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The reversal of the unpopular policy of reassigning candidates by the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) by the Federal government is commendable. While announcing the reversal, the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education, MacJohn Nwaobiala claimed the policy had been discussed with ‘parents and other stakeholders’ before JAMB commenced implementation. Mr Nwaobiala should know that their meetings did not invite the real parents of poor children but a privileged class of investors who lacked a true sense of the realities in ‘town’. The message in the failed policy is that those at the helms of affairs should consult widely before arriving at their decision (s) and consider the unintended consequences of their action(s) on the life chances of those at the receiving end. At all times, the rights of all citizens must be respected while parties to an agreement must stick to the agreement without changing the rule in the middle of the game. What can we learn from this? We need to understand why some universities remain short of candidates (needy) in a country where there are more candidates than available spaces.

Yearly, about 1.6 million Nigerian youths purchase application forms sold by JAMB to compete for a little below 500,000 admission spaces! These candidates pay about N5,000 to obtain forms. Yet, JAMB did not see a moral burden in collecting their monies, setting examinations and grading them using the same standard. The public universities are over-subscribed more than their carrying capacities while private universities remained short of candidates. In the 2015 UTME application statistics, the top ten by first choice are University of Ilorin (105,032); University of Benin (71,273); Nnamdi Azikiwe University (70,430); University of Nigeria NSUKKA (66,577); University of Lagos (62,125); Ahmadu Bello University (56,858); University of Ibadan (46,812); Bayero University Kano (45, 464); Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife (43,037); and University of Uyo (40,005).

In the same 2015 UTME applications, only 15,000 of the 1,436,837 million candidates sought admission into 48 private universities. Of these, Covenant, Babcock and Afe Babalola universities had 3, 144; 1,985 and 1, 247 applicants respectively. Others had below 600 applicants with some like Southwestern University, Well Spring University and Kwararafa University having less than 10 candidates each! Those who chose polytechnic as first option in the top ten institutions are a little above 10,000 candidates. The top ten institutions in Colleges of Education had 13, 944 candidates who made them their first option.

The 2015 UTME performance statistics showed that 455,639 candidates scored 200 and above; 663,570 scored 190 and above; 931,559 scored 180 and above; 1, 205,992 scored 170 and above while 1,353, 509 scored 160 and above. Only 122,091 scored below 160. In the form purchased by candidates, those who could not meet the cut-off for the university of first choice can still use same score for their preferred polytechnics or colleges of education. JAMB has set the minimum cut-off for Universities at 180 while polytechnics, Colleges of Education and others had theirs pegged at 150. It means that candidates can still make it to other tertiary institutions and not only Universities even if they fall below cut-off points.

Obviously the quest for university education is topmost from the statistics. University education in Nigeria determines where you get to in formal employment (for employment, promotion, discrimination). We need to increase the space for competition in our public universities since affordability will continue to chase Nigerian youths from private universities who charge exorbitant fees. Everything boils down to infrastructure needs. If private universities spend less on power generation and other materials, tuition will go down. Those establishing universities must do feasibility studies and needs assessment of their community. For instance, University of South Africa (UNISA), one of the 23 public universities in that country, provides opportunities to more than 400, 000 students across South Africa, Africa, and other parts of the world. It is ranked high in Online Distance Learning (ODL) Education. The present configuration of Distance Learning Education in Nigerian Universities will at best deliver on the unintended objective of proliferating mediocrity. Hence, Nigeria must develop infrastructure in Distance Learning to provide the much needed educational space in public universities. The President Buhari led-administration must revisit the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) NEEDS Assessment report. The report showed that public universities have a shortfall of 60,000 lecturers and dilapidated infrastructure. Unfortunately, only N200billion of the 1.3trillion agreed by Federal Government since 2013 had been released. While all these are important to increase access, parents must learn to make their wards explore other available opportunities in Polytechnics and Colleges of Education. After all, I attended the Polytechnic, Ibadan before gaining admission into University of Ibadan. Today, I hold a Ph.D of the University but I am better equipped as a trained Mass Communication student because of the practical exposure at the polytechnic.

Written by Dr Oludayo Tade.