Still a long road to sanity

SINCE the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, declared on June 1, 2016 what looked like the federal government’s tacit ‘ban’ on the conduct of post-UTME for admission into universities and other tertiary institutions, the ensuing confusion has refused to abate.

In the past one week alone, there have been two conflicting publications arising from the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) regarding guidelines on admission.

Last week Monday, a seemingly well crafted document on admission guidelines had arisen from JAMB, but two days ago (Sunday July 10), the admission body recanted, and said that the much-talked about detailed admission guidelines were a mere ‘illustration’ by its registrar, copied from its website.


Abuse of process

After a series of meetings involving the federal ministry of education and other stakeholders in the tertiary education sector has, it finally emerged that, indeed, a form of pre-admission screening is necessary beyond the JAMB’s Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, UTME.

The secretary-general of the Association of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (AVCNU), Professor Michael Faborode, on Wednesday last week in Abuja, said it was agreed during the meeting that a form of post-UTME screening would be sustained.

The fee chargeable for this ‘screening’ was also pegged at N2,500.

According to Faborode, the permanent secretary, Ministry of Education, Dr Folashade Yemi-Esan, agreed at the meeting to a form of screening by universities, provided it is not another Computer-Based Test.

Ordinarily, this would appear to represent a measure of victory for the universities, which had insisted they must be allowed a greater say in determining whom they admit as students, beyond the examination conducted by JAMB. But the development has also pulled the carpet off under the feet of the institutions that had been profiteering from the much vilified test.

Several criticisms had trailed the Post-UTME for some years now. Chief among these was that it is a duplication of the standard test that JAMB had already conducted, thus discrediting the work of JAMB.

The vice chancellor of the Ekiti State University, Professor Samuel Oye Bandele, an expert in Test and Measurement, had also said in a recent interview with the Nigerian Tribune: “When you conduct a test, and that test is valid and reliable, and you administer such a test, and you say these particular candidates have been adjudged qualified to be eligible students in the university, then what is the purpose of the other test (post-UTME)?

“It is a parallel test that does not achieve anything other than to subject (candidates) to multiple examinations.”

But the most strident of the criticisms was the alleged prevalent extortion of candidates by the institutions through the post-UTME. Some were alleged to be charging candidates between N5,000 and N10,000 for the test, against the N1,000 said to have been recommended at inception.

The former executive secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC), Professor Peter Okebukola, recently said that the universities had deviated from the initial agreement NUC had with vice chancellors in 2004 when it introduced the post-UTME.

To start with, according to him, the test was designed to be through oral interview and written essay, to take care of what the UTME could not test.

Okebukola, who was the NUC’s executive secretary when post-UTME was introduced in 2004, said the NUC and the vice chancellors then felt the need to ensure that admission seekers attained minimum cognitive competence in the relevant subjects in the discipline they wished to study; then to test candidates’ competence in written and oral English, critical thinking and ability to present ideas in a logical sequence.

“JAMB’s UTME targets only the first characteristic; while the university-level screening should measure the second,” he said.

“We got the blessing of President Olusegun Obasanjo and the National Assembly to do the following: (a) maximum charge to candidates for the exercise should be N1000, (b) candidates should be screened not with the kind of test used by JAMB but through other mechanisms,” Okebukola said.

But he said the vice chancellors jettisoned the arrangement from 2010, when most universities started conducting the same tests as JAMB, charging at least five times the agreed cost.

“Since universities have derailed, it makes intuitive sense to close the post-UTME shop,” Okebukola said.


New beginning?

Details on the exact format of the post-UTME (of ‘pre-admission screening’, as the institutions now call it) that will now be conducted are still hazy.

The new arrangement (if it will involve essay writing and one-to-one oral interviews) means more work for the institutions. Now they are forced to charge less for a more demanding exercise. How does the ministry or the NUC intend to enforce this N2,500 fee ceiling? And what about those institutions that had conducted their post-UTME screening before the latest development was announced? Will excess charges be refunded to applicants?

From details gleaned from the websites of some of the universities currently conducting their admission exercises, the fees indicated are anything but N2,500.

Registration for screening new students to the Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST) was to end on July 1. Students were to pay N7,000 for the exercise – N1,000 application fee, N4,500 test fee, and N1,500 for ‘computer demonstration exercise’. It can be assumed that these fees had been collected, for service rendered.

The Kaduna Polytechnic is charging a nebulous N7,000 ‘application fee’ (including bank charges) for the 2016/2017 academic session, which should be paid online “not later than 31st August, 2016 when the portal for admission shall be closed.”

But some of the institutions are being cautious still, especially those that had not commenced the pre-admission screening before the last week.

Mr Adegbenjo Adebanjo, the Principal Assistant Registrar, Public Relations, Federal University of Technology, Akure, told Nigerian Tribune on Friday: “We were waiting for a decision from the government. Now that we have a firm decision and communication, we’ll begin the process now (for the ‘pre-admission screening’) within the ambit of the law prescribed by the governing authorities and in tandem with the law of the Senate of our university.”

The website of the Lagos State University, Ojo, as of Friday July 8th, 2016 still required prospective students for the 2016/2017 academic session to pay N5,000 for the admission screening.

But the Public Relations Officer, Mr Adekoya, said that was no longer the current situation; and that “the management will come up with a position hopefully by next week.”

The Post-UTME (PUTME) screening of the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, for the 2016/2017 academic year was conducted between Saturday 14th May and Saturday 21st May, 2016. Each candidate was charged N7,000 “for processing and administrative charges.”

The Nigerian Tribune wanted to know how the university plans to respond to the current development.

The Public Relations Officer of the university, Mr Niyi Oduwole, told Nigerian Tribune on phone on Friday that “the Senate will meet and decide on the next line of action.”


Confusing signals

The new ‘guidelines’ that emanated from JAMB last Monday (which the body denounced belatedly on Sunday July 10) had generated serious concerns and portended fresh challenges to the admission process.

JAMB had said on its website that the modalities would be based on point system.

The ‘point system’ means that admission would depend on the point tally of the candidate; spread out between the O’Level and JAMB results.

These had in the past one week generated a lot of criticisms, top of which was the fact that the new guidelines could confer unfair advantage on candidates who had succeeded in obtaining ‘fantastic’ results from the ubiquitous ‘miracle centres’ or through other dubious means.

But JAMB issued a statement on Sunday through its Head of Media and Information, Dr. Fabian Benjamin, denouncing the controversial ‘guidelines’ that it said was copied on its website.

It said that, rather, the admission of candidates into tertiary institutions would be based purely on three pillars – merit, catchment and educationally less developed states.

Mr. Benjamin said the ‘point system’ that was wrongfully copied from the board’s website was used for illustration by the registrar, Professor Dibu Ojerinde.

It is curious, however, that JAMB waited a full week for the controversial, ‘wrongfully copied’ guidelines to fester in the public space before denouncing it.  Could it be that the body was browbeaten by the deluge of criticisms that trailed its release into jettisoning the new system?