Monday, August 24, 2009

Senate and post-UME examinations

NOT satisfied with the conduct of the post-University Matriculation Examinations (UME) by Nigerian universities, the Senate recently initiated moves to enact appropriate legislation that would remove what it called the obstacles hampering the proper conduct of university entrance examination by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB). This once again brings to the fore the debate over who should conduct entrance examinations into the universities.

Senator Heineken Lokpobiri (Bayelsa State), and five others reportedly sponsored a motion which, among other things, seeks to mandate the Senate committee on education to undertake a comprehensive investigation into the causes of the failure of JAMB to conduct sufficiently creditable examination acceptable to the universities. It also seeks to condemn the failure of JAMB to carry out its statutory responsibilities; condemn the illegal activities of our universities in conducting pre-admission tests; mandate the Minister of Education to direct the universities to stop forthwith the illegal post-UME tests and empower JAMB to conduct matriculation examinations into the universities, polytechnics and colleges of education.

Going by the prayers being sought by the lawmakers, it is obvious that the Senate is condemning the post-UME tests while at the same time seeking ways to strengthen JAMB. It has also gone a step further to describe the pre-admission tests as illegal. But it is not clear what the role of the Senate is in this matter. The question to ask is whether or not the universities have the right to admit their own students? Don't the universities under the laws establishing them have the statutory right to admit students they deem qualified? Does the Senate have the power to issue directives against the conduct of post-UME? We think that the Senate is delving into what it can't properly handle. The National Universities Commission (NUC) and the Ministry of Education, among other stakeholders are in a better position to address this matter.

The Senate seems to have left the real issues that should attract its attention to waste energy on other matters. The universities, for instance, need to be adequately funded to enable them rehabilitate their decrepit infrastructures and facilities. After that, they would be able to admit more students than they are currently doing. Poor funding is a critical issue that the lawmakers should address when considering appropriation bills. Except something is done in this regard, the reality on ground at the moment favours the conduct of post-UME.

The root of JAMB's problem is that it is dealing with a large number of applications it is unable to cope with because the vacancies in the universities are limited. Faced with this situation, students and their parents see the examination as a do-or-die affair which leads to graft and compromise. This was not the case when JAMB was established in 1978 with 13 universities and a manageable number of candidates.

The JAMB Act spells out its duties and functions in the area of admission of candidates into available spaces in the universities. It is the failure or inability of the board to conduct hitch-free and credible examinations that led to the introduction of post-UME. Therefore, rather than blame the universities for the untoward consequences of this development, it is JAMB that should be blamed.

The post-UME is a child of necessity. Except and until JAMB is able to deliver credible entrance examinations, the univerisities will feel obliged to continue to administer the post-UME. In that case, if it is established that JAMB is no longer able to perform its statutory duties, it should be scrapped and the universities allowed to admit their own candidates directly. That would reduce cost and save students and their parents the trauma of having to go through admission examinations twice.

But why is it so difficult to establish a workable admission framework for our educational institutions? Why is the country still battling with basic issues like funding and admission into the schools? These are fundamental questions that border on systemic failure. The truth is that the universities are being systematically downgraded. The quality of students admitted through the flawed process is low. Academic standards have been compromised. Most products of the universities are therefore substandard. It the end, the nation is short-changed, and the Senate ought to be more concerned about this bigger challenge.