Monday, March 27, 2017 11:36 am
Akinyemi Onigbinde/New Independence Group
A few weeks ago, the Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB) rolled out information over its preparation for the 2017 entry examinations into higher institutions, and highlighted a few innovations to lessen the chaotic organizational challenges that has made the process a nightmare for admission seekers, particularly in the last couple of years. It is hoped that the measures put in place will help the organization achieve its goal of leveraging on technology as a means of simplifying the entrance process.
The Nigeria Independence Group (NIG) is however worried about the implications of certain measures announced by JAMB, which borders more on substance than process. While the general public continues to grapple with the new changes in process, which has become an annual ritual of sort, it is imperative that more discerning minds interrogate the more significant changes buried in the haze of procedural adjustments recently announced by the examination body. Of particular note is JAMB’s decision to restrict the choice of public university to only one for applicants. In the press release announcing the decision, the PRO of JAMB informed the public that:
“Candidates and their parents are also to note that the Board has restructured the registration platform to allow for only one choice of Public University. The new registration platform will now be first choice, second choice, third choice and fourth choice and not most preferred, preferred etc as it was.
Candidates’ first choice can be a College, University, Innovative Enterprises Institutions or Polytechnic/Monotechnic. However, if a candidate makes a Public University his first choice, he will not have any public University to choose for 2nd, 3rd and 4th choice. He will have on the remaining three choices, a College, a Polytechnic, Private University and IEI’S. However, candidates for the 2017 UTME can now select NCE (College) or ND (Polytechnic/Monotechnic) as their 1st choice up to 3rd choice and the 4th IEI. They can select the IEI (Innovative Enterprise Institution, ND) as their 1st choice up to the 4th choice, but can only pick a public university once.
This restructuring is to expand the opportunities available to candidates as almost all the public universities do not consider candidates on the second choice list because they hardly exhaust their first choice.”
Ordinarily, it would have been appropriate to commend JAMB for trying to expand the opportunities available to applicants, given the huge gap in the number of applications received and those that succeed in securing admission. According to available information, out of about 1.5 million applications receive annually, Nigerian universities admit an average of 400,000. While about the same number fail to meet the minimum score for consideration, what it means is that on the average, about 700 hundred thousand qualified applicants are rejected annually because of the limited carrying capacity of our tertiary institutions, especially the universities. It is quite shocking to say the least, that concerned authorities do not see the dangerous implications of this failure as it relates to social, economic and political development; as well as security. A nation that shuts out its young and qualified minds from gaining the much needed training for productivity and self-development in hundreds of thousands on an annual basis, by failing to expand the choices available to them, cannot but continue to experience stunted development and increase in crime rates among the youth and teenagers as Nigeria has been witnessing. To a large extent, what is on display when our law enforcement agencies publicly parade these young ones as evidence of success in the fight against crime is the failure of a nation that has failed in its primary response to its children.
It is based on the foregoing that the NIG considers as dangerous, defeatist and deceitful, the decision by JAMB to further shrink the space for the hundreds of thousands of admission seekers by reducing the number of public university that can be chosen to just one. This measure will not only fail to address the problem as identified by JAMB, but also deepen it. We wish to emphasize that this decision is not only a product of lateral thinking on the part of the examination body but also a deceitful ploy to deprive Nigerian children the opportunity to public education. At the heart of the current decision is a sinister plot to mask the interest of a few as that of the public. The NIG believes, and very strongly too, that this decision by JAMB is solely to the benefit of private universities.
The history of JAMB’s connivance with private universities is quite well known. Statistics reveal that all the private universities in Nigeria have less than 30 thousand students, combined. This figure is well below their collective carrying capacity as determined by the NUC. The disparity between available capacity and actual enrolment is expected to grow further, as more private universities get licensed by the government. Among other factors, the low enrollment rate is attributable to the high cost of private university education at a time when economic conditions continue to worsen, and the wariness of a public that sees most of these universities as business concerns that offer so little value in return for their charges, as they struggle to maximize profit in a very challenging business environment.
