By Olagoke Olatoye
Stakeholders in the education sector have expressed mixed reactions to the recent lowering of the Universal Tertiary Matriculation Examinations (UTME) cut-off marks for admission seekers into the tertiary institutions in Nigeria.
They made their positions known in separate interviews with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Osogbo, Ibadan, Abeokuta, Ado-Ekiti, Akure and Ilorin on Sunday.
While some described the development as a sign of setback for the nation’s educational development, others said that lowering of the cut-off marks was good news for admission seekers.
In his views, Dr Adebayo Obadiora, acting Head of Department, Art and Social Science, Faculty of Education, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife in Osun, said that lowering the UTME cut-off marks would jeopardise the standard of education in Nigeria.
Obadiora said that the decision of the Joint Admission Matriculation Board (JAMB) to adopt 140 as the minimum cut-off marks for degree awarding institutions for the 2022/2023 admission process was not good enough.
According to him, a student, who cannot score 200 out of 400 marks in UTME, may find it difficult to excel when admitted.
“One hundred and forty out of 400 is 35 per cent at ‘O’ level result. This is F9 and any student, who scores F9 in cogent subjects like English Language or Mathematics cannot gain admission to the university with such a result,” he said.
Obadiora said that such students, when admitted, would not be able to cope with their mates and would end up having to resit their papers.
The don said that federal universities were still finding it hard to accommodate many of the candidates, even at the cut-off marks of 200 and above, not to talk of when it was now dropped to 140.
He, therefore, appealed to JAMB to dialogue with the authorities of universities and other professionals in order to be advised accordingly on admission scores.
This, he said, would make the nation’s graduates to be able to compete with their counterparts globally.
Also, Prof. Olugbenga Ehinola, Head of Department, Geology, University of Ibadan, Oyo State, said that the continuous lowering of UTME cut-off marks would, definitely, affect the quality of applicants being offered admission into the federal universities.
“It only encourages applicants, whose parents are wealthy to patronise private universities and this may affect standardisation of admission,” Ehinola said.
Contrarily, Prof. Clement Kolawole of the Department of Education, University of Ibadan, said there would be no serious implication.
“It was what the agency considered to be realistic,” Kolawole said.
In his views, Prof. Adams Onuka, a retired Professor of Education Evaluation, said the decision indicated that the teaching and learning processes in our schools had been ineffective.
This, Onuka said, could be due to some intervening factors that were likely to be multifarious, but including family, social, school, funding factors, amongst others.
“The immediate implication is that our school system is not living up to expectations in the production of future leaders for the nation; as garbage in equals garbage out.
“It means that we are feeding the tertiary education system with ill-prepared inputs and the outputs would, therefore, be half-baked.
“It’s not the duty of the tertiary education system to prepare learners for the primary and secondary education system, which are the foundation for the tertiary education system.
“This trend, if not arrested, will likely lead to the collapse of the entire education system, leadership development process and societal development as a whole,” Onuka said.
The don said that the situation could also lead to greater exodus of youths to other climes and further depreciated the Naira, as a result of higher rate of capital flight.
“Thus, all hands must be on the deck to address the abnormality with immediate effect.
“In fact, we need to declare a state of emergency in the education sector.
“We must fund it and carry out researches, so that innovative measures and remedies can be evolved to bring our education system back on track.
“Needs assessment of the sector, in terms of quality of teachers at the primary and secondary subsystems, infrastructure and facilities, management and governance, as well as teaching and learning interactions and parental responsibilities, should be immediately done before any other process is carried out.
“This is to properly evolve lasting and enduring solutions to this unexpected outcome in the education system,” he said.
In Abeokuta, Mr Oluwagbenga Adeleye, the Chairman, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Federal University of Agriculture, expressed concern over the matter, warning that the trend would ultimately destroy the fabrics of education system in the country.
Adeleye, who lectures at the Department of Animal Production and Health, said that the standard of education at the tertiary level would continue to dwindle with such policy.
He said that such policy would also continue to encourage mediocrity, with the tertiary institutions producing half-baked graduates with serious consequences upon the nation’s economy and future.
“I don’t see any sense in lowering the cut-off marks, because there is no practical sense in it.
“I don’t know why the administration handling JAMB is bent on reducing the cut-off marks annually and destroying the lives of students.
“Are we saying that hard work doesn’t matter these days? These days, some students cannot even express themselves or write fairly well, and one wonders how they got into the tertiary institution.
“We have destroyed values, morals and hard work and we need to go back to where we are coming from.
“Some students, who are supposed to be in technical schools, are finding their ways into the universities.
“It is not that technical schools are not good; they have their own advantages, because they help to fix students into places where they are best fitted for the purpose of further grooming,” he said.
