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New bottle, but where’s the new wine?

The Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) being planned by the Joint Admission Matriculation Board (JAMB) for admission seekers into tertiary institutions in the country has…

The Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) being planned by the Joint Admission Matriculation Board (JAMB) for admission seekers into tertiary institutions in the country has received knocks and commendations from stakeholders in the education sector.

Professor Dibu Ojerinde, the JAMB registrar had said recently in Abuja that beginning from 2010, students seeking admission into universities, polytechnics and colleges of education would write a common examination.

Ojerinde said the new policy would reduce or eliminate discrimination among students of tertiary institutions and employers of labour. According to him, the “UTME has a lot of advantages including improved access to tertiary institutions, removal of existing dichotomy between polytechnic and university graduates thereby restoring the dignity of National Certificate of Education (NCE) and Higher National Diploma (HND) holders.” He explained that the initiative was also aimed at removing the discrimination between university and polytechnic graduates which, he noted, has placed unnecessary pressure on the universities in the country, disclosing that some polytechnics in the country would soon start awarding Bachelor of Technology degrees.  

With the introduction of the UTME, he said that the federal government plans to encourage young people to go into technical education as well as teacher education, noting also that the idea was not to send what he referred to as the “dregs” as many Nigerians portray prospective students seeking admission into polytechnics and colleges of education.

“We are saying let’s put everybody on the same pedestal. And let me say that the best brains have always gone to the polytechnics and colleges of education, so this is not about sending dregs to those institutions. You know some people choose to go to polytechnics or colleges of education not because they are not good to be in the university,” he said

The JAMB registrar stressed that there are 1.6 million candidates applying for 186,000 openings in the nation’s universities which he noted informed the need to create an equal pedestal for all applicants so that those who could not make it to the universities due to lack of space as is the case at the moment can be admitted into the polytechnics or colleges of education.

“What we are trying to do is to encourage candidates to go to polytechnics and colleges of education as everybody wants to go to the universities whereas there are limited spaces in those universities, Professor Ojerinde added.

But while reacting to the new development, a lecturer at the University of Abuja, who spoke to Sunday Trust on condition of anonymity commended the move, describing it as a step in the right direction. According to him, the introduction of a unified examination would improve the quality of intakes into the polytechnics and colleges of education.

He said it would also increase competition among students, given the fact that they went through the same admission process.

The lecturer who is a professor of science and technology education noted that the sector had suffered a lot of neglect, due to uncertainties surrounding the admission process.

“I think it should be encouraged but at the same time, it should be well articulated, otherwise, it will be an exercise in futility,” he said.

He also expressed doubts over the possibility of having an even distribution of admission seekers into all the tertiary institutions.”In as much as this initiative is applauded, there should be machineries in place that will check the logjam that may arise from the implementation of the policy and get it properly addressed.

“A major challenge that will come with this development is that majority of the admission seekers may opt for the universities as their first choices. This is probably because in the past, they have been seeing polytechnics and colleges of education as back-ups, thereby leaving them with insufficient candidates,” the academic stated.

He said policy makers should also put all the variables in place to ensure that the policy was well implemented. The lecturer added that the Nigerian environment could make some policies difficult to operate if not properly planned, advising that there was the need to fine tune the selection criteria in order to avoid muddling up admissions.

But in his reactions, Dr Abu Malam who also doubles as the chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), University of Abuja chapter, opined that “while it might be too early to assess this policy, we want whoever is behind it to know that if there is any such major change in the conduct of university and other tertiary matriculation examinations, such policy has to scale through the National Assembly for the necessary approvals.”

Similarly, Bayo Bajulaiye, a teacher at Providence High School, Abuja while reacting to the issue told this reporter that “the entire plan to unify the entrance examinations suggest to me that the government and the concerned bodies are trying to put the cart before the horse. As far as I am concerned, that is not what the education sector needs right now.

“One would have expected the government, in conjunction, with the ministry of education to address the lingering crisis surrounding the post-UME examinations being conducted in the universities. Already, ASUU and other unions have described the exercise as illegal so the introduction of this unified examination in my mind will only complicate things in the education sector.”

In the same vein, a student at the Junior Secondary School Wuse, Zone 3 Suleiman Audu while commenting on the proposed policy shift expressed concerns about the standards of the various tertiary institutions. In his words, “this is really confusing, if they really want all of us to do the same exams including those applying to the universities, polytechnics and colleges of education, then are they saying that the academic standards in these institutions are the same?”

Another student of metropolitan College, Kubwa who gave his name as Jabir wondered what would become of examination bodies such as NABTEB and NBTE who are statutorily in charge of technical education in Nigeria. According to him, “I don’t think the move is a good one especially when the students finish from their respective institutions, they would still not be given the same certificates so I don’t see any basis for the unification.”

But in an attempt to clear the air, JAMB’s registrar opined that each candidate sitting for the examination would be eligible for admission into any of the institutions that the UME and MPCE serve. With this one examination, he further explained, a candidate would have six choices: first and second choice of university, polytechnic and college of education.

Ojerinde said for the country, it means the development of technical and vocational education, as well as production of better teachers since the basic requirement for admission, which is five credit passes in the relevant subjects, would apply to all candidates.

On moves to prevent malpractices that have trailed the conduct of the university matriculation examination in the past, Ojerinde said also starting from next year, the JAMB would begin to take the thumb-prints of all those involved in its examination – the candidates, invigilators, supervisors and coordinators.

That way, anyone caught in any form of examination malpractice will have his/her biometric information sent to tertiary institutions and other relevant agencies.

“Such offenders will be banned from taking, invigilating, supervising or coordinating our examination until he or she purges himself (herself) of the offence”, Ojerinde said.