and standard, the university teacher reminded that before the advent of JAMB, institutions were guided by merit and quality.

“The admission process is just a component of quality parameters within the tertiary institutions’ system. There are many factors that contribute to quality and service delivery in the education sector. If you have the best of candidates admitted and there are no facilities and resources, human and materials, the students will exit the way they came in. The learning environment must be conducive for meaningful and gainful knowledge impartation.

We have to understand the admission process and the organs within the system saddled with students’ admissions. Where there could be challenges is with some private universities that are under-subscribed, but no chief executive or admission organs of any institution will leave the best candidates and go for the weak ones with low scores. It is unacademic, unethical and not in the best interest of the system.

“I have had the privilege of witnessing some high flying candidates at the UTME examinations crashing out of the system at the end of the first year, while an average candidate with relatively lower UTME score come out in excellent grade.”

He noted that in the last few years, some institutions compute UTME scores, WAEC /SSCE results and post-UTME scores.

“I believe each institution should be given a free hand to determine its own admission criteria depending on the course, apart from UTME scores.”

On fears that only 10 to 15 universities are in high demand by candidates, Adeyemi, who is a fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS), said students would want to attend high flying or highly rated institutions, depending on the areas of strength of the institution or the area of specialisatiion the institution is known for.

He noted that the global ratings has become a sales point for tertiary institutions, which explains why they strive to be among the top ones to have the best of students and also attract funding for research.

“May I say that it doesn’t mean those not admitted into high flying institutions would not do well later on in life, many factors, at times, beyond human control, do play up that would determine their success. “This is to ensure that qualified candidates gain admission, which may not necessarily be their first choice institutions or courses.

On concerns that thousands of admission spaces are lying unfilled in most of the institutions, the former vice chancellor said some institutions are yet to open their doors to candidates that sat for 2020 UTME, while some are merging two years admission without increasing the yearly quota. So, the adverse effect is that a large number of candidates would not be admitted. Other prevailing social factors within the Nigerian situation have adversely affected academic calendar in some parts of the country, which have negative impact on admissions.

“This is where carrying capacity comes in, which must be strictly enforced. Candidates that failed to get into those institutions, who may be described as the rest of the best, will either wait for another opportunity to get into their preferred institutions or step down to the next tier of institutions. At the same time, flagship programmes of the lower-tier institutions will continue to attract a steady stream

of competitive intakes. So, the system balances out and it will be in the interest of the lower ranked institutions to rationalise their programmes and concentrate their resources on those that attract suitable candidates,” Adeyemi stated.

A former Minister of Education, Prof. Chinwe Obaji, also applauded the development, saying it was the right step in the right direction. She said it would once again ensure that these tertiary institutions go for what they want.

“To me, I feel this is very laudable. It is the tertiary institutions that produce these graduates and so, it will not be out of place to allow them determine for themselves who they feel is suitably qualified. Moreover, we should not forget that universities elsewhere and even within the country, usually fix minimum benchmark for various programmes. However, if I may ask, when there was uniform benchmark, how many of these institutions were obeying the rules?” she queried.

But for others, the action is a major setback to the standards expected for education in the country. An educationist, Dr Ruth Augustine, faulted the cancellation, saying the decision may affect the quality of candidates being admitted into tertiary institutions.

Augustine expressed concern that some of the institutions are already lowering their cut-off marks to accommodate more candidates, even when such candidates perform poorly.

She insisted that JAMB should be allowed to fix the minimum benchmark for admissions into universities to maintain the required standard.

National Association of Nigerian Students, Joint Campus Committee, Lagos chapter, said the abolishment of cut-off marks by JAMB was a sign that the country’s education system was losing its quality and values.

Chairman of the association, Rasheed Ogunsanya, said cut-off marks were supposed to be a benchmark for any candidate who craved higher education.

“It is so bad that only less than 30 per cent of candidates who sat for the last UTME were successful.

I believe with this low percentage of successful candidates, JAMB does not have any choice, than to allow many institutions to decide for themselves,” he stated.

SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN

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