Poor guidance, quota system keep good candidates out of HE

The uphill battle of gaining admission into Nigerian public higher education institutions, especially universities, is intensifying due to factors such as limited facilities and a shortage of human resources to accommodate as many students as possible.

However, many candidates believe that good O-level results and high scores in the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) and post-UTME stand them in good stead to secure admission to study their choice of courses.

The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) said 3,135 candidates who sat the UTME and Direct Entry examinations in 2018, 2019 and 2020 scored 300 and above out of the total 400 marks but did not gain admission, according to a report in the online publication PUNCH.

JAMB Registrar Professor Ishaq Oloyede blamed the development on, among others, wrong O-level subject combinations, low post-UTME screening scores, non-acceptance of admission offers, duplicated applications, absence from post-UTME screenings and catchment mismatches.

Counsellors are overwhelmed

A lack of proper counselling in the Nigerian school system also counts among the concerns.

Raliya Bello, a professor in guidance and counselling at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria, said wrong subject combinations would not arise if there were counsellors in secondary schools.

“With counsellors, every student would be guided on which subjects they need to take at O-level based on their career interest and capability,” Bello told University World News. She called for intensified recruitment of qualified counsellors in secondary schools.

“Ideally, counsellors should be available right from primary school level, but they should at least be in secondary schools. But if you have one counsellor to 1,000 students, there is no way such a person can be effective, no matter how hard they try to do their work.

“The candidates also need to be counselled on how the quota system works so that they will consider it when making their choice of institution.”

JAMB provides a brochure for candidates on how to go about the admission application process, but this is complex to the students, many of whom are teenagers freshly graduated from secondary schools. The brochure is complex, and they need someone to “put them through it”, said Benedicta Nnodum, another guidance and counselling professor at the Imo State University, Owerri, Nigeria.

She also regrets the lack of counsellors in secondary schools.

“The few schools that have counsellors do not create an enabling environment to operate in, so it becomes a problem. We need to give them [the counsellors] the chance to practise in schools. The tools they need to function should be provided for them and they should be allowed to attend training for knowledge update,” she said.

Candidates’ fate rests on quota system

JAMB revealed that 612,557 out of about two million candidates who applied for the UTME and Direct Entry in 2019 were admitted across higher institutions, Premium Times reported.

Evidently, Nigeria has enough private higher institutions to admit more students. For instance, the number of private universities in the country swelled to 111 in May 2022 after the approval of 12 new ones by the National Universities Commission. And more are likely to be licensed in the coming months. But the high tuition fees they charge discourage most admission seekers whose families are poor from choosing them.

Hence, despite an unstable academic calendar occasioned by recurring strikes, applications for admission to public higher institutions remain overwhelmingly high.

To regulate this, JAMB has come up with an admission quota system premised on merit, catchment, and educationally less-developed state criteria.

In the admission guidelines for 2021, the board said 45% of candidates should be admitted into federal institutions based on merit, 35% on catchment basis and 20% from states that are less developed where education is concerned.

Many factors determine access

JAMB said, for state institutions, the merit quota should be in two layers:

• National Merit Quota – for the first topmost 10% (indigenes and non-indigenes including foreigners); and

• Indigene – Merit Quota – additional 35% allotted to indigenes of the state on merit basis after the first topmost 10% National Merit.

Higher education institutions also set their respective internal admission regulatory mechanisms by stipulating UTME cut-off marks for specific courses and conducting post-UTME tests.

“There are so many factors involved,” said Professor Ekuh Abdullahi, former chairman of the admissions committee at the University of Ilorin in Kwara State. He confirmed that many qualified candidates are not admitted on account of the quota system.

He recalled how a parent whose child scored 340 in the UTME and 70 (out of 100) in the post-UTME test dragged the university before the national assembly for not admitting his son to study medicine which he applied for, despite meeting the requirements.

“The parent was suspecting foul play. We submitted our list to the national assembly, and they found that there were 40 slots for merit [quota]. Many candidates, including the boy in question, performed excellently. Unfortunately, he came 41st in the performance ranking and he is not from the catchment area. His father started begging that he should be admitted to a medicine-related course instead.”

Thousands vie for limited placements

“Sometimes candidates get disqualified because of application duplication. This implies that a candidate is looking for more chances than are allowed by entering different courses of study on separate forms. This can be avoided if the candidates are properly guided,” he added.

Abdullahi explained that many qualified candidates do not gain admission to courses of their choice because of limited slots, adding that they often reject offers to study alternative courses.

He said: “We may have about 4,500 candidates applying for medicine and our quota is just 150. How many students are we going to take? If you give them admission where there are vacancies such as in physics, they will reject it and insist they want to become doctors.

“In other countries, medicine is studied as a second degree. You must graduate in physics, chemistry, or biology before you can go on to medicine. But, here [in Nigeria], students who are just graduating from secondary schools want to study medicine. That is why the admission rate is very low.

“Sometimes, you have 3,000 candidates applying to study law, whereas there are only 120 slots. Qualifications to study law are applicable in other arts courses, but if you give them admission in those courses, they will reject it.”

Post-UTME as purifier

The high rate of examination dishonesty birthed computer-based tests used in conducting the UTME, but the new system has not fully phased out the scourge. Post-UTME was introduced over a decade ago to subject candidates to further evaluation and screen out those who might have scored high marks aided by ‘miracle centres’ where examination practice thrives.

“It is meant to be a purifier,” Abdullahi said. “A candidate may get 300 in the UTME, perhaps from a ‘miracle centre’, but score below 50 in the post-UTME. That is also a factor in allowing admission.”

Shortage of facilities as barrier

Bello noted that a shortage of human and material resources in public higher institutions poses constraints on the number of students admitted yearly.

“As long as the facility is not there, you cannot just admit students. Even now, they are too many. The lecturers are suffering from the heavy workload. The government should be able to provide more facilities and employ more lecturers so that more students can be admitted.”

Bello warned that, if these issues are not tackled, many qualified students will not be admitted even if they have access to counsellors.