There must be the aim, in every operation, to continuously improve efficiency and returns. In this context, the process for freshman admission to our higher institutions is overdue for rationalization. And to start with, the random concentration of applications among a few schools and programmes need to be pragmatically addressed, in order to improve applicants’ success rate and minimize wastage. One way is to deregulate the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) cut-off scores for Post-UTME screening.
Thus, despite its flawed and failed attempt this season, the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) should do the homework and re-present the case ahead of the 2016 season. Deregulation, in this case, means that the more competitive institutions and programmes could enjoy higher thresholds for Post-UTME screening, beyond the universal cut-off point that may be adequate for the rest, based on historical data.
Quota and catchment area considerations would then apply only to the extent that the premium cut-off point is not compromised. In terms of academic freedom, healthy competition, reticulation and clearing-house services and efficient resource allocation, deregulation is justified.
It is democratic and transparent, given the preconditions suggested for its implementation. We need such deliberate measures that can foster centres of excellence, as is done in all progressive education systems. The prevailing unitary Post- UTME threshold (rendered more permissive by quota, catchment area and complimentary slots for people of influence) is porous and inimical to the parity desirable among students belonging to a class for healthy competition and excellence to thrive.
Critics are not as much against the deregulation of cut-off scores (or the redistribution/decongestion of candidates) among the institutions as they are against the precipitate and undemocratic manner in which JAMB sought to impose it this season, knowing full well that stakeholders had been conditioned to freedom of choice and single threshold scores for each category of institutions which candidates had presumed at the time of application.
Alteration of such a scheme should be backed by sound empirical evidence, sufficiently canvassed among all stakeholders. And a reasonable band of freedom of choice must still be afforded applicants. Process is as important as intended benefit in policy-making. Principally, to validate the deregulation of cut-off scores, JAMB needs to demonstrate that there is a significant – if not perfect – correlation between UTME scores and the performance of candidates in Post-UTME screening and in subsequent programmes of instruction of the participating institutions; or, put in another way, that the UTME score is an accurate predictor of success in the Post-UTME screening and in the subsequent programmes of studies of the various institutions. It should also demonstrate that the UTME is reliable, that is, that its prediction of success would be sustained at all times, without significant variation from one diet to another. In other words, validity and reliability proofs are needed to conclude that, below particular thresholds of scores, candidates would not be successful in the Post-UTME screening of Institution A or Programme B and should not waste their time and other resources which would be better rewarded elsewhere.
This precondition is all the more important because the UTME is a single test for every admission season, unlike the Scholastic Aptitude Test of the American College Board that could be repeated in one season for the best possible aggregate score, for example. Accordingly, it would not be justified to deploy the deregulation of cutoff scores in the absence of a significant disparity between the success rates of exceptional and marginal UTME achievers in the prospective schools and programmes, otherwise, some candidates would be unjustly disqualified who would have done well in spite of their marginal UTME scores. In that case, it would also mean that the present UTME is an invalid selection test.
JAMB and the prospective institutions must, therefore, place in the public domain abstracts of painstaking research they had done to minimize error of commission. If deregulation is empirically justified, JAMB would then have to change the sequence of the admission process such that UTME results as well as the respective cut-off scores are released before candidates can file their choice of schools rationally. You do not put the cart before the horse, as it is the score that would now justify the school to which one can voluntarily apply for screening.
A candidate who wished for the University of Lagos but did not make the threshold might elect another school within his league or might decide to retake the UTME and lose one academic year, for example. But the freedom of choice of the candidate, as dictated by his purse and achievement, etc, would have been adequately respected. All said and done, the university, in particular and higher education, in general, is not meant for everyone, with all due respect. The motive force is intellectual excellence, with a stress on inductive reasoning and independent study and research, by which to break new grounds and drive the advancement of society in various fields, which is not the call of every Dick and Harry.
But there is hardly anyone born without a talent that can be developed into a skill by which he can become a functional member of the society and live a fulfilled life. After all, sportsmen, actors, comedians, musicians, artists, garment-makers and wood-workers, etc, who keyed into God-given talents, with or without higher education, are, perhaps, contributing more, per capita, to employment and the economy and are, generally, living a more fulfilled life than thousands of ‘also-ran’ graduates of higher institutions. We urgently need programmes for timely identification of talent at the secondary school level along with a lot more dedicated vocational and technical institutions and academies than universities, so that every willing citizen can find and develop his niche for a fulfilling role in the society.
By fostering informed choices between the university and the academy or technical institution, based on talent and ability, the inordinate craze for degrees might ultimately be tamed, in favour of productivity and fulfillment. It is then imperative to make the education system truly pyramidal, with a foundation in broad basic education for all, followed, consecutively, by artisan, trade, vocational, technical and academy levels, each larger in size than the next, with the university at the peak. What we have at present is perverted. It is pyramidal in form but not in substance.
There has been effort, but we are still a long way to hitting the critical mass, largely due to laxity and fiscal rascality in the system. One is not oblivious of the new secondary school curriculum that is broad (covering civics, computer studies, arts and crafts and other vocational subjects, etc, alongside the traditional cognitive subjects) nor of the emergent vocational training institutes.
But they are still too few and far between and the momentum for delivery of substance, in terms of funding and dedicated staff and equipment, is still too feeble. The lacuna is worse at the middle manpower level due to the same dearth of judicious investment in people, equipment and facilities, worsened by the craze for degrees which has precipitated the diversion of both private and public capital to the proliferation of universities, many of which degrees are of doubtful integrity. Thus, there is dire need to rationalize access to higher education as much as there is for a functional, robust, pyramidal education structure, in order to maximize returns on investment. There is no choice if we have to grow and develop. What we practise now is too dysfunctional and a recipe for stagnation.
-GUEST COLUMNIST EMMANUEL NWOSU