The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) never ceases to be in the news for the wrong reasons. The most recent controversy relates to the decision by JAMB to lower the cut-off mark for admission into public universities. Lowering the cut-off mark will impact on the quality of students admitted into universities. This is the key concern that has drawn the anger of legislators, the national union of teachers, parents, students, and everyone else involved in the advancement of quality in tertiary education institutions in the country.
The Senate has condemned the bizarre decision by JAMB. The House of Representatives is investigating the conditions that led to JAMB’s preference for mediocre marks. The National Union of Teachers has condemned JAMB’s decision to lower the cut-off marks for admission into universities. The decision carries serious consequences for everyone.
By reducing the cut-off marks from 180 to 120, JAMB has flagged its preference for second-rate students over students who achieve excellence in examinations for admission into universities. This latest policy somersault is baffling. It is a hindrance to progress. It is a policy that will drag us backward rather than forward. Lowering standards is not my idea of how an institution should promote merit or excellence as a benchmark for university admission.
To what extent would low cut-off mark encourage students to aim to excel or to relax and put in substandard performance during examinations for admission into universities? Lowering the standard for admission into universities is not something anyone committed to quality in higher education would expect from JAMB. This is why the decision has come as a huge shock to many people.
In its official reaction, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) expressed outrage over JAMB’s decision, saying the verdict would bring shame on universities and graduates of universities. National President of NUT, Michael Olukoya Alogba, said last week during celebrations to mark World Teachers Day, that the policy shift by JAMB would reduce the standard of education in the country. He said: “We are not equally unaware of the age long cry over falling standard of education in Nigeria, of which the blame is always contemptuously put at the door steps of the teacher. Against this backdrop, the NUT wishes to express its reservations to this policy of admission into Nigerian universities and urge the Federal Ministry of Education and other relevant agencies to review the policy for the improvement of the standard of education in Nigeria”.
Public reactions followed the announcement by JAMB Registrar, Ishaq Oloyede, who said the organisation had resolved that a minimum of 120 marks in the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) would be required for admission into universities, adding that a minimum of 100 marks would be required for admission into polytechnics and colleges of education.
Ever since JAMB was founded on 13 February 1978 by an Act of the Federal Military Government, the organisation has been consumed by controversies of sorts, such as failure to organise hitch-free examinations, consistent policy blunders, lack of clarity in the procedure for the conduct of examinations for admission into public universities, and failure to provide clear directions to parents and in particular students preparing for examinations that would secure them entry into universities.
Owing to persistent problems experienced by students before, during, and after examinations for admission into universities, questions have been asked about the role of JAMB in our current environment, particularly in a dynamic environment in which new ideas introduced by JAMB today could become obsolete by tomorrow. Against this background, some people have called for the dissolution of JAMB and the setting up of another organisation that would respond to the realities and challenges of quality higher education in the 21st century.
The awkward barriers placed by JAMB on the path of students aspiring for university education in Nigeria have compelled parents to take their sons and daughters to overseas institutions in West Africa, Europe, and North America to advance their educational objectives. While the practice might signal negative public reaction to JAMB’s failure to conduct free and fair examinations for admission into universities, there are serious economic consequences associated with that system. Not only do we lose many students to foreign universities, we also strengthen the economies of those countries through payment of university tuition in scarce foreign exchange. This is called capital flight.
We must think critically about the future of university education in Nigeria when an institution such as JAMB that was set up to promote quality university education discourages parents and students, and therefore sets itself up as an obstacle in the wheel of national socioeconomic development. Why can’t public universities set up their own systems and benchmarks for admission of students? The times have changed and we must recognise that we live in a changeable world, not a word obsessed with doing things in one fixed way.
If you are looking for convincing evidence that JAMB has failed woefully in its primary assignment to conduct examinations for admission into universities, take a look at the recent instances in which the organisation caused nightmares to many students. In 2016, JAMB conducted the so-called computer-based test used in the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) that it organised for students seeking admission into universities. The national outcry that followed that examination showed it was a calamity.
Numerous criticisms outlined by students confirmed that the examination was flawed by limitless problems such as computer failures, bad Internet connectivity, unreliable supply of electricity, discrepancies in scores communicated to students by JAMB, insufficient examination materials, and late arrival of officials at the examination centres. These were not all the difficulties that challenged students during and after the examination. Nevertheless, they highlight the lack of organisation that exists within JAMB. It is troubling that JAMB used computer-based tests without adequate preparation and without recognising the complex conditions that could overwhelm students from different socioeconomic and physical backgrounds.
In my previous essays on JAMB, I argued vigorously that parents and students and indeed many stakeholders had lost faith in the ability of JAMB to conduct error-free examinations. JAMB has failed. That much we all know. The way forward is not to under-estimate the scale of the bungles. The way forward is to scrap JAMB and institute innovative systems for assessing students preparing for admission into universities. The new systems must recognise the new environment in which we live.
JAMB officials must recognise that circumstances have changed. The character of students has changed. New technologies have opened new ways for students to cheat in examinations. It is now 39 years since Decree 2 of 1978 (amended by Decree 33 of 1989) authorised JAMB to conduct examinations for admission into universities. Isn’t it time the government revisited that anachronistic decree?