Peter Ishaka writes that JAMB needs all the support in its crusade for quality education

Nigeria’s premier institution of higher learning, the University of Ibadan, last Tuesday held an orientation programme for 4,000 newly admitted students filtered out of the over 20,000 who sat for its Post-Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination. The Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Administration) of the university, Prof Kayode Adebowale said at the ceremony: “The number of candidates for the university was more than 20,000. We don’t go below 200 as the cut-off mark for JAMB score, although JAMB stated this year that universities can take 160 as the cut-off mark, but 200 is our benchmark”, adding: “We want to ensure that students that are coming in are qualified.”

The Ibadan ceremony came shortly after heads of Nigerian tertiary institutions or their representatives, regulators of the education sector and others, sat in the expansive Bola Babalakin Auditorium in the ancient town of Gbongan, Osun State in a policy meeting on admissions to tertiary institutions in Nigeria. The preoccupation of the meeting, at the instance of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), was indeed the furtherance of quality education in the country’s tertiary institution. Even though many private institutions, particularly the polytechnics and colleges of education, would have preferred the watering down of the admission criteria evidently because of their bottom lines, JAMB was able to rally many of the stakeholders behind it for more acceptable minimum standards. Be it public or private institution, is often better to admit those who are not likely to struggle to pass their examinations. Students should meet some tolerable standards before letting them in. Indeed, JAMB is intensifying and broadening this fight. From the modalities for the 2019 admission exercise to the need to adhere to admission guidelines and timelines on to the need for national spread in admission, particularly for the public universities and indeed, to giving out merit awards evidently to stimulate competition among the institutions, the Ishaq Oloyede’s JAMB is out to ensure that quality is not a hit- or- miss thing. If anyone must don the cap and gown, he or she has to do it on merit.

Nothing exemplifies this determination better than his heavy investment in technology, simply to ensure that crooks who are looking for places in the country’s institutions of higher learning are denied access. As Oloyede demonstrated with pictures, graphs and statistics at Gbongan with so much passion and zeal, writing JAMB’s qualifying examinations for others has become a big gamble as it comes with steep risks: some 200 candidates reportedly involved in one form of malpractice or the other had been arrested and they had all confessed to the crime. Indeed some had been tried and convicted. With the aid of biometrics and other relevant technology, JAMB has turned the heat on many other criminals as it has turned in their names and images to the security agencies who are already in hot pursuit. Sooner or later, they will likely be in the net. JAMB’s insistence is that only those who are suitably qualified should be given places in the country’s institutions of higher learning.

JAMB and indeed all the stakeholders who are helping in this crusade should be commended. Examination malpractices and corruption are monsters that have eaten deep into the country’s education system. Quite unfortunately, this menace begins much earlier for some of the children, even before they are admitted into Junior Secondary Schools. Supported by both teachers and many parents, examination malpractices have become a challenging factor for the country’s education. Wealthy parents negotiate for their wards and pay huge amount of money to make sure their children pass with flying colours. And once inside the universities, lectures negotiate with students and collect bribes from them to pass assignments and examinations. At the end the student, in the words of Professor Oculi Okello “cannot defend his certificate and hence relegate such schools as a mere paper qualification issuing institutions.”

It is therefore little wonder that Nigerian universities often perform badly in World University ranking. In 2019, only three Nigerian universities – the country’s premier institution of higher learning, University of Ibadan, Covenant University and University of Nigeria, Nsukka were ranked by the reputable The Higher Education, among the more than 1000 world’s institutions assessed. Incidentally, this was among the best performance for years. In some years past none of the country’s 170 public and private universities was ranked. Last year, for instance, no Nigerian university came up for mention among the world’s 1000 in Webometrics rankings. Which is a shame.

But the reasons for the deplorable rankings are not farfetched. They ranged from inadequate funding, scarcity of qualified teachers, inadequate training, lack of modern teaching and research facilities to proliferation of universities –both private and public, outdated curriculum and relevance of subjects, inconsistent government policies to corruption and exam malpractices. The system is such that many Nigerian parents even take pride in enrolling their wards in neigbouring universities in Ghana, Benin Republic and Ghana!

That is why all should support the efforts of JAMB to sanitise the examination process into our tertiary institutions. It is just the beginning of a very tortuous process. But JAMB has started doing its bit. The other stakeholders in the education value chain should also stand up to be counted: we need to do the best to achieve self-respect and indeed attract positive global recognition.