The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) recently came under public scrutiny following the protests by parents and their wards during the University Tertiary Matriculating Examination (UTME) at the University of Lagos. The protest was over the conflict between JAMB’s cut-off mark of 180 for Universities and the over 200 asked for by the university. Clarifying its position later, JAMB officials said it was set to re-distribute candidates with cut-off marks less than what their first choice of universities required to needy institutions. Rather than abate, the controversy generated by the protest and the reactions its later clarification sparked polarized stakeholders for and against JAMB.
Even the Federal Government’s intervention by reversing the exam body’s decision to re-assign candidates has not calmed frayed nerves. The naysayers, championed by some chapters of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), want the examination body scrapped and each university allowed to conduct competitive tests for applicants.
Contesting that it has outlived its usefulness by meddling in determining who and how students gain admission into higher institutions in the country, these ASUU chapters blame JAMB for the undesirable quality of students admitted annually into the country’s federal universities. They see JAMB as encroaching on their autonomies.
Doubtless, this position is understandable and has its merit. Until the universities won their hardearned struggle to conduct the UTME for their prospective students, JAMB had over the years degenerated and become riddled with examination malpractices. Untold compromises on standards were caused by a dubious alliance between bad staff and errant parents desperate to get their children into higher institutions. Some of the candidates at times gained entrance without writing the qualifying examination or doing so by proxy. This smeared the once glorious name of the body that teeming Nigerian youths looked forward to with confidence to conduct the qualifying exams and place successful ones among them in tertiary institutions without hassles.
Be that as it may, the bitter truth about the matter is that some of the shortcomings that JAMB is blamed for are, when critically examined, challenges that reflect the rot and chaos in the larger educational system.
A product of the collaboration between Federal Government, the Nigerian University Commission and education experts from Britain and Canada, JAMB, by the Act setting it up, from Act No 2 of 1978, repealed by Acts No 33 of 1989 and Act No 4 of 1993, has the primary duty to ensure uniform standards in the conduct of matriculation examinations and the placements of suitably qualified candidates into the country’s universities and polytechnics. Another subtle aim is to create a national character of the country’s youths by posting applicants to areas outside their locale, a policy similar to that of the NYSC, which sadly had been defeated by the disruptive nature of our politics.
On balance, given the general decay of infrastructure, increased number of federal and state universities and the prebendal nature of our politics to which admissions would have been subjected to the disadvantage of indigent but otherwise brilliant students, JAMB has done well. Of recent, it has demonstrated its capacity to adapt to modern technology. Time was when it took the body months to release results. But today when candidates have multiplied in millions, things have changed dramatically. For the 1.5million candidates that sat for the 2015 examinations, it took few hours for them to get their results because of the digital adaptation to the progression of students’ population.
Nonetheless, JAMB still has more in-house cleaning to do. In as much as we would not support the call for the scrapping of JAMB because we think that some of the blames being heaped on it are societyrooted, we believe that its officials should focus more on efficiency and service delivery. Arbitrarily fixing cut-off marks for universities as it did this year is an attempt to overreach its core mandate. One sure way out of trouble is to heed an advice we consider cogent from some of its supporters, to wit, removing restrictions on the UTME cut-off score for post-UTME screening, perhaps in 2016. Institutions are not all similarly endowed, staffed, equipped and located. The cut-off should therefore be made more competitive, with bigger and better tertiary institutions enjoying higher marks. In seeking to do so, it should seek the cooperation of principal officers of institutions under its purview.
Apart from the fairness of this policy, it would also assist each institution to carry out continuous assessment of its capacity and the need to improve areas of deficiency to attract desired applicants. Even prospective students of each institution would be forewarned about his or her fate with his or her choice with no room for protests and arguments. Freedom of choice would also be enthroned in the system as any student who repeatedly fails to meet the cutoff mark of his desired institution may have to cut his coat according to size, and thereafter seek another institution within the threshold of his or her performance. All things considered, we think JAMB should focus on its core mandate, which is to conduct matriculation examinations and place suitable qualified candidates in universities of choice given the parameters we have outlined, in collaboration with tertiary institutions in the country.