28 April 2005

Nigeria: 'Sorting' in Universities


Lagos — THE malaise called 'sorting,' a nickname for academic corruption has lately become so endemic in tertiary institutions that the National Universities Commission (NUC) recently launched a war against the ugly development.

The system encourages otherwise deficient students to engage in gratification of their lecturers with items as money, expensive gifts and even sex, in the case of female students, in order to obtain good grades in examinations. Most times, such students either failed the courses involved or may not have written the examination in the first place.

Some lecturers are also reported to coax students into sorting. If the students fail to gratify them, the tendency is that such candidates are bound to fail in the examinations. Conceived this way, sorting is thus a two-way process that is propelled by the selfish predictions of both students and their lecturers.

Obviously, the implications have been untoward. Students engaged in sorting end up passing their examinations without acquiring the knowledge and skills that go with their chosen courses of study. In effect, they are half baked and, thus, cannot effectively defend their certificates. This has made it rather difficult for employers and some higher institutions outside Nigeria to take Nigerian graduates on the face value of their papers given that such qualifications may have been acquired through some unwholesome means.

Such discrimination may be wrong but the misgivings are not entirely misplaced. The sad irony is that those who genuinely acquired their certificates may now erroneously suffer vicariously for the misdemeanour of a few other people.

It is for such misplaced punishment, as it were, and other untoward consequences of the practice that National Universities Commission (NUC) recently launched what it described as War Against 'Sorting' (WAS). The commission is restricting this project to what it called a system wide sensitisation and public awareness campaign. It also expects each university to appoint an ombudsman and send regular progress report to the commission.

Already schools like University of Uyo (UNIYO) have shown the lead in the fight. According to the Vice Chancellor, Professor Akpan Ekpo, the institution has expelled about 1,000 students and sacked 20 lecturers on account of academic corruption. The offences of the affected students and lecturers ranged from outright purchase of examination marks and other forms of inducement including offer and collection of gifts, bribery with money and sex. A few other institutions have taken action against the vice. We encourage others to come down heavily against the problem.

However, it bears stating that sorting is an academic variant of a problem that is largely systemic. The ivory tower does not exist in isolation, which is why the malaise of endemic corruption, ravaging the society has crept into that environment. It is rather shameful that some parents apparently see nothing wrong in buying admission for their wards and perhaps, providing the wherewithal to 'sort' themselves through higher institution.

It is good a thing that the war against sorting is coming against the new fillip the Federal Government is giving its fight against corruption in high places. Such a move will send the right signals to the academic community that it can no longer be business as usual. But just like government the National Universities Commission and, indeed, individual universities should set example with some offenders, to serve as a deterrent to those involved in the vice.

There is need to restore the fast-fading dignity of the Nigerian academic environment. The Nigerian graduate should not, for any reason become a mere holder of paper certificate who has no expertise in his field of study. The larger society stands to lose a lot if this menace is not tackled very decisively. All hands must therefore, be on deck to root out sorting, not only in the academic community, but also in the larger society.

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