Professor Ish-haq Olanrewaju Oloyede, registrar, Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) must have been bemused at the controversies and negative reactions that have trailed the cut-off marks announced by administrators of tertiary institutions at the board’s policy meeting on plans and modalities for the conduct of the 2017 admissions held last week. I prefer the term “administrators of tertiary institutions” advisedly, because yours truly was present at that meeting and the consensus was of base-line of 120 lowest, which is now “talk of the town”, was collectively resolved at the JAMB-supervised meeting, attended by all vice chancellors, rectors, provosts and education stakeholders of all universities, polytechnics, colleges of education whether federal, states or privately owned. Although 120 was agreed, it is, however, not binding on all because each university sets its own standard and is bound by it while JAMB oversights, supervises and ensures those criteria and standards are adhered to. The outrage that followed is an indication that most Nigerians do not read beyond the headlines; it is also a natural reaction to change or anything new.
The idea, according to JAMB, is part of its bid to innovate and improve the admission process, and return tertiary institutions to their rightful, legal and autonomous status. JAMB had earlier developed what it called Central Admissions Processing Systems to streamline the admission process and address the challenges associated with the manual approach, ‘restore the autonomy of tertiary institutions’ and adhere to the guidelines and standards these institutions have set for themselves. Candidates are also “empowered with information on available choices of institutions and programmes” and admission opportunities enhanced and multiple admissions eliminated.
At the core of JAMB’s reform is what was referred to as regularisation, which was previously fraught with irregularities. By the way, tertiary institutions have their peculiarities and idiosyncrasies and in line with their supposed autonomy, almost all of them offer diploma, pre-this or that and remedial courses. Although these pre-degree courses are not recognised by JAMB, they invariably have to be reconciled and regularised with JAMB. At the point of regularisation to meet up with JAMB criteria, these institutions engage in under-the-table deals including bribery. There are also awkward situations where, for example, colleges of education do not follow JAMB’s requirement that Mathematics be made compulsory for a student wanting to study Education/Yoruba, Education/Hausa or Arabic only to do regularisation at a later date in shady circumstances, even though according to Prof Oloyede, admission criteria ideally should not be JAMB’s responsibility. The new concept should be able to checkmate the excesses of compromised JAMB officials and university administrators.
However, with these reforms, institutions do not have to do any undercover deals because the laws setting up JAMB is without prejudice to their peculiarities, idiosyncrasies and standards. This new arrangement is expected to bring sanity and transparency to the system as JAMB ceases to be an obstacle to any institution’s set standards as long as there are no breaches. Professor Oloyede wondered why JAMB should be so stringent on paper when its laws are obeyed in the breach, and when it could be transparent and could bring everyone on board to do the right thing. He made an example of countries like the UK and our next-door neighbour, Ghana, which institutions do not even need JAMB’s nod to admit students from Nigeria.
The registrar said our fixation with cut-off marks or over-dramatisation, as he called it, over the years had denied many an indigent student admission to universities or the opportunity to study their desired course of choice and hoped this would become a thing of the past, because as he noted only poverty or lack of money can stand between a denied candidate in Nigeria and admission to realise his ambition abroad. In any case, the problem with our education is not in high or low JAMB marks. It is more than that; our education system is fundamentally dysfunctional and not tailored towards skills and practical reality.
Here was a forum where all the nation’s educators at the highest echelon were present, took charge of proceedings before arriving at a consensus, but people who are not remotely connected are now taking panadol for other people’s headaches even though some are parents and as such stakeholders too. By the statuses establishing JAMB, its mandate stops at the conduct of exams and the release of results to universities, while each university Senate was to determine their cut-off mark and admission requirements. Over the years JAMB had gone beyond this brief and began to admit students on behalf of universities thereby eroding their independence. These anomalies are addressed by the new arrangements. Besides, since those resolutions were arrived at, no vice chancellor has come out to deny them and tertiary institutions administrators are not easily intimidated or cowered; perhaps that shows the acceptability and popularity of the new regulations as their senates now fully own and take responsibility for their universities.
Many have argued that the new cut-off mark will further erode confidence in the university system as it will engender low standard. This is far from the truth or reality. Liberalising admission requirement in my opinion is neither synonymous with low standard nor does it detract from our gains in tertiary education when even graduates from universities abroad who didn’t go through JAMB are accorded more respect here. JAMB should, however, keep its eyes on the ball to avoid any form of sabotage either from within or from any of the institutions, and those who may try to cut corners should be punished to serve as deterrent.
The arguments over cut-off marks almost took the shine off other laudable things JAMB has embarked upon lately. Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu played up some of the efforts of Oloyode at JAMB and reiterated the N5 billion returned to government under him, an amount he said was more than the total amount JAMB has paid to government since inception. The new lingo at the board is market place which enables institutions source for candidates from available pool based on JAMB scores, state, LG and gender. Others are inclusive monitoring, eight-key board solution for those not proficient in computer usage, efforts to ensure visually impaired candidates get admission, provision of computers for prison inmates, online-real time monitoring of examinations to checkmate fraudsters or would-be exams cheats.
While players in the industry rejoiced with the innovations and inclusiveness engendered by the openness and buy-in of all stakeholders, people who did not know how these stakeholders came about their decisions are unusually worried. As JAMB returns to its function as a clearing house, it might also need to do more advocacies to create awareness about its activities.