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Scrapping of NECO and UTME – Punch

By The Citizen

MANY contentious issues have to be quickly resolved in order not to further jeopardise our fragile educational system, as the Federal Government considers a proposal in the Stephen Oronsaye panel report to scrap the National Examinations Council and the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination for students applying for admission to tertiary institutions in Nigeria. The fundamentals of the proposal are mired in contradictions, which, if not tactfully handled, could permanently damage the future of education in the country. If the government means well for future generations, it should first clinically separate the issues before taking a final decision.

The plan to do away with NECO and leave the field to the West African Examinations Council is uncalled for; it should not be carried out. NECO was established in April 1999 as a result of the glaring inadequacies of WAEC in administering the Senior School Certificate Examinations to an ever-increasing number of candidates. Though NECO has had its ups and downs since it arrived as an alternative to WAEC, a regional body for English-speaking countries, it has given options to pupils who were hitherto shackled by the WAEC monopoly. True, NECO should be reformed to make it stronger but, at the end of the day, market forces should be allowed to determine the fate of the organisation; not government's fiat.

Many countries have a slew of examination bodies, with Great Britain, for example, having as many as seven. What our government needs to do is to make NECO better to create a healthy competition between it and WAEC, which was the aim of establishing the body in the first place. This agrees with the view of the Nigeria Union of Teachers, which describes the plan as, 'a policy somersault,' which 'is not the best for now.' Wole Alani, a teacher, adds, 'If the government has observed some flaws in NECO, it should help in removing such and strengthen the body. It doesn't have to throw the baby out with the bathwater.'

JAMB, which was established by a military decree of 1978, at a time when there were only 13 federal (public) universities, is anachronistic and has no relevance again in a democratic, federal state like Nigeria. Granted that the need to coordinate admissions to a few universities was cited as a factor for decreeing JAMB into being, it should have become clear to the Federal Government and the educational authorities that the body had outlived its usefulness when the higher education system started expanding in the 1980s.

It is only logical that JAMB should be scrapped or made optional immediately. It is an anomaly in a federal system. Though the law setting up JAMB allows it to administer tests for university admissions, the law challenges the supremacy of the 1999 Constitution, which places education on the concurrent legislative list. Section 29, Second Schedule, Part II of the Constitution, states, 'Subject as herein provided, a House of Assembly shall have power to make laws for the state with respect to the establishment of an institution for purposes of university, technological or professional education.' This means that, with the return to democracy in 1999, the establishment of private universities from 1999, and the coming of state universities in 1980, there is no longer any need for a centralised JAMB to conduct admission tests. State and private universities should opt out of JAMB and start conducting their own admission tests.

JAMB has cheated Nigerians for too long with its convoluted and overpriced exam process that sees a candidate buying a form for N4, 000. In spite of the billions of naira it makes through this exercise, the scratch cards it sells for the purpose of accessing results, and the government funding it receives, many end up without knowing even their test centres a few days to the exam, or are sent to faraway states, with all the attendant problems. Candidates still have to pay their way through the post-UTME test set by each university, which is the fallout of JAMB's incompetence. The Federal Government has already reduced the ambition of many brilliant students to rubble through its warped policy that allocates university admission on the basis of 45 per cent merit; 35 per cent catchment area; and 20 per cent for candidates from the loosely-defined Educationally Less Advantaged States. This should not continue; an instrument of unitarism like JAMB should be scrapped.

Every university should be allowed to conduct its own entrance examination beginning from the 2013/14 academic session. This is how it was pre-1978 when the then Federal Military Government distorted the system. This is how it is all over the world. In Ghana, where many Nigerians flee to in search of an alternative to the rotten university system at home, universities admit their own students. In the United Kingdom too, it is the same. Though the country has the University and Colleges Admission Services, the body does not conduct entrance examinations. Each university handles its own admissions process.

It is an ongoing concern that Nigerian universities have fallen seriously behind in world rankings. One of the reasons is lack of autonomy in universities. Schools should be given the mandate to admit the students they want with minimum standards set by the National Universities Commission. The fear that the universities will corrupt the process is unfounded. Every reputable school that has a name to protect will vouchsafe a transparent system; competition and international rankings will also act as checks for any envisaged excesses.

Nigerians are spending too much on the JAMB admissions process. As Ike Onyechere, the Chairman of Exam Ethics Marshals International, said, 'JAMB is a rehearsal for serial disaster.' This kind of system is due for scrapping. However, universities that are interested could come together to administer a joint test for their candidates, thereby lowering the cost of admission and competing for the best students