NIGERIA: VCs protest move to end screening test

Once again Nigeria's national assembly and some officials of the examination agency, the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, have made moves to dismantle the screening tests carried out by universities around the country. They argue that any test additional to the one conducted by the admissions board itself is unnecessary - even illegal - and places a financial burden on parents.

But the Committee of Vice Chancellors, the committee of pro-chancellors and the Academic Staff Union of Universities have rejected the move against Post-Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (Post-UTME) admissions tests.

They have slammed it as a deliberate encroachment on the laws protecting university autonomy and on the functions of university senates.

The battle for supremacy between the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and the university authorities rages on, awaiting a decisive pronouncement from the Nigerian government.

In the country's senate, 35 members sponsored a motion against independent admissions tests carried out by universities, and raised fundamental legal arguments.

First, they claimed that in terms of the laws of the Nigerian federation (2004), JAMB was the only statutory body mandated to conduct entrance examinations into universities.

Second, they declared as "illegal, unconstitutional and wicked the current practice whereby universities conduct screening exercises for candidates submitted to them by JAMB before admitting them into their institutions".

Third, they frowned upon the screening exercise fees charged by the universities, describing this practice as "extortionist".

During the debate, however, some senators opposed the motion to scrap the Post-UTME screening exercise. Senator Aisha Hassan argued that the screening had some merit because it promoted meritocracy.

Subsequently, a senate sub-committee was set up to visit universities and investigate the performance of Post-UTME.

But debate has not died down, and there have been heated arguments and reactions from stakeholders.

Professor Dibu Ojerinde, the JAMB registrar, has never hidden his dislike for Post-UTME. He could not understand the rationale behind the strong opposition of university lecturers and university authorities to JAMB.

"University dons set JAMB questions and they are now questioning the credibility of the same examinations," he declared. "There are malpractices even in JAMB centres located inside the universities. It is bad faith for vice-chancellors to now argue that Post-UTME is to restore standards in university admission."

But this position does not go down well with the vice-chancellors.

Professor Ishaq Oloyede, chair of the Committee of Vice Chancellors (CVC), came to the defence of his colleagues, pointing out that Post-UTME was meant to determine if prospective candidates were suitable for university education specifically. He argued against a process whereby JAMB conducted the same examination for admission to universities, polytechnics and colleges of education.

Oloyede also promised that vice-chancellors were working hard to reduce "abuses" in the conduct of Post-UTME.

One of the arguments against the Post-UTME exercise was the additional financial burden on prospective students. Oloyede agreed with the suggestion that a single payment should be made for both JAMB and Post-UTME.

"Single payment for both examinations will remove all financial abuses...No university will be able to ask candidates to pay additional screening fees," Oloyede said.

Professor Chinwe Obaji, a former federal minister of education, defended the setting up of Post-UTME. "The inability of JAMB to conduct credible examinations led to the emergence of Post-UTME. Some candidates with high marks cannot even write correct tenses or defend their scores," she affirmed.

It is necessary to provide some background to the establishment of Post-UTME.

In 2005, an unusually large number of candidates passed JAMB with high scores and were granted university admission. But many of the high scorers subsequently proved unable to cope with the demands of tertiary study and were asked to withdraw from their universities.

On investigating, the CVC found that a number of wealthy parents had allegedly colluded with some dishonest JAMB officials to purchase high scores for their children.

At the time, the CVC met with then president Olusegun Obasanjo and demanded the outright scrapping of JAMB, requesting that each university be granted autonomy to conduct its own entrance examination. Obasanjo convinced them to allow for the continued existence of JAMB, while the universities would also be permitted to run their own screening exercises.

Six years after the introduction of Post-UTME, the leadership of JAMB is still bent on influencing law-makers to abolish it.

But Professor Ukachukwu Awuzie, president of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, argued that JAMB was encroaching on the law that created universities.

"The legal provisions that gave JAMB powers to determine matriculation requirements in universities constitute serious encroachment upon the power of the university senate given to it by the statute of each university on all matters including admission to degree programmes. The Post-UTME tests are therefore justified," he warned.

Afe Babalola, a legal luminary and the former chair of the council of Lagos State University and of the Committee of Pro-chancellors of Nigerian universities, wrote an article which was serialised in The Guardian and The Punch, two leading Nigerian dailies.

Babalola made the following arguments. First, the laws establishing the universities allowed them to carry out quality control of prospective candidates via screening tests. Second, quality control tests were part of an age-old tradition in virtually all universities in developed and developing countries. Third, the senate should not scrap Post-UTME, since its existence had helped the universities to undertake quality control of their students.

The opinions expressed by Afe Babalola in his well-researched article have swayed Professor Ruqayyat Rufai, federal minister of education.

In her words: "The Post-UTME screening tests are something we should continue for now. We are pleading with the senators. I am happy that there will soon be a stakeholders' forum on this issue and the outcome of it would determine the future."


I agree with those officials of the assembly or senators who are questioning the legitimacy of individual university tests for candidates who have been selected by the Joint Admisions and Matriculations Board. People who are calling for individual universities to conduct their tests are only trying make or extort money from students and their parents, a system that should be discouraged.

However, one could say that individual universities are tired of being given either students from one major tribal groups while indigenes are overlooked, as well as students who are not good enough for their programmes in these institutions.

The fundamental cause of these problems are tribalism, corruption and lack of trust or confidence in the JAMB admission system. The main victims of this system that is not fit for purpose are the students and their parents.

Nwin Gberesaakoo