Adeleye explained that serious students would continue to seek for quality education abroad as the standard and quality of education continue to dwindle in the country.
Commenting, Poju Adeniyi, an SS3 student of the Abeokuta Grammar School, Abeokuta, told NAN that the trend would encourage laziness and discourage healthy competition among students.
Adeniyi, however, said that he preferred to work hard to be able to meet up with the cut-off marks of his desired course.
“This will prepare me for the university system in addition to making me always ready to sustain my tempo of hard work, in pursuit of my educational goals,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Vice-Chancellor, Bells University of Technology, Ota, Prof. Jeremiah Ojediran, justified the lowering of the cut-off marks.
Ojediran said that the decision would create a level playing field for students seeking admission into Nigeria’s tertiary institutions.
According to him, the continuous lowering of UTME cut-off marks will not affect the standard of education.
“When it comes to the standard of admission, what really matters is the result of the West Africa Examinations Council (WAEC),” he said.
Ojediran explained that lowering the cut-off marks was to safeguard those institutions, who want to fix their cut-off marks below the 140 stipulated by JAMB.
According to him, JAMB result is only a prerequisite requirement for admission, adding that what qualifies a student are the five ‘O’ Level credits in relevant subjects.
“Some students with 180 score enter institutions to make first class or end up being the best graduating students.
“We have also seen students who scored 360 in JAMB, but who could not compete with students who scored 180,” he said.
In Ado-Ekiti, a retired school Principal and Administrator, Elder Amos Ajakaye, said that the lowering of the cut-off marks would create room for laziness among the students.
“Instead of them working and studying hard to achieve the desired excellent grade in the entrance examinations, they will only prefer to limit their scope toward their now reduced cut-off marks,” he said.
In her submission, Mrs Yetunde Omonijo, the Headmaster-General in Ekiti, said that the issue depended largely on the underlining factors that necessitated such intervention by the affected and concerned institutions.
“What I’m saying in essence is that those institutions that embarked on such may have their genuine reasons for doing so.
“It may be that such cut-off marks were seen to be over exercised in the first place, which needed to be reviewed downward.
“In that case, we cannot totally blame government or institutions for lowering the cut-off marks for students seeking admission to further their studies,” Omonijo said.
Also, Mr Bode Afolayan, a Director in the Quality Assurance Bureau Unit, Ekiti State Ministry of Education and Values Orientation, said the matter needed to be carefully examined by relevant government regulatory agencies.
This, Afolayan said, was necessary in order not to jeopardise the nation’s education system.
“There is need for relevant government agencies to be on top of their game, especially when it concerns issues that bother on the nation’s education sector.
“No nation can develop, except with a well-developed quantitative and qualitative education system.
“So, lowering cut-off marks for admission seeking students must be tailored, not only toward improving the standards of education, but also toward the overall best students’ performance,” he said.
Meanwhile, a lecturer at the Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti, Dr Sola Afolayan, frowned at the rate at which JAMB was reducing its scores.
Afolayan said that the nationwide lockdown, occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic, believably had negatively impacted on the students’ performances in external examinations, urging universities to test the students before admitting them.
In his remarks, Dr Sandra Oyinye of the Department of English and Literary Studies, Federal University of Oye-Ekiti (FUOYE), said that continuous lowering of UTME cut-off marks would not affect the standard of education.
Oyinye said what really mattered at measuring the standard of admission were the WAEC or the National Examinations Council (NECO) results.
“I have seen students with high scores in JAMB not doing well when admitted into the university. I mean, students with high scores, such as 350, ending up with second class lower division,” she said.
Oyinye, therefore, advised that the UTME scores should not be the only pre-requisite in gaining admission into higher institutions.
Another university lecturer, Mr James Gbadeyan, urged JAMB to rather increase the UTME cut-off marks to save the nation’s education from total collapse.
Gbadeyan explained that lowering of UTME admission points had
just shown the deliberate tendencies to bastardise the tertiary education system.
“How can JAMB give a student, who scored just 140, which is equivalent to about 35 per cent of 400, a pass mark to be admitted into a university?
“I want to say that any student, who cannot score at least 180, has no business in the university.
“I will like to appeal to the Federal Government and JAMB to reconsider their plans to lower the UTME cut-off marks and stop bastardising the tertiary education in Nigeria,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Suleiman Yusuf of the Mass Communication Department, Kwara State University (KWASU), Malete, said he could not conceive the rationale behind the decision to lower the mark.
Yusuf said: “I find the rationale behind such a crucial decision inconceivable, particularly when one considers the UTME candidates’ better performance this year than the previous year.
”It all points to the fact that our tertiary education system needs a very quick intervention, if it must be globally competitive.
