The yearly ‘ritual’
Every year, there is an admission ‘rat race‘ in Nigeria. Candidates press for a place on the admission list of tertiary institutions.
The journey begins with an examination – an ‘all-mighty’, examination that (potentially) grants candidates a window of opportunity to secure an admission. This examination is the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), colloquially referred to as JAMB. JAMB is the Board that conducts this examination; but over the years, the examination this board conducts has come to be known as JAMB. It is commonplace to hear an average Secondary School (High School) graduate talk about preparing to sit for his JAMB! JAMB is an acronym for Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board.
No tertiary institution admission happens in Nigeria without the blessing of JAMB. Once a year’s JAMB has been taken; and since the examination is administered using Computer-Based Test (CBT) technology, candidates have their scores almost immediately after the examination these days. Thereafter, a JAMB policy meeting is convened. It is at this meeting that ‘cut-offs’ are set. A cut-off is a minimum score considered appropriate for a school to admit a candidate into a programme.
Institutions’ ‘cut-off’ marks
Different cut-offs are set for different school types. For instance, the cut-off score for universities is different from the cut-off score for polytechnics and colleges of education. In practice, the university cut-off is always higher. Within institutions, cut-offs also differ from programme to programme. It is believed (at least, sub-consciously – to an extent, though) that programmes with enhanced cut-offs are ‘superior’ to programmes with very low cut-offs. The extent to which this assumption holds is, to say the least, not clear as post-training experiences have shown that opportunities and placements are not the same for all individuals. Some who studied the so-called superior courses are not performing superiorly in terms of financial capacity, fulfillment, and even social status while some others who studied some despised courses are doing valiantly well in these measures. Personally, I believe that certain factors determine placements in life. That is, however, a story for another day.
In one of my former institutions, at a time, I headed a faculty and sat at the top of the committee that was responsible for admissions for all programmes offered in the institution. As we prepared for JAMB policy meeting that year, many things were on my mind. My topmost concern was my institution’s cut-off score and the quality of candidates to admit. You can imagine that. And that is always the priority on the mind of every serious executive of an Institution of Higher Learning in Nigeria during these meetings. Setting a higher cut-off score ensures that quality students are admitted. Nevertheless, these ‘quality students’ disappoint us these days in their routine post-admission academic performances.
A particular school decided to stop admitting the so-called ‘A-parallel’ students and opted for candidates with average results instead! This decision was occasioned by the poorer than poor performances of the category of students erroneously classified as ‘A-students’. Machinations of ‘Miracle centres’? Products of a pathologic examination malpractice system? Dysfunctional academic structures in our state? How did the ‘A-students’ get their result? We may never get the right answers to these questions.
Post-UTME screening test and our future
Tertiary institutions have tried to overcome this prospective undergraduates’ ineptitude by brewing a Post-UTME screening test. This test was originally conceived to mitigate the admission of students who do not have what it takes to cope in referent institutions’ programme offerings; however, this exercise later transmogrified into a money-making and admission-sorting’ machine for individual institutions. Thanks to the timely intervention of Federal Government some years ago – even though it was a short-lived radical solution, that almost outlawed the Post-UTME screening’s exorbitant fees and sometimes, rather inappropriate tests and admission considerations. Not a few schools fumed at this ‘vice’’s scrap.
Today, the hydra-headed defective form of our beloved Post-UTME screening test has resurfaced and institutions are, once again, leveraging on its resurgence to continue their annual business of raising internally-generated funds and (sometimes, unintentionally) scuttling our bid to bequeath a strong academic plinth to the next generation.