EVERYTHING about the amendment of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board Act that seeks to extend the validity of results is odd. Currently, the result of the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, conducted by JAMB, is tenable for one year, but the Senate recently commenced the process to make the result valid for three years. The proposal shows a poor judgement of the challenges confronting tertiary education and the measures needed to restore normalcy, growth and global competitiveness.
Essentially, the upper legislative chamber wants to “reduce the burden on the parents, students and even the institution that is conducting the test,” by using fiat to upgrade the JAMB result to “at least three years.” This is a wild goose chase by the lawmakers. They did not think this through. They just scratched the problem on the surface. The problems of admission in the country are much deeper than just amending the law on the validity of results.
Interestingly, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, JAMB and top academics kicked against the extension plan. This is apt. JAMB Registrar, Is-haq Oloyede, expressing concern, asked the House of Representatives to “quash the bill (amendments).” He is right too. A former JAMB registrar, Dibu Ojerinde, adds, “If we are trying to copy some other parts of the world, we must be ready to pay the price.”
Apart from the tenure imposition, the most illogical part of the amendment is that it gives admission preference to candidates with three-year valid results ahead of fresh candidates. This is not sustainable. It will make students redundant, knowing that they do not need to study again for three years. The system is already at a breaking point because more than enough candidates qualify to be admitted through the JAMB policy of legislating cut-off marks below the average of 200 (out of 400).Normally, there is a difference between an achievement test (which the UTME is) and an aptitude test. According to educators, it is aptitude test results that can last for a longer period. So, without fundamental changes to the JAMB structure, the senators are just playing to the gallery to give the impression that they have the interests of Nigerians at heart. Clearly, the amendment is a recipe for confusion. It will put more unwanted burden on the system. Take the case of the University of Lagos, Akoka; according to Ojerinde, while 76,000 candidates apply yearly to the institution, 49,000 are eligible for admission. The clincher is that UNILAG has the capacity for just 9,000 in a session. This means that the new law will worsen the situation.
It is just as well that, after the outcry from some perceptive stakeholders, the Senate has put the brakes on the validity extension and other amendments to the JAMB Act. The bill has, however, passed the Second Reading in the Senate, and was awaiting the critical phase of public hearing. So, the suspension is not the real issue; it should be totally discarded. The admission crisis in Nigeria requires a fundamental restructuring of tertiary education. For instance, figures from JAMB indicate that between 300,000 and 400,000 candidates qualify for admission each academic session, but there are spaces for less than a half of the number.
The most serious challenge confronting the admission process is to expand the carrying capacity of the universities to admit more qualified candidates. And, seriously, capacity-building cannot be legislated by the Senate. Building capacity is a complex project that requires funding, human resources, expertise and foresighted policies. All these critical factors are lacking at the moment. Things have to change. For example, the erstwhile Goodluck Jonathan administration established nine federal universities with seed money of N1 billion each. This is a pittance. The recession has compounded the problem of the finances of the older and new public universities. The state and federal governments need to critically examine how to creatively finance these institutions. Also, candidates are shunning the privately-owned universities because of their high fees. Building capacity means there has to be a way for indigent students to obtain university education from these institutions.
However, a review of some extant policies can help. As a newspaper, we have advocated the scrapping of JAMB altogether. The JAMB template is obsolete in an era where there are now 143 universities across the country, and the examination body also supervises admissions into polytechnics and colleges of education. It is unwieldy. The practice in the United States, Britain and many other jurisdictions is for universities to determine their admission policies. It is a template that works because universities care about standards and are in the best position to enforce those standards right from the time they admit students.
Each university should be empowered to admit its own candidates in line with the basic minimum requirements prescribed by the National Universities Commission. This was the tradition before JAMB came into existence in 1978. So, there is nothing untoward in returning to this ideal.