Nigeria’s tertiary education: More schools, fewer admissions

Admission to Nigeria’s tertiary institutions has for years been characterised by controversy, anxiety, even anguish among Nigerians – depending on which side they are: as applicants, parents or institutions, TUNBOSUN OGUNDARE writes.


Nigeria’s teeming candidates, and indeed the whole nation, are waiting with bated breaths for the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) to release the 2019 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) and thus kick-start the admission process into tertiary institutions for the next academic session.

As at the last count, by JAMB’s own record, almost 1.9 million candidates sat the 2019 UTME (though the board said it found out later that multiple registrations accounted for 30% of that figure).

The sad reality is that a greater number of these candidates will not be given admission, as available space in all the nation’s tertiary institutions combined (universities, polytechnics and colleges of education) is less than 800,000! This has for a long time been a subject of anxiety and emotional pain among stakeholders.

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However, JAMB, the National Universities Commission, the agency that regulates the nation’s university education, as well as the experts believe that emphasis should be on who really qualifies, rather than on the number of candidates who apply for tertiary education.

While parents, candidates (many of who have been struggling for years to gain admission) and other stakeholders bemoan inadequate space in the institutions, JAMB has insisted that most candidates fail to gain admission because they are either inadmissible or unqualified.

The organisation in its weekly bulletin of early April, for example, cited 2018 UTME when a total of 1,793,018 candidates applied for admission into all the tertiary institutions in the country, with 140,020 through Direct Entry (DE).

JAMB said when the candidates were categorised according to their UTME scores and SSCE O’Level results, only 1,245,939 scored 100 and above out of 400 and also had the mandatory five credits in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE). And to be considered for admission into most of the nation’s higher institutions, a score of at least 140 and above would be required in UTME.

Based on this consideration, it said only 1,168,948 candidates had five O’Level credits that included Mathematics and English Language and also scored 140 and above in the UTME. This is beside the fact that some institutions, especially the first generation federal universities, insist on UTME score of not less than 200 for admission.

But based on recommendation by various institutions, the board still approved admissions for 570,089 candidates; yet from that figure, some would refuse to study another course other than the ones they applied for, or attend other universities other than their preferred ones – thus swelling the army of candidates seeking admission every year.

Peter (surname withheld), a 200-level student of University of Lagos, Akoka, UNILAG, is an example of this. For three consecutive years, it was either Computer Engineering at UNILAG, or nothing – until two years ago when he eventually settled for another course in science, despite that he had a very good WASCCE results and also scored 64.5 per cent aggregate at the post-UTME.

Corroborating JAMB’s stance, in a conversation with Tribune Education, a former Minister of Education, Professor Chinwe Obaji, recalled the 2005 academic session when she was overseeing the nation’s education ministry, saying Nigeria at the time had 75 universities altogether with their carrying capacity standing at around 148,000 students. At the end of the admission exercise, less than half of the figure were qualified.

“That is why I always advocate that students should have their WASSCE results before sitting for UTME, so as to know who actually qualify for admission. But year-in, year-out, those without school cert usually form the bulk of applicants we make noise about,” she stressed.

Obaji also identified many other factors that are potent enough to drive away applicants from choosing some universities. Among them, according to her, are infrastructural decadence, especially in state-owned universities; inadequate competent lecturers; lack of well-equipped laboratories and libraries; poor remuneration as well as poor standard, especially in most private universities.

According to her, we shouldn’t be talking about admission or additional new universities alone as many state universities are awful let alone the privately owned ones.

“For me, it is not even wise to admit people without having basic infrastructure; without having enough and competent lecturers; without having well-equipped laboratories and libraries; without paying lecturers and other workers their salaries as and when due. The problem is beyond mere admission.

Speaking further, Professor Obaji recalled that in 2006, “we also looked at the number of UTME applicants against the UNESCO’s statistics which ranked only about 60 per cent of Nigerian lecturers fairly okay. What happens to the rest? If we are to use the same measurement today, the situation will be worse, especially in the private universities.

“Though, we can’t blame lecturers totally for these. Many of them are being owed several months salaries; many cannot live up to their responsibilities as parents. So, unless we get things done properly, we won’t get anywhere. We should know that we can make a president, a governor, a minister, a senator or a businessman out of anybody overnight, but we cannot make a quality university lecturer out of anybody overnight.

“It is not about opening new universities either. Though, I’m not totally against such idea, the real issue is about going back to the basics. We should look about hiring competent lecturers; we should look at the infrastructure such as where the lecturers are going to teach, where the students will live, what are in the laboratories, what are in the libraries, when the lecturers will get their next pay and so forth. Those should be our concern.”

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