”Despite the fact that there is a clause, which empowers individual university to fix its own cut-off marks, it still gives room for the age-long lopsidedness in the admission policies and procedures of the Nigerian universities, public and private.
“And with the lingering ASUU strike, coupled with the rising figures of admission seekers across the country, all hands must be on deck to salvage our university education system,” Yusuf said.
Also, an educationist, Mr Wale Iborida, saw the lowering of the mark as an opportunity for as many students as possible.
The move, Iborida said, would also give universities, polytechnics, as well as Colleges of Education more rooms to accommodate those missing admissions on yearly basis.
He, however, feared that the policy would encourage laziness and lower the standard of education in tertiary institutions of the country.
According to him, it can have a multiplier effects on the already low standard of education in the country, in addition to hindering the competitive drive for excellence among students in tertiary institutions.
Similarly, Dr Michael Oke of the Department of Finance, Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti, said that the continuous lowering of the cut-off marks could be attributed to the deteriorating standard in the country’s educational system.
Oke said that the move, no doubt, amounted to lowering the standard of education.
According to him, this is nothing, but a reflection of the Nigeria situation, where almost every tier (primary, secondary and tertiary) of the Nigerian public educational system has been destroyed.
Oke, while decrying the attitude of the government to education, however, added that reduction in the cut-off marks would allow candidates to secure admission to tertiary institutions, especially the private ones in the country.
“This is because candidates with very low marks may not be able to secure admission into public institutions.
“Each university will still set its own cut-off marks, which may be far above JAMB’s cut-off marks, depending on the institution and on the course of study.
“Thus, the minimum cut-off marks, as set by JAMB, may not automatically guarantee admission into public institutions. Each university will still conduct post-JAMB examinations before the final selection.
“In most cases, candidates who scored the minimum mark set by JAMB, can secure admission to private institutions, as long as they can afford to pay the fees,” he said.
Meanwhile, Prof. Bayo Aborisade, Department of General Studies, Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), described JAMB as part of the institutional cog in the wheel of higher education in the country.
Aborisade said that the original intention of streamlining admission processes for the convenience of candidates had, not only been defeated, but had also been compounded.
“Higher education institutions all over the world have responsibility for their programmes and how they select their candidates, but JAMB has taken over that responsibility in Nigeria.
“Also, JAMB is now forcing institutions to lower their standards by dictating what the cut-off marks should be, when, by law and by practice, it is the responsibility of the Senate of every institution to decide that matter.
“And, JAMB has made matters worse for candidates by making them sit for two examinations before admission and making the candidates pay for the examinations,” Aborisade said.
According to him, it is unfortunate that institutions have little faith in examinations conducted by JAMB and that’s why they insist on the institutional examinations, called screening.
The don also said that JAMB examinations were fraught with problems of fraud, inflated grades and “miracle centres”.
Aborisade said that the anomaly had continued till date, making institutions to insist on choosing their candidates their own way.
“The consistent lowering of admission cut-off scores is part of the ‘politicisation’ of admission process by JAMB.
“JAMB has become an albatross and obsolete to higher education and should be scrapped,” he said.
In his views, Prof. Ajao Moyosore, the Chairman, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), University of Ilorin, supported the argument that universities should be allowed to determine the admission of their students without JAMB interference.
Moyosore said that JAMB should go back and give power of determination of cut-off marks to the Senate of respective universities.
He, also said that JAMB should only conduct examination and leave it at that, as giving their cut-off marks would create confusion in the system and present the educational system as a politicised one.
“This national cut-off marks of 140, as stated by JAMB, should be totally discarded; it makes us a laughing stock.
“It means that students that are admitted or given admission are actually not qualified, because if you do a mental calculations of 140, that is 35 per cent,” he said.
According to him, JAMB is only giving the students false hope of being eligible for admission, having scored 140.
The Unilorin ASUU chairman, however, pointed out that no Nigerian first generation university, including the university, would accept 140 as its cut-off mark.
“This creates the impression that instead of students aiming to pass higher, they will now relax and say, ‘Okay, it’s just 140’.
“That’s the situation we have found ourselves. We are playing politics with everything in the system,” he said.
Moyosore reiterated that JAMB should constrain itself to organising examinations and stop pronouncing national cut-off marks.
“They should leave this to the Senate of each university; if respective university decide to say its own pass mark is 100, then, that is its own problem.
“But to say that the national cut-off marks is 140, is embarrassing to the country.
“We have to stop politicising our education system, because when you and I were going to school, it was merit that took us to the universities.
“We have an issue where we are bringing weak students into the university and what do you think will happen? People must realise that not all students must go to the university.
“Some of them could go to the polytechnics, Colleges of Education and technical institutions,” he said.