It is unfortunate that in their desperate search for patronage, these private institutions have found an ally in JAMB, a public institution whose sole objective ought to revolve around the provision of a platform as wide as possible for admission seekers, through enabling policies and processes. A few years ago, thousands of applicants who did not apply to private universities received unsolicited admissions via letters and SMS from many of these institutions. What this means is that without authorization, JAMB as a public agency compromised the privacy of these applicants by hawking their information to private institutions. That such an unprofessional, and indeed criminal occurrence went unpunished is a testament to the failure of oversight of public institutions, a situation that overtime encourages the abuse and violation of the rights of the people these institutions were designed to serve. In 2015, the public witnessed the chaos that followed JAMB’s unilateral ‘re-assignment’ of applicants from ‘elite’ universities to those ostensibly with low low subscription. This led to several protests, notably at the University of Lagos, where thousands of applicants insisted on being considered for admission having met the preliminary conditions. It was the worst display of class partisanship by a public agency expected to have the interest of the general public at heart.
For that year, only about 2 percent of applicants chose private universities. While the Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State, had the highest number of applicants with 3,042 candidates. The three oldest private universities – Babcock University, Ilishan-Remo; Madonna University, Okija and the Igbinedion University Okada – had 2, 101; 686 and 426 respectively. The Bells University, Ota, Ogun State, had 173 candidates; while the American University of Nigeria, Yola, had 198 candidates. The Kwarafa University, Wukari, came last with just five applications. What the recent policy of JAMB is likely to achieve therefore, is to shore up patronage for the private universities as opportunities get reduced for those who would have loved to apply to public schools.
Diverse reasons, ranging from economic, social, geographical, determine why candidates make choices. In some cases, choices are made based on the individual or institutional reputations associated with some schools in specific disciplines. It is therefore wrong for JAMB to seek to limit available choices while claiming to expand same. If indeed JAMB is desirous of addressing the challenge of access for its candidates, it ought to have increased the choices rather than reduce them. The idea that universities consider mainly those who pick them as first choice is one that could be overcome by eliminating the ranking in choices. It should be possible for an applicant to pick five universities, whether public or private, without anyone of them being labelled as first or last choice. All that seems to be needed is for such choices to appear in alphabetical order on the data of the candidates. That way, an applicant can seek consideration for admission in as many universities of choice once the required mark has been scored. This does not in principle preclude the possibility of unsuccessful applicants seeking admissions in under-subscribed institutions willing to accommodate them, subject to JAMB’s regulations.
The NIG is aware that these private universities mostly belong to powerful interests, from past leaders to present ones, as well as influential religious groups – most of who see proprietorship of an Ivory Tower within the twin lenses of status symbol and business investment. Yet, the government of President Buhari must on this matter side with the masses who invested so much political capital in his famed capacity to save them from the rapacious machinations of entrenched interests. He must equally investigate and punish those who, in the course of public duty, deliberately used a public institution to further narrow interests. NIG further calls on the relevant committees of the National Assembly to call JAMB to order as part of their oversight functions.
The President also needs to, as a matter of urgency, fashion, in consultation with other stakeholders, come up with enduring measures to increase significantly, the absorptive capacity of Nigerian universities. This measures need to be complemented, among other things, with the redesign and upgrade of technical and vocational institutions, as we canvassed in our recent release on incessant strikes in public institutions of learning. The non-availability of spaces in public universities should not be the primary reasons why qualified nigerians patronize the private ones. The private institutions should be able to attract patronage on their own merits by offering qualitative education at reasonable costs. Most importantly, Nigerians should rise in unison to condemn the attempt by JAMB to turn itself unto a recruiting agency for private universities instead of working to democratize and devolve access to tertiary education. Public institutions need to be subject to thorough, constant scrutiny if they are to discharge their duties as expected of them. It is the most effective way to prevent the hijack of public institutions by vested interests.
-Statement signed on behalf of New Independence Group(NIG) by Professor Akinyemi Onigbinde, The Convener