JAMB cut-off marks: Experts brainstorm way forward

When, last week, the need to empower institutions to set their own cut-off marks for admission was mooted by the Registrar of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Professor Ishaq Oloyede, a public debate was immediately set in motion. While many stakeholders contend that a form of uniformity is required in order to check abuse, others predict a greater potential for growth if institutions are allowed to move at their own pace.

Speaking to Nigerian Tribune at the weekend, the Public Relations Officer of JAMB, Dr Fabian Benjamin said the debate would continue until the Board’s next policy meeting next year.

“The debate is still on,” he said. “No final decision has been made. We expect that a position would be taken next year during the policy meeting.”

According to reports, earlier last week, while explaining the reason for the proposal, Benjamin said a uniform cut-off mark would impede the growth and development of individual institutions.

“The uniformity of cut-off marks doesn’t make any sense when colleges (of education) and polytechnics admit for National Certificate of Education and diplomas, while universities admit for degrees. Yet, we subject them to the same cut-off marks, thereby starving these tiers of institutions from admitting candidates who, if not engaged, may likely become easy prey to social vices.

“This means that if a university wants 250 as minimum cut-off mark, why not? And if another wants less so be it. If a Polytechnic like YABATECH (Yaba College of Technology) wants 250 as cut-off mark, let them admit and if Gboko Polytechnic in Benue State where I come from wants less than 200, let them admit.

“Institutions should be known for their individual quality and not collective standards. This will foster positive competition for the overall good of our tertiary institutions. It is critical for all notable stakeholders to rethink the issue of cut-off marks.

“I am calling for a national debate on the propriety of cut off marks; institutions should be allowed to determine the kind of candidates they want.”

JAMB also expressed worry over the class opportunities as it affects the distribution of admission resources.

“The rich have multiple opportunities which include going abroad for studies while the poor only have the opportunity of struggling for the scarce spaces here. They come back and they are integrated while the poor can’t afford it and are forever denied the opportunity of education. Let institutions admit what they want according to their needs.”

Benchmark

According to the National President of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), Mr Usman Dutse (a lecturer at Federal Polytechnic, Bauchi) a minimum score should be set by JAMB, while institutions should be free to either use the “benchmark” or go above it.

“JAMB should give a common benchmark, and then institutions should take it from there,” he said. “This is particularly important because most institutions are commercial. Without a minimum requirement set by JAMB, some schools would admit just anybody, and end up watering down the system. If there is a JAMB standard, institutions should still be allowed to go above it but not below.

“This is also applicable to private institutions, because education is education. Graduates from private and public institutions will end up working in the same environment. That is why I keep saying there should be a national benchmark so that those profit-oriented institutions would not abuse the system.”

Because there are different types of tertiary institutions, would it not be unfair to insist on a uniform minimum mark for all higher institutions in the country?

“There should be no segregation,” Dutse said. “Tertiary means tertiary. All tertiary institutions should have a common benchmark. UI (University of Ibadan) may decide to make its cut off mark 200, if JAMB’s minimum score is 150, for example. Another school like Kadpoly may decide to make its own 170.”

Also speaking to Nigerian Tribune, the Vice Chancellor of Augustine University, Epe, Lagos, Professor Stephen Afolami said it would be “unhealthy” to allow institutions to admit whoever they wish to admit.

“I think there should be a national minimum as has always been the practice,” he said. “And if after that, a particular university thinks that the score it wants is 300, because it has up to 64, 000 applicants, for example, and that it would rather pick the best from the lot, then it is all well and good. I don’t think it is healthy for the nation to leave everything to individual universities to decide what their own minimum cut-off should be.

“That’s the way it should be. There is usually a meeting of all universities and JAMB as well as the Ministry of Education where they fashion out the minimum. That minimum used to be 200, but recently it was reduced to 180, and it hasn’t changed since then. The minimum standard is to ensure that every graduate is respected irrespective of the school they attended.”

Teachers’ dilemma

For the Chairman, Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU), Federal College of Education (Technical), Akoka, Mr Ebenezer Ademuyiwa Oje, tertiary institutions should be given the power to set their own cut-off marks since they understand their own needs in ways no external organisation would.

“Institutions should decide,” he said. “They know what their needs are; they know how many they can accommodate. JAMB may not know that much about individual institutions. Take this year for instance, JAMB put the cut off at 180, and some institutions still had to bring it down to 150, after appeals from different quarters. So that is the situation. We know that if JAMB fixes the cut-off mark, it may be too high for some colleges of education. And we, colleges of education, know that we can accommodate them.”

But only last year, the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) described as discriminatory JAMB’s decision to make the minimum score for colleges of education lower (150) than that of universities and polytechnics (180).

A statement signed by the Union said, “It is of great disservice to the education sector where the best brains and students of distinction are placed in other courses while those with lower grades are pushed into teaching If this is allowed to stand, government should take full responsibility for the resultant shortcomings that may be observed in our educational institutions in future from those teachers.”

However, Oje, in his reaction, told Nigerian Tribune that admitting students with lower JAMB scores into colleges of education would not harm the status of the teaching profession, since the students often graduate to become far better than they were at the point of admission:

“The fact still remains that we train teachers at colleges of education. We may accommodate people with lower scores than universities, but that doesn’t mean we are admitting mediocre students. At the end of the day, you find out that candidates who attend colleges of education before proceeding to universities usually perform better than those who go directly.”

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