Controversy continues to trail university admissions exam

Does the post-Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination or post-UTME enhance quality and boost the credibility of the university admissions process, or is it standing in the way of increased access and providing a way for universities to make more money off prospective students? Since its introduction in 2005, the post-UTME continues to be a source of controversy, recently fuelled by a government vacillation over its existence.

The post-UTME gives universities a second chance to screen prospective students who have come through the national matriculation examination system. Earlier this year, the Education Minister Mallam Adamu Adamu shocked university administrators when he announced at a meeting in Abuja that the government had lifted a ban imposed in June 2016 on the post-UTME.

In terms of the minister’s announcement, tertiary institutions were again free to hold the examination. Adamu warned against institutions charging exorbitant fees for the exam and directed the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board or JAMB to compile a list of institutions charging above NGN2,000 (US$5.50), according to a local media report.

Justifying the government’s about-face, Adamu is reported to have said: “The federal government scrapped this controversial examination last year in order to fully understand what was going on in these institutions. The government is now wiser regarding the conduct of the examination.”

Senate moves to scrap exam

However, since then, this position has again come under question with news reports in October that the Senate had begun moves to scrap the post-UTME and had mandated its committee on tertiary education to meet with relevant stakeholders, especially JAMB, and come up with recommendations on how to achieve it.

The resolutions of the senate prompted the setting up of a hearing into the regulatory conflict between JAMB and universities over admissions.

According to Professor Peter Okebukola, the former executive secretary of the National Universities Commission, the introduction of the post-UTME under the leadership of former president Olusegun Obasanjo was originally motivated by concern around matriculation examination fraud and malpractice.

He told the Daily Post: “It happened that in 2002 some vice-chancellors after the university matriculation examination came to see me. They complained that almost half of those candidates at a particular centre were mercenaries who wrote the exam for absent genuine candidates. It dawned on all of us that some of those that normally brandish high scores are not the true owners of such scores. Thus the Committee of Vice-Chancellors made representations to the federal government to introduce another layer of tests called post-UTME. This is the origin of this test."

Among the criticisms of the post-UTME is that it justifies another layer in the university admissions process for which parents of prospective students must pay and opens the door to extortion.

It has also become a source of conflict between JAMB and universities. At the public hearing on regulatory conflict between JAMB and universities in Nigeria held in late October, National Universities Commission Executive Secretary Professor Abubakar Rasheed is reported to have defended the need for the post-UTME.

He said: “It is not about making money for the universities. If you don’t do it, you just want to cause chaos in the system. JAMB is an excellent guide but you cannot rely on it 100%.”

The hearing was organised by the Senate Committee on Tertiary Institutions and the Tertiary Education Trust Fund.

Limited university spaces

Rasheed reportedly told the hearing that only 30% of the 1.7 million candidates who wrote the UTME would be admitted this year owing to limited spaces in the universities.

At that same hearing, JAMB Registrar Professor Ishaq Oloyede – who has been publicly praised recently for his performance over the past year, as reflected in a dramatic increase in JAMB remittances – denied there was regulatory conflict between his board and the universities and pointed out that the post-UTME was not peculiar to Nigeria.

He questioned the scale of the admissions challenge facing the country.

“It is not true that we have 1.7 million candidates that are ready to go into the Nigerian university system. Of the 1.7 million that took the exam I can say … that not more than 30% of them are prepared for admission. They are just trying. They do not have the five O-level results required to go into the university.”

According to the Guardian, for this year’s admissions exercise, of the 199,500 candidates who sat for post-UTME in seven institutions, only 28,900 are to be offered admission.

Criticisms of the post-UTME in the wake of the government’s lifting of the ban have focused in part on the issue of its legality. In an article in the Guardian, columnist Luke Onyekakeyah said the post-UTME was not backed by any enabling law and should be scrapped.

“All the lawyers [I consulted] said to the best of their knowledge, there is no known law that established the post-UTME. In that case why leave an illegality to rule the system and even truncate the aspirations of most candidates?"

University autonomy

However, some university vice-chancellors have staunchly defended their right to select their students from among those coming out of the UTME.

In an interview with the Point newspaper in 2016, Professor Victor Peretomode, vice-chancellor of Delta State University, accused JAMB of undue and direct interference in the admission policies of universities. He said the laws creating the universities and JAMB were clear.

While JAMB was, by law, mandated to conduct the UTME, and it should provide the results to universities, the law does not permit this examination organ to dictate how the universities should admit any candidate. According to the law of the land the university senate is mandated to decide how it would give admission to those on the list sent by JAMB, he said.

“Under the Nigerian Constitution, the senate of any university is the highest law-making body saddled with the responsibility of admitting students into any university … So whoever is in charge of JAMB, and the Minister of Education, cannot just wake up overnight and make decisions and force them down the throats of all the vice-chancellors. We are the ones who admit [students] and we know the kinds of students we want to admit. We should be allowed to screen these candidates,” he said.

In an interview granted to the Point newspaper in July last year, shortly after the government imposed a ban on the post-UTME, Peretomode was quoted as saying he was disgusted with the “corrupt” practices of JAMB.

“This year’s [2016] JAMB is one of the worst ever conducted in the history of Nigeria … JAMB just added 40 marks to the scores of all students … What is happening is this: rich parents were fixing, with the collusion of JAMB officials, the scores of some students … because there was no post-UTME.”

According to reliable sources closely involved in state admissions processes, the vice-chancellor was invited to air his views with the presidency and one of the effects of this interview was the re-introduction of the post-UTME.

As the outcome of the senate-initiated hearings into the post-UTME issue continue, many universities around the country have already held their post-UTME screenings for the 2017-18 academic year while a few others were scheduled for early December.