5 October 2011

Nigeria: Jamb and Local Universities


The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) was established by the Decree of the Federal Military Government (No. 2 of 1978) on 13 February 1978 - basically to coordinate the conduct of examinations for prospective candidates seeking admission into universities and other tertiary institutions in Nigeria as well as place successful candidates into the said institutions.

It is not my intention to question the authority of JAMB in the conduct of such examinations. It is to primarily draw the attention of the public and the authorities concerned regarding the effectiveness or otherwise of JAMB in the discharge of its statutory responsibilities. Today, all candidates seeking admission into universities, colleges of education, polytechnics and monotechnics must buy and sit for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), organized annually by JAMB. This year alone, according to the JAMB registrar, about 1,450,000 candidates sat for the unified examination. At the rate of about N4,600 per UTME scratch card, the revenue generated by JAMB will be approximately a whopping N6,670,000,000.00 (six billion, six hundred and seven million naira). This is obviously in addition to the tax payers' money appropriated annually to fund the activities of JAMB - including the huge personnel cost!

Recently, I have closely followed the happenings around the statutory JAMB UME/UTME and the Nigerian universities innovative 'Post UME/UTME'. The question one would tend to ask are: Is JAMB really an effective examination body, able to organise examinations meant to admit prospective candidates into the Nigerian universities? Between JAMB and the Nigerian universities, who has the statutory responsibility of conducting admission examination? In my view, this is a major lacuna in the Nigerian educational system requiring urgent attention.

Historically, prospective candidates are asked to make 1st and 2nd choices for Nigerian universities on the JAMB application forms. However, recently investigation revealed that neither JAMB nor the universities consider 2nd choice candidates for admission. In fact, a JAMB candidate I am familiar with sat for the 2011 UTME and obtained 220 aggregate points and decided to sit for the 'Post UTME' of the 2nd choice university (due to inevitable relocation) but on the examination date was refused the opportunity to even write the 'innovative Post UTME'. So then why is JAMB asking unsuspecting candidates to choose a '2nd Choice University?'

The Nigerian universities in their own wisdom collect between N2,000-N3,000 (inclusive of bank charges) from candidates that obtained the JAMB cut off point for the admission year to allow them write their 'Post UME/UTME'. Judging by the above, it is natural to conclude that JAMB is only organizing a preliminary screening examination for the Nigerian universities. Therefore, since the universities are better organizers and managers of examinations, why do we need JAMB? Shouldn't it be more productive to use the scarce national resources going to JAMB annually to fund other critical areas of the education sector calling for urgent attention and allowed the universities to sell application forms directly to the prospective candidates and set their internal criteria to admit candidates? This way, the candidates will not need to buy JAMB application form and sit for the 'preliminary' JAMB UTME. If we are looking at value, honestly the JAMB UTME has no value to the prospective candidates for now!

As promised earlier, I do not intend to go into the argument for or against JAMB that has been on the court of public opinion for a very long time now. It is also not my goal to join the debate on the credibility of the JAMB UME/UTME and that of the universities' 'Post UME/UTME'. This will be a topic for another day. However, it is important to ask questions and to catalyze national discourse around this systemic lacuna.

Certainly no one will judge the JAMB as an institution by the number of application forms it sold, the fancy outlook of its online application page and the speed with which JAMB results are released in recent times. It is far beyond that. For example, a Nigerian university that promised to offer a French Language Course (BA) during the 2011/2012 academic session via JAMB Brochure, all of a sudden decided that they will no longer offer the course 'due to lack of manpower'. This was after candidates had chosen, sat and passed the required combination for the course. What should these students do in a situation like this? Well, I was reliably informed that the effected candidates will be eligible for English Language (BA) should they pass the 'Post UTME' of their 1st choice university. But is this what the effected candidates bargain for? And what is the remedy from JAMB?

With the current tide of universities 'Post UTME', the educational system is taken back to 1974 when there were only seven federal universities prior to the establishment of JAMB. Federal Universities were separately conducting examinations to admit their students. It was actually the identified limitations and waste of resources in the administration of such examinations that led to the establishment of JAMB to ensure standard, reduce costs on the part of the candidates and to coordinate this national process!

I sincerely believe this is a wake up call on the authorities concerned to come to the rescue of the system and the over one million candidates affected annually for no fault of theirs. Surely, more than 80% of these candidates are not in a position to be heard regarding this systemic problem affecting them annually. If JAMB and Nigerian universities do not need '2nd Choice' candidates, then don't ask innocent candidates to select 2nd Choice University at all! If a Nigerian university cannot offer a course in a particular academic session for whatever reason, please remove that from JAMB Prospectus for that academic year. If universities are not comfortable with JAMB aggregate scores obtained by candidates and must conduct their respective 'post UTME', then JAMB should find another role within the Nigerian educational system. The education committees of the Senate and House of Representatives should kindly investigate this on behalf of the Nigerian people.

Yunusa is an economist & development specialist, based in Zaria

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