Ending illegal admissions in tertiary institutions — The PUNCH Editorial

Posted by News Express | 15 December 2021 | 482 times

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•Some new varsity students during matriculation


THE thorny issue of illegal admissions in higher educational institutions has erupted anew and the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, which monitors and regulates admissions in tertiary institutions, appears helpless.

Media reports revealed that a staggering 706,189 illegal admissions were uncovered between 2017 and 2020. This is alarming. The illegality was perpetrated across the six geopolitical zones and the three tiers of tertiary institutions namely, Federal Government-owned, state government-owned, and privately owned institutions. Such practices should be stopped to protect the integrity of Nigeria’s failing higher education system.

This also raises questions on university autonomy, regulation, and the right of higher institutions to determine entry qualifications and admit students.

In 2017, JAMB had introduced the Central Admissions Processing System platform, to ensure quality control, transparency, and credibility of the admission process. Designed as a “marketplace” on the JAMB portal, institutions can access and request for students that qualify for admissions into their institutions. Under the system, institutions can only admit those who meet the specified cut-off points and have the requisite school certificate subject combinations.

The board declared that admissions conducted thereafter outside the CAPS were illegal and “will never be allowed to stand.” Enforcing compliance has however been problematic. In 2019, JAMB accused seven institutions of giving admissions outside the CAPS. They included the Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, the Moshood Abiola Polytechnic, Abeokuta, and the Air Force Institute of Technology, Kaduna. It said UNN had a quota of 250 intakes for law, admitted 125 candidates on CAPS, but released another list of 240 candidates. MAPOLY did not admit a single candidate through CAPS, JAMB alleged.

It alleged that one candidate applied for Human Nutrition at another university, scored an aggregate of 66.25 in the JAMB’s pre- and the post-Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, but was transferred to study Agricultural Extension, while some candidates that scored well below her were admitted to study Human Nutrition.

But despite such infractions, JAMB has been toothless. Its Registrar, Isha’q Oloyede, names and shames erring institutions, but comes short on sanctions. Recently, he said all backlogs of illegal admissions would be regularised. His position underscores the difficulty in enforcing standards by the central regulatory authority. Academics who ought to be the standard bearers of meritocracy and global best practices have descended into the maelstrom of malpractices, and the systemic corruption and impunity that pervades officialdom in Nigeria. The Academic Staff Union of Universities that is perpetually at war with the government on pay and infrastructure is inexplicably silent on the admission atrocities.

Sanctions should be applied in accordance with extant laws and regulations. The universities and polytechnics that habitually irregularly admit students, and run courses that are not duly accredited by the statutory authorities should be stopped.

Many unsuspecting young Nigerians have been known to spend years studying and graduating from unrecognised institutions or unaccredited departments, thus dashing their dreams of better prospects.  The case of the University of Abuja, where it took 12 years for its first set of medical students to graduate due to delay in accrediting its medical course, is fresh.

Beyond this are the issues of centralisation in Nigeria’s pseudo-federation and autonomy for higher institutions of learning. The autonomy and the right of higher institutions to select their own students, recruit staff and researchers subject to minimum standards set by government-approved regulatory and accrediting agencies, is central to higher education.

Currently, Nigeria vests too much authority in the centre to the extent that federal agencies assume exclusive oversight on tertiary education. Unlike many other countries where higher institutions and courses are accredited by a government agency, in the United States, the federal Department of Education does not directly certify colleges. Instead, it recognises a slew of independent accrediting agencies that in turn recognise universities and academic programmes. There are thus national, regional, and specialised accrediting bodies.

The United Kingdom does not operate a direct accreditation system, but has a quality assurance system where reviews are undertaken by an independent body, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, and by external examiners appointed by the institutions. The government regulates degree awarding powers, but the rules vary in the various countries of the union.

The presumption of JAMB to moderate all admissions erodes the independence and autonomy of higher institutions. It is sufficient for the national government to set minimum entry qualification standards for the various categories of higher education. The National Universities Commission and similar bodies for polytechnics and COEDs perform this role in Nigeria. Beyond this, institutions should be free to set standards not below these and be free to admit their own students.

It is the job market, public and private sector employers, which will then dictate their preferences. The world’s best universities such as Cambridge, Oxford, the University of London, Harvard, MIT, and other Ivy League colleges in the US, and Hong Kong University set higher than average standards to attract the best students and faculty worldwide. Their graduates are much sought after.

Membership of JAMB and its UTME should be made optional. Groups of institutions based on shared values, or other affinity should be free to set up and organise joint admissions tests, and national or regional accreditation bodies with approval from an independent national body. Compelling every institution to submit to JAMB’s writ is archaic, stifles academic freedom and is unsuitable in a federation.

States that between them own 54 universities, 51 polytechnics and 54 colleges of education as well as proprietors of private institutions need to partner with other stakeholders, academics, ASUU and other educators to seek legislative support for autonomy for higher institutions.

In the meantime, extant laws and regulations should be adhered to and enforced until the system is remodelled into a more practical format suitable for a federal polity.

Source: News Express

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